Maryann McGovran: Don't be fooled by efforts of wealthy tribes

The North Fork Rancheria maintains an office in North Fork, California. Photo from Facebook

The following is the opinion of Maryann McGovran, the chairwoman of the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians. The tribe's gaming rights are the subject of H.R.5079, the California Compact Protection Act. The bill, if enacted, would prevent the Bureau of Indian Affairs from approving or otherwise allowing Class III gaming on the tribe's trust lands.

When Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, it provided a difficult process to allow landless Indian tribes such as ours to be treated as equals with tribes with land by being able to engage in gaming on newly acquired trust lands in very limited and specific circumstances. Our Tribe followed that process to the letter of the law and we have conducted ourselves with dignity, honesty and integrity throughout that process. As a result, the Secretary of the Interior approved our request, the California governor concurred, and lands located within our historic area were placed in trust in February 2013.

Now, Chukchansi wants to use their wealth, gained from casino gaming, to change the rules and deny us our sovereign right to conduct class III gaming on our lands. Chukchansi’s letter represents an unfortunate attempt to justify support for a dangerous, precedent-setting bill to amend IGRA with assertions that range between misleading and patently false.

We trust you will not be so easily fooled. If Chukchansi’s position is right, why has not one decision-maker over the past 13 years agreed with them? Not the Secretary of Interior, not the Governor, not the legislature and not the courts. Chukchansi’s real goal is to delay construction of our gaming facility as long as possible, thereby preventing our tribe of more than 2,000 tribal citizens from realizing the economic development and self-sufficiency that Indian gaming is intended to provide.

Maryann McGovran. Photo courtesy North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians

Chukchansi only has itself to blame for many of the concerns raised in its letter. For instance, if Chukchansi were genuinely interested in guarding against anti-gaming sentiment in California and Congress, it would never have sponsored a statewide referendum, at a cost of over $18.5 million, or conducted such a dishonest political campaign designed to convince voters that they had to vote “no or a casino could pop up in their backyard, when they knew what people were really voting on was whether to overturn the legislature’s decision to ratify two tribal-state compacts that would have provided tens of millions of dollars to non-gaming tribes and local communities.

Similarly, if Chukchansi were truly interested in advancing Indian interests, it would not be asking Congress to undo a favorable ruling by a federal court upholding the state’s obligation to negotiate compacts in good faith as currently required by IGRA. Nor would it seek to intervene in that lawsuit five months after it was denied in a frivolous attempted to further delay our project.

We find it appalling that Chukchansi, a neighboring tribe with which we share many blood relatives, would pursue legislation that threatens to roll back our sovereignty based on the whim of California voters who were misled by a state-wide media campaign. Once wealthy tribes begin down that road, it will not stop just with us. As Chukchansi warns, you could be next.

Another Opinion:
Claudia Gonzales: Off-reservation gaming fuels attacks on tribes (5/13)

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