Chief Bill Harris of the Catawba Nation testifies before a hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on May 1, 2019. Photo: SCIA

Catawba Nation continues to see opposition to casino on homelands

The Catawba Nation continues to face opposition, near and far, to a proposed casino on its homelands in North Carolina.

"Say NO to a Casino in Cleveland County" and the Kings Mountain Awareness Group are among the local critics, The Shelby Star reported. Further away, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is mobilizing opposition to S.790, a bill in Congress that would pave the way for the contested development.

“We have been proud to partner with North Carolina for decades,” Principal Chief Richard Sneed said in a press release on Monday. “As it stands, this bill would create a harmful precedent – the first time Congress has expressly authorized an Indian tribe to acquire land into trust simply for owning and operating an off-reservation casino. We encourage the Catawba Indian Nation to go through the same proper process in their home state of South Carolina that we have worked through for decades as partners with our state of North Carolina.”

S.790 authorizes the Bureau of Indian Affairs to acquire a 16-acre site in North Carolina in trust for the Catawba Nation, whose headquarters are in South Carolina. It also confirms that the land, once placed in trust, can be used for gaming.

The site in Kings Mountain is indeed located "off-reservation" but it falls within the service area that Congress defined for the tribe in the Catawba Indian Tribe of South Carolina Land Claims Settlement Act of 1993. The law authorizes the BIA to acquire an additional 4,200 acres in trust but only 317 acres have been restored in the last 26 years, Chief Bill Harris said in testimony to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on May 1.

"We are staying in our heartland," Harris said at the hearing.

The bill has not yet been scheduled for consideration at a business meeting, which is typically the next step in the legislative process. It enjoys Republican support -- a key factor for advancement in the chamber -- and the Trump administration has not expressed any significant obstacles to its passage even though the president has lashed out at other tribal homelands legislation.

The Eastern Cherokees operate the Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort and the newer Harrah's Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel. Both are in the far western part of North Carolina, more than 130 miles from Kings Mountain.

The Cherokees, however, claim the area as their aboriginal territory.

The pertinent text of S.790 follows:

(a) Gaming Facility Authorized.—The Catawba Indian Nation (formerly the Catawba Indian Tribe of South Carolina) is authorized to own and operate a gaming facility on the land described in section 2 of this Act, in Cleveland County, North Carolina.

(b) Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.—The facility described in subsection (a) shall operate in accordance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (25 U.S.C. 2701 et seq.), except that section 20 of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (25 U.S.C. 2719) shall not apply to the land described in section 2.

(c) Land In Trust.—The Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to take the land described in section 2 into trust for the purpose of conducting gaming, on behalf of the Catawba Indian Nation.

(d) Rights Preserved.—Except as otherwise expressly provided in this Act, nothing in this Act shall prevent any party from enforcing all rights, privileges, or prohibitions as contained within the Catawba Indian Tribe of South Carolina Land Claims Settlement Act of 1993 (Public Law 103–116).

Read More on the Story
Proposed Kings Mountain casino continues to gain opponents (The Shelby Star May 21, 2019)

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