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Clark County and City of Vancouver appeal Cowlitz Tribe Casino Approval

Clark County, joined by the City of Vancouver, nearby property owners and the operators of the existing La Center cardrooms, have appealed a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) approval to establish a sovereign reservation on 152 acres about six miles south of Woodland for the Cowlitz Tribe.

  Although the proposal might be scaled back due to market decline, the initial plan called for the construction of the nation’s largest casino including 3,000 slot machines, a hotel, shopping center, bars, restaurants and an RV park.  Later phases, call from the construction of government facilities, elder housing, and a cultural center as well.

Federally acknowledged in 2000, the Cowlitz is a landless nation of around 3,700 citizens located in Longview, Washington.  The Cowlitz decision is the first trust land approval for the creation of a reservation since a US Supreme Court’s decision known as Carcieri v. Salazar in 2009.  The ruling said that the Interior Secretary has no authority to take land into trust for tribes that were not “now under federal jurisdiction,” when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed in 1934.  In other words, the date of federal recognition triggered qualification under the Act.  The question was the relationship between the qualifying phrase “now under federal jurisdiction” against the definition of “tribe” as including those that are “recognized by the secretary as eligible for special programs.”  The BIA found that the tribe was under federal jurisdiction from at least 1855 and beyond that the Act imposes no time limit on recognition.  The tribe need only be ‘recognized’ as of the time the department acquires the land into trust.  Because the Cowlitz Tribe’s federal acknowledgment in 2000, two years before it applied for trust land, it satisfied the requirement.

The County’s appeal argues that granting the trust application, the BIA failed to take a “hard look” at the environmental consequences and ignored the Carcieri decision.  The County believes that the BIA failed to impose appropriate mitigation to offset stormwater, traffic, light and noise issues. 

The appeal was filed in the US District Court in Washington DC and is not expected to be heard until later this summer.

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