Recently recognized Tejon Tribe moves ahead with casino plan

Chairwoman Kathryn Morgan of the Tejon Tribe of California. Photo from Facebook

The Tejon Tribe of California is making significant progress on plans for a casino after being restored to federal recognition by the Obama administration.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is preparing an environmental impact statement on a land-into-trust application for 306 acres in Kern County. A notice published in today's issue of the Federal Register outlines plans for an initial 250,000 square-foot casino, to be followed by a hotel with up to 300 rooms in a second phase.

"The purpose of the proposed action is to improve the economic status of the tribal government so it can better provide housing, health care, education, cultural programs, and other services to its members," the notice, which was signed by Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, stated.

Comments on the draft EIS are due September 14. The BIA plans to hold a public scoping meeting in the community as part of the review process but a date hasn't been announced.

Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn testifies before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs earlier this year. Photo from SCIA / Flickr

Additional meetings will be held as the agency continues work on the application. There is no timeline for action but tribes in similar situations typically wait two to three years for an answer.

"Best case scenario is two years, but it's going to be probably longer than that," Chairwoman Kathryn Morgan told Bakersfield Now in June when talk of the casino came up.

Still, the notice of the EIS marks a significant milestone for a tribe that wasn't even on the list of federally recognized entities until January 2012. An internal investigation later determined that former assistant secretary Larry Echo Hawk made that decision without following any sort of "discernible process."

Washburn has since adopted a new policy that requires all tribes seeking recognition, clarification or affirmation of their status to go through the BIA's Office of Federal Acknowledgment. The Interior Department, coincidentally, published a final rule today regarding appeals of federal recognition decisions.

An aerial view of the land where the Tejon Tribe plans to open a casino and a hotel. The 306 acres located in an undeveloped area immediately west of the town of Mettler. The tribe's properties are bordered by Maricopa Highway to the south and S Sabodan St on the east. Image from Google Maps

The changes do not affect the Tejons as their federal status remains on solid ground. But the tribe must clear some hurdles before opening the casino.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, generally, bars gaming on land acquired after 1988. Section 20 of the law contains an exception for tribes that were restored to federal recognition -- the Tejons presumably qualify for the exception.

The tribe is also negotiating an intergovernmental agreement with Kern County. Officials there appear to be receptive to the casino plan.

The gaming site is located in an unincorporated area of the county, just west of the town of Mettler. The area is about 14 miles south of Bakersfield just off Highway 99.

Federal Register Notices:
Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Tejon Indian Tribe's Proposed Trust Acquisition and Casino Project, Kern County, California (August 13, 2015)
Hearing Process Concerning Acknowledgment of American Indian Tribes (August 13, 2015)
Requests for Administrative Acknowledgment of Federal Indian Tribes (July 1, 2015)

Related Stories:
BIA adopts new policy regarding federal recognition process (06/30)
Tejon Tribe plans to negotiate agreement with county for casino (06/03)
Recently recognized Tejon Tribe to close enrollment next month (08/22)
Tejon Tribe working with Nevada developer on plans for casino (06/27)
Tejon Tribe announces plans for casino at undisclosed location (6/26)
IHS approves service areas for three newly recognized tribes (09/11)
DOI backs Larry Echo Hawk's decision to recognize Tejon Tribe (05/02)
OIG report blasts Larry Echo Hawk for handling of Tejon case (5/1)
Inspector General Reports: Larry Echo Hawk, Jeanette Hanna (4/30)
Editorial: Casino a possiblity for newly recognized Tejon Tribe (01/09)
Tejon Indian Tribe to start preparing for future as newest tribe (1/4)
BIA places Tejon Indian Tribe back on list of recognized tribes (1/3)

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