A sign proclaims Death Valley National Park in California as the "homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone." Restrictions on development in Death Valley have prompted the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe to seek economic opportunities elsewhere in the state. Photo: Judy Baxter

Timbisha Shoshone Tribe sues Trump administration over stalled casino

The Trump administration is once again being accused of stalling a tribe's gaming project for political reasons.

This time it's the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe doing the accusing. A lawsuit filed in federal court last month blames Trump appointees at the Department of the Interior of failing to make a decision on a long-awaited casino in Ridgecrest, California.

"Because defendants’ failure to act was motivated in whole, or in part, by conditioning defendants’ decision on improper and undue political considerations which Congress has not intended it to consider, defendants’ actions were arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with the law," the May 16 complaint states. A copy was posted by Turtle Talk.

The defendants include newly-confirmed Secretary of the Interior David Benhardt and Associate Deputy Secretary Jim Cason. According to the complaint, Cason told the tribe more than a year ago that its land-into-trust application was essentially complete.

"The Associate Deputy Secretary noted that the only remaining delay was based on political considerations that are not grounded in statute or department regulation," the complaint reads. "Specifically, the Associate Deputy Secretary said that he did not plan to approve the application until he heard from Congressman Kevin McCarthy representing the 23rd Congressional district."

"The Associate Deputy Secretary told the tribe’s representative that he did not need Congressman McCarthy to say that he supported the proposed fee to trust acquisition of the Ridgecrest parcel, but to at least indicate that he did not oppose it, or that he had no position on it," the complaint continues.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California) is the Republican minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives and his district includes Ridgecrest. Despite attempts to work with his office, the tribe claims he has yet to tell the Trump administration what he thinks about the land-into-trust application, thus derailing a decision on the casino.

"This is not the first time the Department of the Interior has been accused of allowing improper political communications to influence its decisions regarding Native American tribes," the complaint notes, referring to a situation in Connecticut where the Trump administration kept a tribal project in limbo amid objections from Republicans in Congress.

McCarthy, incidentally, is married to a woman who claims ancestry from the Northern Cherokee Nation, a group that is considered illegitimate by Cherokee people.

The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe is pursuing the casino under provisions of the Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act. The law mandates the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place certain lands into trust for the tribe but the application for the site in Ridgecrest has been pending for more than three years without a decision.

Read More on the Story
Don't bet against the casino yet: Tribe sues DOI (The Ridgecrest Daily Independent May 17, 2019)
Timbisha Shoshone tribe sues DOI (The Ridgecrest News Review May 23, 2019)

An Opinion
John Ciani: Casino could still be in the cards (The Ridgecrest Daily Independent May 25, 2019)

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