Arlene Ward, a former chairman of the Mechoopda Tribe, addresses the board of supervisors in Butte County, California, at a public meeting on August 14, 2018. Image: Butte County

'It's monumental for me': Mechoopda Tribe wins local support for casino

After nearly two decades of battles, the Mechoopda Tribe has finally won local support for its long-delayed casino in northern California.

With little debate, the board of supervisors in Butte County voted unanimously to support the tribe's Class III gaming compact. Despite the lack of discussion among the local officials, one Mechoopda citizen called the occasion historic.

"I was the tribal chairman in the late 90s, in my late 40s, when we began this pursuit of economic sovereignty," Arlene Ward told the board at a public meeting on Tuesday.

"I'm 69 today so it's monumental for me," Ward added as the board and those attending the meeting applauded the milestone.

The county has long fought tooth and nail to prevent the tribe from restoring its homelands and opening a casino. According to The Chico Enterprise-Record, litigation alone cost $850,000 over the last 16 years.

But the battle is now officially done. In a unanimous decision in April, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the tribe's tribe's land-into-trust application and the county is not going to pursue the matter further.

"That litigation is over," county counsel Bruce Alpert said at the meeting.

The county will be sending a letter of support to the California Legislature, which still must ratify the tribe's gaming agreement. After the compact is approved at the state level, it can be sent to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for review.

The tribe plans to build a casino on a 645-acre site in the county. The land falls within 10 miles of the Chico Rancheria that the tribe lost when it was terminated by the federal government. It also lies within a reservation that would have been set aside for the tribe had a late 1800s treaty been ratified instead of hidden away in Washington, D.C.

"Indeed, the parcel is situated just one mile from the Pentz Hills, a set of buttes that are of spiritual significance to the tribe," Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote in the 15-page ruling. "The tribe also hunted, fished, and gathered on the parcel.”

"And in 1851, the Mechoopda negotiated a treaty with the federal government, which, if ratified, would have included the Chico parcel within the tribe’s reservation," Srinivasan added.

The decision marked another instance of a federal appeals court siding with tribal interests in a homelands case. There have been at least six such decisions since 2016.

Read More on the Story
Supervisors back Mechoopda casino (The Chico Enterprise-Record August 14, 2018)

Mechoopda Tribe Homelands
Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Butte County v. Chaudhuri

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Butte County v. Chaudhuri (April 13, 2018)

Prior D.C. Circuit 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 24, 2014 | March 14, 2003

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