A federal appeals court is hearing arguments next month in a long-running lawsuit that has kept the Mechoopda Tribe
has from opening a casino on ancestral territory in California.
The tribe was terminated by Congress in 1958. A lawsuit resulted in the restoration of its federal status in 1992, by which time the original Mechoopda Rancheria
was down to just one 0.25-acre parcel in Chico, The Chico Enterprise-Record reported earlier this month.
“That whole area is important to the tribe,” Vice Chair Sandra Knight told the paper. “It was the last rancheria.”
The tribe is now seeking to rebuild its homeland with a 645-acre site only 10 miles from the original rancheria. But a land-into-trust application submitted in 2004 has never been finalized amid opposition from Butte County.
The Bush administration, the Obama administration and, most recently, a federal judge have backed the tribe's efforts. But the county is hoping the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals
will put a halt to the project after hearing arguments on September 15
"The Mechoopda tribe is both a sovereign nation recognized by the U.S. government and integral to Butte County. Its right to self-determination is guaranteed by federal law. The Mechoopda have obtained all the required permits to build a casino and develop 91 acres out of a 625-acre parcel,"
professor Sara Trechter of Friends of the
wrote in an opinion for The Chico News-Review
"If the county’s appeal succeeds, it thwarts the Mechoopda’s economic development plans to provide funding for education, healthcare and eldercare from casino revenues."
The Bureau of Indian Affairs
originally approved the tribe's application in 2008 but the county's lawsuit led to a reconsideration. The agency approved the application again in 2014 -- documents are available at bia.gov/WhatWeDo/ServiceOverview/Gaming
. Environmental review documents can be found at reports.analyticalcorp.net/mechoopda
Generally, land acquired in trust after 1988 cannot be used for gaming. But Section 20 of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act
includes an exception for tribes, like the Mechoopda, that were restored to federal recognition.
As a result, the National Indian Gaming Commission
determined that the site can be used for a casino.
The appeal will be heard by three judges -- Merrick Garland, Robert Wilkins and Harry
Edwards. Garland was former president Barack Obama's nominee
to the U.S. Supreme Court
but Republicans refused to consider him.
District Court Decision:Butte
County v. Chaudhuri
(July 15, 2016)
D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:Butte
County v. Hogen
(July 13, 2010)
Federal Register Notice:Land
Acquisitions; Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria of California
(February 27, 2014)
National Indian Gaming Commission Indian Lands Opinions:January
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