Let the Games Begin: Judge says Cayuga Nation land is Indian country ..Albertas Enoch Cree Nation gets the green light for gaming
Posted: May 05, 2004 - 12:45pm EST
by: Tom Wanamaker / Correspondent / Indian Country Today
With help from a federal judge, the Cayuga Indian Nation is now one small step closer to opening a gaming operation. On April 23, U.S. District Court Judge David Hurd ruled that property acquired by the tribe in Union Springs, N.Y. is Indian country. Cayuga sovereignty over the land enables the resurgent nation to proceed with plans to convert a former auto parts store there into a Class II bingo hall.
Plaintiff municipalities, Cayuga County, the town of Springport and the village of Union Springs, are barred from interfering with the project. They had sought to force the nation to submit to local building and zoning ordinances. An appeal to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan is likely.
The Cayuga Nation asserted that because the former retail property, which it acquired in April 2003, lies within the 64,000-acre land claim area, the land reverts to Indian country via their purchase. Since NIGC granted the Cayugas a Class II gaming license last November the nation is now free to conduct such gaming on its sovereign land, depending upon the outcome of the appeal. IGRA of course mandates that Class II gaming must be conducted free from state and local control.
The defendants apparently failed to distinguish their case from City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation, in which Judge Hurd ruled that land acquired by the Oneida Nation of N.Y. within its land claim area, which includes the city, was sovereign Indian land and thus nontaxable.
In 2001, U.S. District Court Judge Neal McCurn ruled in favor of the Cayugas (and co-plaintiff Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma) in the land claim case, awarding $247.9 million in damages. Both verdict and award remain under appeal - hearings were held March 31 at the 2nd Circuit Court but an opinion has yet to be published.
Lake Side Trading, the Cayuga Nations retail business enterprise, currently operates a pair of gas station/convenience stores - one in Union Springs and the other in Seneca Falls. Officials from the nation were unavailable for comment.
About five miles up Route 90 from Union Springs is Aurelius, where the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe hopes to open its own Class II facility on land it acquired in 2002. The tribe is involved in litigation of its own over similar issues - municipal authorities attempting to exert jurisdictional control over land considered sovereign by Indians.
While the Seneca-Cayugas are a winning party to the land claim, their recognition in Oklahoma adds an interesting twist to its case - no tribe has ever successfully crossed state lines to exert sovereignty for gaming purposes. Judge McCurn presides over this case as well.
Could Judge Hurds latest decision set a precedent and allow the Seneca-Cayugas to proceed with their Aurelius planned bingo hall? It will depend largely upon what happens at higher rungs on the appeal ladder. In March Judge McCurn promised to deliver an opinion in the Aurelius case "soon." That opinion, whatever it may be, could well end up on appeal.
Enoch Cree Nation
Construction will soon begin on the Canadian province of Albertas first Native-owned casino. On April 15 provincial gaming officials approved plans by the Enoch Cree Nation to construct a casino resort on the western edge of Edmonton. Conflicting media reports place the value of the project at between $120 and $127 million. (Canadian)
In addition to a casino with 40 table games and 800 slot machines, plans call for a nine-story hotel, restaurants, retail stores, and indoor skating and soccer facilities. Up to 700 jobs could be created. Construction will begin sometime between June and September, according to the Edmonton Examiner; the casino would open 14 - 18 months after groundbreaking.
CBC Calgary reported that many area residents continue to oppose the project, first announced in 2001, feeling that their concerns about traffic and crime have gone unheard.
The city of Edmonton has agreed in principal to provide water and sewer services to the resort after what CBC described as "two years of bitter negotiation with the band." The 49-acre site sits just outside city boundaries. Final details of that agreement remain to be hammered out.
The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) has yet to issue a gaming license; that will not happen until the completed project has passed an inspection. The nation was required to make a number of changes to its original plan, including moving the whole complex 200 meters farther away from a residential area, to gain AGLC approval.
The Enoch Cree Nation is located in Enoch, Alberta, about eight miles southwest of Edmonton. The band has approximately 1,900 registered members and is governed by a chief and nine councilors.
The nations development partner in the casino project is Las Vegas-based Paragon Gaming. In addition to the casino, the nation has plans for a $30 million housing development, as well as senior and youth centers. The Examiner reported that these projects will be funded in part by a $54 million land claim settlement reached recently.
Chief Ronald Morin waxed enthusiastic on the nations economic future.
"I think our people are very excited," he told the Examiner. "You can see the mood of the community - the hopeless feeling is kind of lifting and people really do feel like they have a future to look forward to now."
Applications for six other First Nations casinos involving seven bands are at various steps in the eight-step provincial approval process. Seventeen commercial casinos currently operate in Alberta.
©2004 Indian Country Today
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