Tlingit and Haida Tribes win federal approval of gaming ordinance

Tribal canoes come ashore during Celebration, an Alaska Native cultural festival hosted by Sealaska Heritage Institute in June 2016. Photo by Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska

The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska won federal approval a gaming ordinance.

The National Indian Gaming Commission approved the ordinance on May 13, as first reported by independent journalist Craig Medred. He speculated that the tribe might be interested in Class III gaming now that the Bureau of Indian Affairs will be processing land-into-trust applications in Alaska for the first time in decades.

But President Richard Peterson shot down that idea in a statement that was posted on the tribe's Facebook page on Thursday. He said plans for a "retail, cultural and entertainment project" predate the litigation that opened the door for trust lands in Alaska and, in any event, Class III gaming is not on the table for that effort.

"Because any economic development presents a long list of legal requirements that must be met, Central Council is moving ahead deliberately, and in collaboration with other jurisdictions once a project is fully reviewed and approved," Peterson said in the statement, which was drafted in response to "inaccurate information" about the tribe's gaming prospects.

The Central Council is not the first tribe in Alaska with a federally-approved gaming ordinance. The Klawock Cooperative Association won approval in 1993 and the Metlakatla Indian Community won approval in 1997.

But even though Alaska is home to more than 200 tribes, they face unique hurdles when it comes to casinos. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Class II and Class III gaming can only be conducted on "Indian lands," which is defined as follows:
(A) all lands within the limits of any Indian reservation; and
(B) any lands title to which is either held in trust by the United States for the benefit of any Indian tribe or individual or held by any Indian tribe or individual subject to restriction by the United States against alienation and over which an Indian tribe exercises governmental power.

Since most tribes in Alaska -- Metlakatla is an exception -- have not had a "reservation" they do not satisfy criteria (A). And since the BIA, up until the Akiachak Native Community lawsuit, refused to process land-into-trust applications in Alaska, most tribes could not satisfy criteria (B) either.

Since at least 2014, the Tlingit and Haida Tribes have enacted resolutions authorizing the submission of land-into-trust applications and, earlier this year, they requested a "reservation proclamation" for parcels within the historic Juneau Indian Village. But it could be awhile before any are approved by the BIA.

Read More on the Story:
Alaska casino coming soon? (Craig Medred 8/25)

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