Tribes vs. tribe in Oregon casino battle


U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is being asked by four tribes that are against a proposed tribal casino in Medford, Oregon to halt the project's advancement.

Over 150 miles from their reservation near the Oregon coast, the Coquille Indian Tribe has been working for ten years to convert a bowling alley on land they own in Medford into a casino. The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs would have to approve the proposal, and the land would need to be placed in a government trust. Casinos run by tribes may be constructed on reservations, land that the United States holds in trust for the benefit of a tribe, and land that the tribe governs in accordance with the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Four local tribes are against the proposal because they believe it will hurt them. In a letter earlier this month, the chairs of the Karuk Tribe, the Tolowa Dee-ni' Nation, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, and Elk Valley Rancheria requested that Haaland travel to their homelands in southern Oregon and northern California to learn about their concerns. They said that approving the casino would be against the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and would destroy other local tribes. Additionally, they fear that if the casino is approved, other tribes in the country may be inspired to follow suit and build casinos outside of reservations, possibly even in cities, in order to profit from already-existing tribal casinos. The Siletz Tribe is also requesting federal approval to place its proposed casino off reserve properties in Salem into a trust.

According to Carla Keene, chair of the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, if the Coquille casino were built, Cow Creek's Seven Feathers Casino, located on its reservation 70 miles from Medford, would see a minimum of 25% decrease in earnings. She noted that among other public services, revenue covers the tribe's medical costs.

“It is a slippery slope,” Keene said. “I would hope that Sec. Haaland would see the necessity to say ‘no.’ This is not a good idea for the tribes, and this is going to cause harm. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is responsible for all tribes across the United States, not just one, and this is affecting more than just Cow Creek and it is only benefiting one tribe.”

One of the remaining obstacles the project must overcome is a federal environmental review, which occurs at the same time as the letter.

Brenda Meade, the chair of the Coquille Tribal Council, replied to the criticism via email, stating that Haaland ought to honor tribal sovereignty.

Meade stated that it is terrible that other tribes—including those in California—”remain hostile to our sovereignty” and want to restrict our ability to pursue economic development inside the congressionally designated reservation restoration region.

She proceeded by saying that Sec. Haaland and the Biden administration have stated their support for tribal sovereignty and that they hope these tribes will uphold this pledge in order to facilitate further economic growth.

Putting real estate in trust

For ten years, the Coquille have encountered resistance to the casino from neighboring tribes and state authorities. The state and tribes have a long-standing agreement that each will run a single casino on its own reservation, according to governors John Kitzhaber and Kate Brown as well as representatives from the state's congressional delegation.

Due to concerns about jurisdiction and the intended use of the site, the Department of the Interior denied the Coquille Project casino four years ago. However, when the tribe put up the casino proposal once more in 2021—this time with a new interior secretary—Haaland consented to allow the environmental review and public comment to proceed.

Keene, of Cow Creek, claimed the project would negatively affect a large area. This will have an impact beyond Oregon. This will extend beyond the boundary of Oregon and cause mayhem throughout Indian country for an extended period of time.

It is imperative, according to the opponents, that they personally express their concerns to Haaland.

“Your visit is also consistent with the department’s stated commitment to meaningfully consult with affected tribal nations in advance of policy decisions of tribal implication, as well as the Biden administration’s promise ‘to protect the ability of every Native person here in the United States to lead safe, healthy, and fulfilling lives in their homelands,’” they wrote.


“Tribes ask U.S. interior secretary to deny proposed casino in Medford” , Alex Baumhardt,, March 21, 2024.


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