The Ho-Chunk Nation held a veterans remembrance ceremony on December 7, 1941, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii during World War II. Photo: Ho-Chunk Nation

Ho-Chunk Nation committed to off-reservation casino despite uncertainty in Trump era

The Ho-Chunk Nation remains committed to an off-reservation casino in Wisconsin despite uncertainty created by the Trump administration.

Tribal leaders are announcing an "update" on the long-sought project in Beloit on Thursday. They will be joined by local officials who have expressed support for the effort.

“We are excited about moving forward with this project," said Shelby Visintin, who serves on the Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature in a district that includes the casino site.

"The overall benefits and opportunities will be great for the City of Beloit and Rock County," Visintin added. "The revenues from this venture will provide funding for education, health, housing, elder and youth services for Ho-Chunk Nation tribal members. We look forward to the future.”

The tribe officially sought approval for the casino more five years ago. But there's been little movement on the federal level -- the Bureau of Indian Affairs failed to meet its self-imposed schedule years ago and never issued a draft environmental impact statement, the first major step in the process.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has sought to add more hurdles to the land-into-trust process. Proposed changes to the Fee-to-Trust Regulations (25 CFR 151) would make it more difficult for tribes to acquire land away from existing reservations -- something the Ho-Chunk Nation is trying to do in Beloit.

A conceptual design for the proposed Ho-Chunk Nation off-reservation in Beloit, Wisconsin. Image: Ho-Chunk Nation

During a well-attended listening session in October, Ho-Chunk Nation President Wilfrid Cleveland was among those who questioned the need for the proposal. He said the tribe's situation is unique because it was forced off its homelands by the federal government.

"We don't have a reservation here in Wisconsin," Cleveland told John Tahsuda, a senior-ranking Trump appointee to the BIA, at the session, which took place in Milwaukee on October 16.

Cleveland also noted that the BIA, at the time, had only schedule three tribal consultations. Following uproar in Indian Country, a new and expanded schedule was announced earlier this month.

"Who's the BIA supporting?" Cleveland said, arguing that the proposed changes will make it "near impossible" for the tribe to acquire land for its communities, which are spread throughout Wisconsin as a result of the government's past policies.

"If those stipulations were in there when the IRA was first put together," Cleveland said, referring to the Indian Reorganization Act, the 1934 law that authorized the land-into-trust process, "we wouldn't have these sites that we do have around the state of Wisconsin."

Cleveland is scheduled to take part in Thursday's update about the Beloit casino. He will be joined at 1pm Central time by Vistin, as well as Beloit city manager Lori Luther and Beloit city council president Kevin Leavy, the tribe said.

The announcement is actually taking place just across the border, at the Nature at the Confluence Learning Center, in South Beloit, Illinois.

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