Principal Chief Bill John Baker speaks during a Sept. 17 dedication ceremony for the new Cherokee Casino Ramona in Ramona, Okla. Behind him is a 45-foot tall and 12-foot wide steel oil derrick with the Cherokee syllabary as part of the design. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Casino Ramona expansion adds 100 jobs
Cherokee Nation leaders and Ramona residents officially opened the new Cherokee Casino Ramona with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 17. The 31,000-square-foot casino, located south of Bartlesville, replaces a much smaller one and offers more amenities. COURTESY PHOTO
RAMONA, Okla. – About half of the 200 jobs needed to operate the expanded Cherokee Casino Ramona will be new positions and filled by Cherokee Nation citizens, tribal officials said during the casino’s Sept. 17 dedication.
“We are thrilled to open this new casino because it allows us to add nearly 100 new jobs to the area, as well as economic development opportunities for Ramona, Ochelata and Bartlesville,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Our casinos exist to provide jobs and opportunities for our citizens, so I’m proud to say that 100 percent of our new hires at this location are Cherokee citizens.”
Because of added space and amenities, nearly 200 employees are needed to work in the new $18 million casino. Ramona Mayor Cyle Miller said having 200 jobs in a small community such as Ramona means a lot and that the town appreciates the tribe’s contributions for local schools, fire departments, police departments and infrastructure.
Baker said the new casino could draw other businesses to its vicinity, which would create more jobs and opportunities for Cherokee people. He added that the casino’s profits would contribute funding for the tribe’s health care needs and allow Cherokee Nation Businesses to “grow its other businesses” for the future.
“When gaming goes away, the Cherokee Nation will be strong and grounded in other businesses, creating more jobs for our Cherokee people,” he said.
After opening two years ago, Cherokee Casino Ramona’s popularity was a welcome surprise for Cherokee Nation Entertainment officials. So much that CNE expanded the facility from 11,000 square feet to 31,000 square feet because it was too small for the large crowds that visited it.
The new casino features the Ramona Grill, a café-style restaurant; the Watering Hole bar; entertainment space; and 500 electronic games.
Cherokee Casino Ramona General Manager Rusty Stamps said 200 games have been added and include new titles such as “Wheel of Fortune,” as well as progressive games that were not available before.
He said progressive games are tied to other casinos throughout the United States and earn higher jackpot winnings. Stamps said games are switched out about every 90 days.
The Ramona Grill is a full-service restaurant that seats 100 guests compared to the previous restaurant that seated only 16.
Live entertainment will be at the Watering Hole stage area each weekend. Seating is available near the stage as well as a bar area where guests can order drinks while enjoying country and rock ’n’ roll bands Friday through Sunday. Stamps said retractable sound panels near the stage will keep the music confined to the bar area.
Near the casino’s main entrance sits a replica of an oil derrick, which commemorates the area’s link to Oklahoma’s petroleum industry. Cherokee National Treasure Bill Glass Jr., his son Demos and Cherokee artist Ken Foster created the 45-foot-tall, 12-foot-wide steel tower that includes the Cherokee syllabary.
The six lines of Cherokee syllabary are meant to describe a second derrick of the same size the men are working on that will be placed in front of the casino later. Reading from left to right and top to bottom, the translation reads “Cherokee. Rising from the ashes, Phoenix. By itself, flying. The fire is flaming up. I am talking. It’s here/Hello/Win.”
During the dedication ceremony, Baker honored the Shawnee family that leased the land on which the casinos sit and presented family members with a Pendleton blanket.
According to the Washington County Assessor’s Office, William Shawnee owns the land that CNE leased for the casino in 2010. According to CNB records, Cherokee Nation Entertainment paid Shawnee an advance of $600,000, as well as annual lease fees of $325,000.
CNB records also state that the annual lease fee will increase to an unspecified amount in 2013.
CNE’s lease runs through 2020 with additional renewal options of 10 years each, and upon expiration of the lease, all improvements revert to the landowners, CNB records state.
AKINS, Okla. – Sequoyah County residents on Dec. 15 discussed and learned about a transmission power line that could be built in the county and require some people to give up pieces of their lands.
The proposed Plains & Eastern Clean Line Transmission Project would be approximately 750-miles long going through Oklahoma and Arkansas and into Tennessee via 150-to-200-foot wide towers. The towers would also be 120 to 200 feet tall, compared to a usual 30-to-40-foot power pole, and would deliver wind energy from the Oklahoma panhandle to the Mid-South and Southeastern United States.
Residents voiced concerned about potential environmental impacts and their property values if the line were to pass south of Akins and north of Sallisaw.
“It’s just surprising to us that so many people who are going to be impacted by this project by them (P&E) and have not even been told their property values are going to go down. They’re going to bulldoze your fence lines. They’re going to take your trees. They’re going to be build 150-foot towers,” Steve MacDonald, meeting co-organizer, said. “We need to get the word out. We need everybody here to tell someone to get everybody involved in this because this is not just about us. It’s also about our kids.”
MacDonald said the proposed line would go through his property near Akins and that he’s told P&E officials on two occasions he does not want it on his land.
Cherokee Nation citizen and Sequoyah County resident Mary Adair said a P&E representative recently visited her property seeking soil samples.
“I told him to get off of my land and he could talk to my attorney,” she said.
Jerry Harry, a leader of an Arkansas group fighting the P&E line, attended the meeting and said his group has been attempting to block the line for about 18 months.
“This infrastructure does not touch one acre of public land. They are going after the little people, and that just made me mad,” Harry said. “You need to be involved in this thing. Everybody’s voice has got to be heard.”
Oklahoma State Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, said at the meeting that an administrative judge at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has granted P&E public utility status. However, Harry said the Arkansas Public Service Commission has refused to grant P&E the same status.
“That would have granted them eminent domain to go and take property as they saw fit,” Harry said.
Allen said P&E has yet to obtain eminent domain power to take lands along the line’s Oklahoma route.
“When they tell you they are going to come in and use eminent domain, they do not have that authority. The only one who can grant that authority is your district judge,” Allen said. “So you need to get a hold of your district judge and make sure he does not grant them eminent domain authority.”
Tribal Councilor Janelle Fullbright said her land is about two miles from the line’s proposed route and that she’s “strongly against” the project. She said she and family members have signed a petition opposing the project and that she plans to attend future meetings regarding the line.
“There’s just so many reasons that I’m against it that I can’t enumerate them all,” she said. “It’s private investment but they got public utility status.”
If built, the line would go along the county’s marked Trail of Tears path north of Sallisaw.
“Our historical group placed a (Trail of Tears) sign on Highway 59 just north of Sallisaw. This whole thing is messed up,” Fullbright said. “This is the same group that approached the Tribal Council...a year and a half or two years ago wanting us to invest several million dollars in their wind farm out near Chilocco, and we rejected it.”
Fullbright said the Tribal Council is drafting legislation opposing the P&E line.
“I’ve talked to several council people, and I think we can garner some votes to put forth a resolution to say that we oppose this, which we do,” she said.
According to P&E’s website, the line’s development and construction would cost an estimated $2 billion and would deliver enough clean energy to serve more than 1 million homes per year.
The company claims it followed a multi-year process to identify potential routes for the direct current line, which included input from landowners, local leaders, state and federal agencies and other interested parties.
However, most residents who attended the meeting said they had never heard of P&E or its proposed line.
The project would have endpoints in the Oklahoma panhandle near Guymon, according the P&E website, and in western Tennessee northeast of Memphis.
The website states in most places the easement for the line connecting the converter stations would be 150 to 200 feet wide.
“Clean Line is committed to working with landowners to minimize impacts of the project to their property. The routes presented in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement may change due to public comment and further evaluation by DOE (Department of Energy). DOE is expected to determine a preferred route for the direct current transmission line with its release of the Final EIS currently expected in the second half of 2015,” states the website. “The final location of the easement necessary for the direct current transmission line is subject to change based on landowner input, the outcome of the environmental review process, field survey, engineering and other factors.”
Members of the “Block Plains & Eastern Clean Line – Oklahoma” group are working to ensure they have input in the process and that the line isn’t built.
MacDonald said the group’s 566 members have been distributing a petition to stop the power line.
“It has been snuck up on people and is a surprise to everyone. I think all Cherokee citizens should be aware of this,” CN citizen Daniel HorseChief said. “I do not oppose clean energy not one bit, but the way this project is drawn out...it goes against the core concept of green energy production.”
Akins resident Daron Harrison, who co-organized the meeting, said it’s important for the public to comment about the line during the comment period. “If they don’t hear from us it’s going to look like there’s no resistance going through here.”
Harrison said if the line were built it would run about 200 yards from his home.
The DOE has given the public until March 19 to comment on the project’s DEIS. The DOE will hold 15 public hearings in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee beginning Jan. 26, including Feb. 2 in Muskogee at the Muskogee Civic Center, Room D, 425 Boston St. Another meeting will be held Feb. 18 in Fort Smith, Arkansas, at the Convention Center, Exhibit Hall A, 55 Seventh St.
Those meetings will begin at 5 p.m. with public comments beginning at 6:15 p.m. For a full list of meeting sites, email <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
Comments can be made at the public hearings, emailed to email@example.com, submitted to the EIS comment form at <a href="http://www.plainsandeasterneis.com" target="_blank">http://www.plainsandeasterneis.com</a>, faxed to 303-295-2818 or mailed to Dr. Jane Summerson, NEPA Document Manager, Plains & Eastern EIS, 216 16th St., Suite 1500, Denver, CO, 80202.
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) – Many in Indian Country are wary of the idea of growing and selling marijuana on tribal lands, even if it could present an economic windfall and the U.S. Department of Justice says it’s OK.
“I would really doubt tribes would be wanting to do something like that,” said Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes in Oregon, where voters this year approved a measure to legalize recreational pot. “We have an alcohol- and drug-free policy at work. It would just not be something we would be looking for into the future.”
The U.S. Justice Department announced on Dec. 11 that it has adopted a new policy saying Indian tribes, which are considered sovereign nations, can grow and sell marijuana on tribal lands as long as they follow the same federal conditions laid out for states that have legalized the drug.
Oregon U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said the policy addresses questions raised by tribes about how legalization of pot in states like Oregon, Washington and Colorado would apply to Indian lands.
“That’s been the primary message tribes are getting to us as U.S. attorneys,” Marshall said from Portland. “What will the U.S. as federal partners do to assist tribes in protecting our children and families, our tribal businesses, our tribal housing? How will you help us combat marijuana abuse in Indian Country when states are no longer there to partner with us?”
Whether tribal pot could become a major bonanza rivaling tribal casinos is a big question. Marshall said only three tribes - one each in California, Washington state and the Midwest - have voiced any interest. She did not identify them.
Seattle attorney Anthony Broadman, whose firm represents tribal governments throughout the West, said the economic potential is vast. “If tribes can balance all the potential social issues, it could be a really huge opportunity,” Broadman said.
Many in Indian Country are wary.
The Yakama Nation in Washington state recently banned marijuana on the reservation and is trying to halt state regulated pot sales and grows on lands off the reservation where it holds hunting and fishing rights.
The Hoopa Valley Tribe in Northern California has battled illegal pot plantations on its reservation that have damaged the environment.
In South Dakota, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council this year rejected a proposal to allow marijuana on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
“For me, it’s a drug,” said Ellen Fills the Pipe, chairwoman of the council’s Law and Order Committee. “My gut feeling is we’re most likely going to shoot it down.”
Walter Lamar is a member of the Blackfeet Nation, and former FBI agent, who advises and offers training to tribes on drug issues, noted that unemployment is high in Indian Country, and many of the jobs that are available, such as wildland firefighting, teaching, and U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs positions, require drug testing.
“Once there’s an easier availability for marijuana, it’s going to create some issues that could have an impact on our employment pool,” he said.
Marshall warned that problems could arise for tribes with lands in states that outlaw marijuana due to the likelihood that pot would be transported or sold outside tribal boundaries.
Broadman said tribes would enjoy a huge advantage selling pot, as they do with tobacco, because they would not have to charge taxes.
Alison Holcomb, a primary drafter of Washington state’s legalization measure, said most people in larger states won’t want to drive to far-flung reservations to buy pot.
But John Evich disagreed. He runs a legal marijuana store in Bellingham, Washington, near the Nooksack Indian reservation. When he chewed tobacco, he said, he used to stock up at the reservation because it was about 30 percent cheaper there. He had little doubt people would do the same if tribes began selling pot.
The Nooksack tribes did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Marshall said with 566 tribes around the country recognized by the federal government, there will be a lot of consulting between tribal leaders and federal prosecutors. Some tribes have their own police, some rely on federal law enforcement, and some call in state and local police.
With limited resources, federal prosecutors will not prosecute minor cases, Marshall said.
The tribal policy is based on an August 2013 Justice Department announcement that the federal government wouldn’t intervene as long as pot legalization states tightly regulate the drug, keep it from children and criminal cartels and prevent sales to states that outlaw it, among other measures.
CATOOSA, Okla. – In a special Dec. 15 meeting, the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors approved two transfers for lands in West Siloam Springs and Roland to Cherokee Nation Construction Resources for future home construction projects.
Twenty-nine lots of land in West Siloam Springs and 26 lots in Roland will be used for housing. CNCR, a division of CNB, will oversee the construction of 52 homes and then sell them to the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation after they are built. The HACN provides housing for CN citizens.
“We are at the point where we need to take care of administrative matters transferring title of land so that the appropriate entity can move forward with the work at hand,” CNB Executive Vice President Charles Garrett said.
In West Siloam Springs, the HACN and CNCR are in the process of finalizing an agreement, officials said. They said the agreement states that CNCR will construct homes on sites previously approved by the HACN, and upon completion, the HACN will purchase those homes from CNCR.
Cherokee Nation Enterprises, the entertainment division of CNB, previously held the 29 lots behind the WSS Cherokee Casino.
“It was in effect surplus property. So we’re going to be re-engineering that area...for the construction of these homes,” Garrett said.
Garrett asked the board to consider transferring the land from CNE to CNCR. Previously, the board transferred the land from CNE to the HACN. To expedite the financing of the homes, it was deemed “more advantageous” to transfer the land to CNCR and for Construction Resources to build the homes and then allow the HACN purchase them, he said.
“That’s the sequence of events we expect, and will be documented in the agreement,” Garrett said. “We’ll give them (HACN) an invoice and that invoice will reflect cost, and we’re currently contemplating a plus-3 percent service fee.”
Garrett said he and CNB Chief Financial Officer Doug Evans were working a way to allocate the cost to CNE for giving up the land for the two housing projects.
In Roland, Cherokee Nation Property Management, another CNB entity, has under contract 26 lots of property. Garrett requested the board reassign that contract to CNCR and then provide authorization to CNCR to close on the property on Dec. 17.
Garrett said it’s the same strategy as in West Siloam Springs. CNCR would build 23 homes on the Roland and the HACN would purchase those homes from CNCR after they are built.
The board approved the transfer of the property from CNPM to CNCR and authorized Construction Resources to close on the property.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar’s reference to American Indians as “wards of the federal government” has struck a harsh chord with tribal members and legal experts in the days following a discussion about a controversial Arizona land deal that would make way for the country’s largest copper mine.
The Arizona Republican was responding to concerns from Phil Stago of the White Mountain Apache Tribe when he made the comment that stunned people at the round-table talk.
Stago said the phrase is antiquated and ignores advances made in tribes managing their own affairs and seeking equal representation when it comes to projects proposed on land they consider sacred.
“He kind of revealed the truth - the true deep feeling of the federal government: `Tribes, you can call yourselves sovereign nations, but when it comes down to the final test, you’re not really sovereign because we still have plenary authority over you,’” Stago told The Associated Press.
Gosar spokesman Steven Smith said that wasn’t the intent of the congressman, whose constituents in the 4th Congressional District include Apache tribes. He didn’t respond to requests to elaborate further.
“If that’s what he got out of that, I think it’s misconstrued,” Smith said. “If you look at the work the congressman has done, that’s far from the truth.”
Smith said Gosar has been an advocate for strengthening the relationship between tribes and the federal government. He pointed to legislation he sponsored this year that would do so.
Gosar held the discussion Friday in Flagstaff with Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who grew up with Stago on Arizona’s Fort Apache Reservation.
Dozens of people attended the meeting to discuss land, mining and forest issues with the representatives.
One topic they addressed was a proposal to swap 2,400 acres of southeastern Arizona’s Tonto National Forest for about 5,300 acres of environmentally sensitive land throughout the state controlled by a subsidiary of global mining giant Rio Tinto. Stago said the proposal was disrespectful to tribal sovereignty.
Gosar said: “You’re still wards of the federal government,” according to the Arizona Daily Sun.
While former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall described tribes’ relationship with the federal government as that of a ward to its guardian in the 1830s, that characterization has long been irrelevant, experts in federal Indian law said.
Tribal members once seen as incompetent in the Supreme Court’s eyes became U.S. citizens in 1924, and the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 pushed the concept of tribal sovereignty and self-determination, said Troy Eid, a Republican and former U.S. attorney in Colorado.
Congress maintains control over Indian affairs.
However, the Interior Department is moving away from archaic paternalism when it comes to relationships with tribes, a spokeswoman said. The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ website notes the federal government is a trustee of Indian property - not the guardian of all American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Eid said the language that defines core concepts of Indian law is old and often ethnically offensive. “Wards of the federal government” is no different, he said.
“That’s just not appropriate,” Eid said. “In the heated context of what this represents, it’s especially inappropriate to be resorting to what amounts to race baiting.”
The trend has been for tribes to take more control over their affairs while holding the federal government to promises generally born out of treaties. In exchange for tribal land, the government promised things like health care, education and social services in perpetuity for members of federally recognized tribes.
Some tribes are taking advantage of federal laws that allow them to prosecute felony crimes and assert jurisdiction over non-Natives in limited cases of domestic violence. They also have the authority to approve trust land leases directly, rather than wait for BIA approval.
Sam Deloria, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who served for 35 years as director of the American Indian Law Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said tribes welcome discussion about policy matters.
But when someone makes a comment like Gosar’s, “it doesn’t contribute much to the debate,” he said.
CASPER, Wyo. (AP) – The Northern Arapaho tribe has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that proposed Internal Revenue Service rules could cause Native Americans to pay higher insurance premiums or lose health care benefits.
Tribal leaders said the recently proposed IRS interpretation of the large-employer mandate would unlawfully exempt Native Americans working for the tribe from receiving tax credits and cost-sharing benefits specifically outlined by new federal health laws.
Northern Arapaho Business Council members said the IRS rule would eliminate tribal tax credits for health care benefits and make those earning more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level exempt from cost-sharing provisions that currently cover Native American insurance premiums.
“The Northern Arapaho Business Council fully supports what Congress and the president have accomplished with the Affordable Care Act,” said Northern Arapaho Councilman Darrell O’Neal, “but the folks in the agencies have taken a wrong turn in implementing it.”
The Northern Arapaho Tribe has about 10,000 enrolled citizens and shares a large reservation in Wyoming, southeast of Grand Teton National Park. It employs more than 600 people.
The tribe insures its workers with plans from the federal health insurance marketplace and provides more than 80 percent of premium costs, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.
Under the rule, tribal governments and agencies are considered large employers. Those Native Americans employed by the tribes would be subject to provisions of the large-employer mandate. More than 62 percent of Northern Arapaho members live below the poverty line.
If approved, the rule would take effect Jan. 1. The rule-making is on hold, awaiting results of the case, filed in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming.
The tribe said Congress did not intend the health care legislation to block Native Americans’ benefits and that the IRS rulemaking exposes a rift between legislation and the executive branch.
The IRS referred calls to the Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) – California’s Pala Indians have launched their Internet gambling site in New Jersey following a test period in November, becoming the first tribe to do so in the state.
The Pala Band of Mission Indians received permission from New Jersey gambling regulators for a full launch of the website in a partnership with Atlantic City’s Borgata. PalaCasino.com started taking bets on Nov. 29, Jim Ryan, CEO of Pala Interactive, the tribe’s Internet gambling arm, said.
“We had a solid weekend and we have yet to start marketing,” he told The Associated Press. “We believe we are breaking into the New Jersey market at the perfect time.”
The tribe’s entry into New Jersey’s online market comes at the anniversary of Internet gambling, which has not produced nearly the amount of revenue state officials had hoped. When it began on Nov. 25, 2013, New Jersey officials were projecting a $1 billion a year industry in its first year. To date, only about one-tenth of that, or $111 million, has been won online by the casinos.
The tribe, which runs the Pala Casino and Spa in San Diego County, California, is using one of the Borgata’s online gambling licenses. Like other New Jersey Internet gambling providers, it can only take bets from customers within New Jersey’s borders.
It plans to launch an online poker site in the first quarter of 2015.
The site’s full debut came days after New Jersey gambling regulators said they had found no evidence Ryan was involved in a 2006 cheating scandal at his previous employer.
The report determined the UltimateBet scandal occurred while Ryan was head of Excapsa Software. That firm’s software was used to cheat players by revealing their hidden cards to other users, resulting in losses of nearly $20 million to players. But the software was developed by a different company that predated Ryan’s employment at Excapsa, according to the report. The money was ultimately refunded.
The Pala site uses a different platform, Ryan said.