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Supreme court ruling will affect Barstow casino proposals

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March 17, 2009

BARSTOW The U.S. Supreme Court has made a landmark ruling that will affect the aspirations of one of the two California tribes wanting to build off-reservation casino in Barstow.

A Supreme Court ruled February 24th that tribes cannot have land held in trust by the U.S. Department of the Interior if they were not recognized in 1934. The land trust process is the fundamental step to establishing tribal sovereignty over the land and allowing Indian gaming.

There are two California tribes seeking to build a casino in Barstow. The Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno tribe have a pending application with the U.S. Department of Interior. They were recognized in 1900. A spokesman for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, Gary Garrison, confirmed the Supreme Court ruling would have no effect on the tribe's pending land-in-trust application.

The other tribe, the Chemehuevi, have also sought to build a casino in Barstow, but their federal recognition status is less clear. The Chemehuevi reservation near Lake Havasu was established by executive order in 1970, however, tribal Chairman Charles Wood said the reservation was initially recognized in 1907. Tribal members dispersed after the construction of Parker Dam in the 1930s, when Lake Havasu flooded out thousands of acres of tribal land. The tribe later moved to the high desert plateau where its reservation is located today.

BIA spokesman Garrison said the interior department is currently analyzing the court ruling to determine the status of situations like that of the Chemehuevi. "They have to go back and take a look at the different points in time when the documents were published," he said.

In January 2008 the Secretary of Interior rejected applications by both tribes to build a casino in Barstow. The decisions were based on a new policy requirement requiring off-reservation casinos be within commuting distance of the tribe's reservation.

The Los Coyotes submitted a revised land trust application in May 2008, while the Chemehuevi decided to wait and see who President Obama will appoint to key positions in the interior department and whether the commuting distance rules would change. Ken Salazar is now the Secretary of the Interior, but the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs has not yet been named.

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