Tribe, other entities oppose Cowlitz decision
By Dean Rhodes
Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in
Washington, D.C., on Feb. 1, asking that a U.S. Department of Interior decision
to grant the Cowlitz Tribe reservation land near La Center, Wash., be vacated.
a separate lawsuit filed in the same court, Clark County, Wash., the city of
Vancouver, Wash., Citizens Against Reservation Shopping, two nearby landowners
and owners of card rooms in La Center asked for the same ruling.
Tribe’s lawsuit says Grand Ronde is challenging the decision because “the land
is not located within the Cowlitz Tribe’s aboriginal territory, is not
historically or culturally significant to the Cowlitz, and would be taken in
trust for a Tribe that was neither ‘recognized’ or ‘under federal
Ronde’s lawsuit says that the Department of Interior’s decision is not
authorized under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, violates the Indian Gaming
Regulatory Act and fails numerous times to comply with requirements of the
National Environmental Policy Act.
are the Department of Interior, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Assistant
Interior Secretary Larry Echo Hawk and Bureau of Indian Affairs Northwest
Region Director Stanley Speaks.
approximately 152-acre parcel that Interior approved to take into trust for the
Cowlitz Tribe is at the Northwest 319th Street interchange west of
Interstate 5 near La Center, about 15 miles north of Vancouver. The Cowlitz have
announced plans to build a large casino at the site.
Grand Ronde’s lawsuit says that the land is approximately 25 miles from the
Cowlitz administrative offices in Longview, Wash., and 50 miles away from Cowlitz
Tribal housing and the Cowlitz Elders Program and Senior Nutrition Center in
Ronde has cultural and historical connections to the north shore of the
Columbia River, including Clark County,” the lawsuit says. “Indeed, that
historical connection has been expressly recognized by treaty since 1855. Grand
Ronde also considers Clark County, Wash., part of its Non-Treaty Homelands and
Cultural Interest Lands, and Grand Ronde Tribal members are buried on the north
side of the Columbia River.
of a reservation for the Cowlitz outside their aboriginal lands – and on lands
to which Grand Ronde, by contrast, has a significant connection – would cause
further injury to Grand Ronde.”
Indian Claims Commission, the Tribe’s lawsuit states, determined the
southernmost area of the Cowlitz’s aboriginal land is at least 14 miles north
of the parcel.
the relevant historical time periods, such distances would have been difficult
to travel and would have been traveled only rarely,” the lawsuit says, which
does not support Salazar’s finding that the Cowlitz had a significant
historical connection to the land.
lawsuit filed by Clark County and the other parties also points out that the
Department of Interior’s decision appears to run contrary to a 2009 Supreme
Court decision that ruled Interior could only take land into trust for Tribes
that were recognized as of 1934, when the Indian Reorganization Act was
approving the Cowlitz Tribe’s proposed fee-to-trust, the Secretary … exceeded
his authority under the Indian Reorganization Act, the scope of which the
Supreme Court recently clarified in Carcieri v. Salazar,” Clark County’s
County says that the Supreme Court ruled that the Indian Reorganization Act
defines the term “Indian” to “include all persons of Indian descent who are
members of any recognized Indian Tribe now under federal jurisdiction” with
“now” meaning when the act was first enacted in 1934.
Cowlitz Tribe was not federally acknowledged until 2000.
available evidence … demonstrates that the Cowlitz Tribe was not under federal jurisdiction
in 1934,” the lawsuit states.
County’s lawsuit also points out that the Cowlitz Tribe’s fee lands and Tribal
offices are 24 miles north of the proposed casino site within the Tribe’s
historic territory, but that real estate developer David Barnett, the Tribe’s
chairman’s son at the time, purchased the option on the La Center parcel, which
is a “short 16-mile drive from Portland, Oregon, providing easy access to the
Portland gaming market.”
County’s lawsuit also asserts violations of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act
and National Environmental Policy Act by the Department of Interior in reaching
its decision to OK the Cowlitz land request.
Grand Ronde Tribe has retained the law firm of Robbins, Russell, Englert,
Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber to represent it while Clark County and the city
of Vancouver are using staff attorneys and Citizens Against Reservation
Shopping, the neighboring landowners and card room owners have retained Perkins
Coie law firm.
District Court in Washington, D.C., is not expected to hear either lawsuit
until this summer at the earliest.