Grand Ronde appeals to U.S. Supreme Court

WILLAMINA, Ore. -- Oregon’s Grand Ronde tribe is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to halt construction of a 368,000-square-foot Cowlitz tribe casino in La Center, Washington, after the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied its request on July 29.

"The council has made the decision to approve an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court," tribal attorney Rob Greene said. He expects to file this fall.

The tribe estimates it will lose 41 percent of its revenue if the Cowlitz tribe’s Ilani casino is permitted to open. Tribal officials said they are looking into other revenue sources in response to the estimate.

Currently, Grand Ronde gives 6 percent of the revenue from its Spirit Mountain Casino to the state through the Spirit Mountain Community Fund. According to the fund's grant archive, the tribe issued 34 grants totaling over $1.5 million in January. Recipients included the Center for Hope and Safety in Salem which received $75,000, and the Child Center which offers mental health services for children. It received $100,000. To date, the fund has given $71.6 million.

Tribal members were told of the upcoming filing during a Aug. 31 council meeting. While some applauded the effort, others worried about the cost of another legal fight. Tribal councilman Jack Giffen told members at the meeting that he would not speak to the tribe's plans to combat the revenue loss, citing the presence of a live stream.

Councilwoman Tonya Gleason-Shepek said she supported the filing and recognized the high court may rule against the tribe if it agrees to hear the case at all. She said regardless of the outcome, she wanted to see a Supreme Court decision on the matter.

"Speaking for myself, I support requesting the Supreme Court to consider the case. It isn't entirely about fighting another tribe," she said. "I am also interested in having a clarifying Supreme Court Carcheri decision. This would be good for all Indian country."

In 2009, the Supreme Court issued a decision concerning the Indian Reorganization Act the Department of the Interior's authority to hold land in trust for federally recognized tribes. The case, Carcieri v. Salazar was cited in Grand Ronde's original filing against Cowlitz.

Grand Ronde recently demolished the structures on land it purchased in Wood Village. Plans call for an “entertainment center” and hotel; the tribal newspaper, Smoke Signals, described the project as “mixed-use development that will have a symbiotic relationship with the Grand Ronde Tribe’s Spirit Mountain Casino.” Current legislation limits casinos outside of tribal land, but according to tribe lobbyist Justin Martin Grand Ronde is “considering everything” to make up for the revenue loss.

The original complaint was filed after Grand Ronde argued that the Cowlitz tribe was “reservation shopping” and building closer to Portland to attract more revenue. However, the tribe has issued a statement on the Ilani website refuting this claim. The tribe said it was unable to comment on the upcoming court appeal by Grand Ronde.

Cowlitz was granted permission to build the casino after several false starts and objections from both the Grand Ronde tribe and Clark County. The $500 million dollar project is expected to bring 800-1,200 jobs to the area and $40 million in revenue opportunities to local businesses. Ilani is set to open in spring 2017.


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