Opponents of Cowlitz Tribe ask judge to put a stop to casino work

Members of the Cowlitz Tribe of Washington look over renderings of the $500 million casino under construction on the reservation. Photo from Facebook

The Cowlitz Tribe of Washington could be forced to stop work on a long-awaited casino if opponents get their way in court.

Construction is proceeding quickly on the $500 million Cowlitz Casino Project with the goal of an opening in spring 2017. That economic progress is now in jeopardy, Chairman Bill Iyall told The Columbian.

“If granted, the request for an injunction would have far-reaching implications for one of the largest economic development projects in Clark County history,” Iyall told the paper. “The work stoppage will force our partners to halt construction operations, lay off nearly 80 percent of the 150 employees currently working on the reservation, and potentially delay the opening of the facility, home to over 1,200 new jobs in Clark County beginning spring 2017.”

Opponents want to stop casino work until the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals resolves the underlying issue in the dispute -- whether the Bureau of Indian Affairs can place land in trust for the tribe in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar. That case restricted the land-into-trust process to tribes that were "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934 and the opponents don't believe the Cowlitz meet the test.

Oral arguments in Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community v. Jewell will be heard by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on March 18, 2015.

"A landless tribe that went unrecognized until 2002 cannot have been 'recognized' and 'under federal jurisdiction' in 1934," casino opponents wrote in the motion, a copy of which was posted by The Columbian.

The D.C. Circuit is set to hear arguments in Washington, D.C., on March 18, according to the court's calendar. But it could take several more months before a decision is issued so an injunction would pose a major setback for the tribe.

Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland, Judge Robert L. Wilkins and Senior Judge Harry T. Edwards are hearing the case. Garland has long been rumored to be considered for a spot on the Supreme Court.

Get the Story:
Clark County, others ask judge to halt casino construction until appeal is heard (The Columbian 3/4)

Federal Register Notices:
Proclaiming Certain Lands as Reservation for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe (November 13, 2015)
Land Acquisitions; Cowlitz Indian Tribe (May 8, 2013)

DOI Solicitor Opinion:
M-37029: The Meaning of "Under Federal Jurisdiction" for Purposes of the Indian Reorganization Act (March 12, 2014)

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