Reservation-shopping bill a good idea in principle, but …

The devil’s in the details when it comes to the
anti-reservation-shopping bill authored by Congressman Richard
Pombo, R-Tracy.
The devil’s in the details when it comes to the anti-reservation-shopping bill authored by Congressman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy.

The bill aims to give local governments and area tribes more control when other Native American tribes want to open casinos in areas outside their ancestral lands.

While we support the bill in concept, we’re cautious because the bill’s effectiveness and equity will reside in how a few key concepts are implemented.

If adopted, the bill could have a dramatic impact on the attempt by a tiny band of Miwok Indians, who some say have ties to Calaveras County, to build a casino in San Benito County.

But many Native American tribes moved around both by choice and by force throughout their history. How do you define “ancestral lands” for these tribes?

It’s not clear how the bill would define “local” control. Casinos have wide-reaching regional impact. Would the lowest-level municipality (city if in city limits, county if in an unincorporated area) have to approve the casino, or would the net be cast wider? Would elected officials be able to approve a casino, or would it require approval of voters? If so, which voters get to cast ballots?

But we’re not done with the inquiry just yet.

This bill raises all sorts of difficult questions because how sovereign, really, are Native American tribes when the federal government can limit that sovereignty? Native American sovereignty has been endorsed by the last several presidents, including George W. Bush. We’re concerned that any bill be carefully written to avoid problems of a constitutional nature.

Finally, the bill has loopholes for newly recognized tribes and those without ancestral lands. Pombo calls for those to be placed in one of two “Indian Economic Opportunity Zones.” Where are those located, who decides where they are, and how are those decisions made? How much local control will be ceded to the folks who live in these zones?

We’re glad to see someone taking on the difficult issues surrounding tribal casinos. But these issues are difficult because of the money, the politics and the history surrounding them. Any solution must be carefully crafted to avoid creating more problems than it solves.

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