Grand Ronde ends legal challenges to Cowlitz Reservation

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde has decided to not seek Supreme Court review of a July 29 U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that allowed the Cowlitz Tribe to keep its new 152-acre Reservation and continue building a casino 15 miles north of the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area.

Tribal member and lobbyist Justin Martin said the change of plans occurred because the Tribe decided to focus on other economic opportunities in the Portland area.

“Grand Ronde has elected not to appeal the Cowlitz case to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Martin said. “Although La Center is outside the historic lands of the Cowlitz Tribe, Grand Ronde has decided to direct its current resources to completing the remodeling of Spirit Mountain Casino on its Reservation and future resources to the development of projects in Grand Ronde’s homelands and around Portland.

“We’ve made it a priority to fund our endowments and essential government programs for the benefit of our members. We will continue with these objectives and look to other opportunities that allow us to maintain and build upon those goals.”

The ruling handed down by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected arguments made by the Grand Ronde Tribe and Clark County, Wash., during a March 18 appeals hearing held in Washington, D.C.

At issue was a decision by District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein that favored the Department of the Interior’s decision to take land into trust for a Cowlitz Reservation. The Tribe, city of Vancouver and Clark County appealed Rothstein’s December 2014 ruling.

The three-judge Appeals Court panel that heard the case included Cornelia Pillard, Robert Wilkins and Harry Edwards. The decision, written by Wilkins, affirmed Rothstein’s decision.

“The Secretary (of the Interior) reasonably interpreted and applied the Indian Reorganization Act to conclude that the Cowlitz are a ‘recognized Indian Tribe now under federal jurisdiction,’ ” Wilkins wrote in his opinion. “The Secretary also reasonably determined that the Cowlitz meet the ‘initial-reservation’ exception to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.”

Grand Ronde Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno released a statement shortly after the Court of Appeals decision was released.

“The Tribe continues to believe it is wrong for the Cowlitz to build a casino in Clark County, a region historically belonging to the Tribes and Bands of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde,” Leno said.

“The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde doesn’t believe that a Tribe should be allowed to go reservation shopping outside their historic territory, simply because they have identified a location that is more desirable because of its proximity to an urban area. We look forward to keeping our membership informed and are determined to forge ahead in a positive manner.

“In addition to how we respond to this decision, the Tribe has initiated a major renovation of Spirit Mountain Casino, is redeveloping the greyhound track at Wood Village and continues to explore options to build the Grand Ronde economy.”

The Grand Ronde Tribe consistently stated throughout legal proceedings that the Cowlitz Tribe’s traditional homelands are about 60 miles farther north in the Toledo, Wash., area. Tribal officials stated that if the Cowlitz had received a Reservation in that area, the Grand Ronde Tribe would never have filed a lawsuit.

The city of Vancouver withdrew from the lawsuit following oral arguments heard in March. Clark County also decided not to be a party in seeking a Supreme Court review.