Congress kills Wyandotte casino project
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The Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma's controversial proposal to open a casino in Kansas has been killed by a bill ready for final approval by Congress.

A joint House and Senate committee last week approved a fiscal year 2002 Department of Interior spending bill that stops the long-delayed project dead in its tracks. Already hindered by a recent court decision, a small provision buried in the 154-page act prohibits the tribe from using land it owns in Kansas for gaming purposes.

"The lands of the Huron Cemetery shall be used only for religious and cultural uses that are compatible with the use of the lands as a cemetery and as a burial ground," reads the bill approved last Wednesday.

The cemetery -- a remnant of numerous treaties after an attempt to terminate the Wyandotte Nation in the 1950s failed -- has been the subject of considerable debate for the past decade. Drawing objections from Kansas tribes, the Wyandotte Nation has sought to open a casino on the downtown Kansas City site since the more lucrative Class III gaming is outlawed in Oklahoma.

With the support of Gov. Bill Graves, the Sac and Fox Nation, the Iowa Tribe and the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation have so far prevented the Wyandotte from fulfilling its dream. In February, they won a key battle when a federal appeals court ruled former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt made a mistake when he considered the cemetery a "reservation."

The decision effectively closed any additional lands Babbitt took into trust for the tribe as off-limits to gaming. Included was a 1/2-acre parcel adjoining the cemetery known as the Shriner Tract, where the tribe has already been hastily preparing for a casino.

Prospects weren't entirely dimmed, though, as the court left open whether the Shriner Tract could still be considered trust land. Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) introduced a bill to allow gaming on the land in question, providing hope for tribal officials.

But after action on Moore's bill was delayed pending comment from the Interior, Congressional leaders took the issue into their own hands. In addition to the conditions placed on the Huron Cemetery, the bill prevents Secretary Gale Norton from making any decisions that could open the land up to gaming.

Similar concerns about urban gaming led to a related amendment in the bill. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sought to kill a casino proposal by the Lytton Rancheria of California but withdrew his objections after language was added to ensure the landless Pomo Tribe complies with federal gaming law.

As with the Wyandotte, competing gaming interests have filed a lawsuit to stop the Pomo casino, which would be located in San Francisco Bay area.

The appropriations bill provides $19.1 billion for the Interior and related agencies in fiscal year 2002, which began on October 1. Indian related spending has been increased $207 million over last year, with most of the additional funds going to settle land and water claims and to repair and construct crumbling tribal schools.

Get the Interior Bill H.R.2217:
Text | Conference Report

Get the Decision:
SAC AND FOX NATION OF MISSOURI v. NORTON, No 00-3063 (10th Cir. February 27, 2001)

Relevant Links:
The Wyandotte Nation of Oklahama -

Related Stories:
Wyandotte company awarded $100M contract (8/17)
Sides prepare for land claim battle (6/21)
Battle over Kansas casino continues (2/28)
Wyandotte Nation sues over gaming (9/22)
Tribes oppose casino (9/15)