A tribe’s bid for federal recognition could pave the way for LA’s first Indian casino

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

A tribe’s bid for federal recognition could pave the way for LA’s first Indian casino

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Louis Sahagn

Dec. 23, 2023

A local tribe’s bid for federal recognition is getting a boost from organized labor and a member of Congress who recently introduced legislation that would extend recognition status to the Gabrielino/Tongva Nation and create a 300-acre reservation in Los Angeles County.

The tribe is one of a number of indigenous groups whose ancestors first populated the Los Angeles Basin and who are seeking the ability to govern themselves on sovereign land. A bill introduced Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles) would allow the Gabrielino/Tongva Nation to bypass a costly federal petition process that could take a decade or more. It would also provide economic opportunities for the tribe, including building a casino.

If passed by both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and approved by the President, up to 300 acres of land acquired and taken into trust by the Department of the Interior on behalf of the tribe would be regulated under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. , according to the bill.

While the excitement is about a casino, to me this is a story about Gabrielino identity and land equity, and an opportunity to right a federal wrong, said Kamlager-Dove, a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

This community has been almost denied its right to exist because it lacks federal recognition, which brings with it many forms of protection and support. “This has been a long time coming,” she says.

For tribal members, federal recognition represents self-reliance.

“I want to thank Congresswoman Kamlager-Dove for this gift,” said Sandonne Goad, chairman of the 700-member tribe. It’s overwhelming, exciting and full of joy.

The bill draws the support of leaders of the politically influential Unite Here Local 11, a union that represents 32,000 hospitality workers in Los Angeles, Orange and greater Phoenix counties.



Unite Here Local 11 officials were not available for comment. But Kamlager-Dove said: I am very happy with the support of the union.

The effort is also supported by Sean Harren, president of Teamsters Local 986; Darrel Sauceda, chairman of the board of directors of the Los Angeles Latino Chamber of Commerce; Dolores Huerta, president of the nonprofit Dolores Huerta Foundation; and Pastor William D. Smart Jr., president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California.

What I like about this tribe having the right to build a casino is that it can provide a stable economic future with health benefits, college scholarships and decent housing, and about time, Smart said.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass could not be reached for comment.

but a spokesperson offered a statement that did not directly address the bill.

“Los Angeles is home to more Native Americans/Alaska Natives than any other county in the United States and the Mayor will continue to lock arms with the tribes as we all work together to fight to make Los Angeles better for everyone,”

said Zach Seidl, deputy mayor for communications. The making of

dreaming about tribal reservations

become reality

won’t be easy. The bill will need bipartisan support

one divided

Congress and any proposal for a major development such as a large-scale casino complex would face concerns from local governments and surrounding communities.

“I hope there won’t be any pushback, but I know there will be,” Goad said. We will overcome whatever comes our way.

The stakes are high. A federally recognized tribe has sovereignty, pays no taxes, and is exempt from following state or county legal ordinances. It is entitled to full service from local law enforcement agencies and fire brigades, hospitals and road and flood control systems.

It is also eligible for federal support from legal programs designed to reclaim land lost in recent decades to tax sales, fraud and violence, as well as health care, education and protection of sacred sites.

For the federally recognized tribes that own large casinos, especially those within a short drive of major cities, gambling has provided a huge payoff, allowing them to use their growing power and the legal authority of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to to take back remains and artefacts from museums and universities for proper care and burial.

Today, the industry that started just 30 years ago as a handful of bingo parlors has exploded and now includes 85 Indian casinos spread across companies in California that create 124,000 jobs and add about $19 billion annually to the state’s economy, according to the American Gaming Assn .

Indian casino sites reportedly under consideration in Los Angeles County over the past two decades include a downtown parcel, a former landfill in Monterey Park, property in Compton and Hollywood Park in Inglewood.

But before any of that could happen, a tribe would have to take the land in question into trust as sovereign Indian territory. No Native American group in the province has done this.

In 2001, then-Rep. Hilda Solis sponsored legislation asking Congress to extend recognition to another Gabrielino group in Los Angeles County. But the bill was shelved during the Sept. 11 crisis, said Wallace Cleaves, a member of the Gabrielino/Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians.

Some say it never resurfaced because of tribal conflict between more than five Gabrielino factions, including some who want to build casinos.

Kamlager-Dove’s bill has already sparked a backlash from several Gabrielino groups, who believe they deserve more recognition.

In an interview, Goad proposed a solution that would almost certainly cause more controversy.

Those others can join our tribe, Goad said. We have already processed 250 registrations for membership.


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