Catawba tribe clears one hurdle but faces new foe in casino land fight

Saturday 23rd May 2020

The Cherokee Nation has joined the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in its efforts to stop land from being taken into trust for the Catawba Indian Nation

The Catawba Indian Nation announced one legal decision in its favor, but the South Carolina-based tribe has new opposition to its quest to get land put into trust in North Carolina for the purposes of establishing a casino.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin announced that his tribe filed a motion to intervene with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians' lawsuit to stop the land from being put into trust.

The motion to intervene in the case of Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians v. United States Department of Interior was granted.

"Records from the Cherokee Nation Tribal Historic Preservation Office indicate that cultural resources could be located in the area in question," Hoskin said in a statement.

On May 1, the Catawba tribe announced on its Facebook page that an Eastern Band motion seeking an injunction to block the land from taken into trust was rejected. The motion was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

"The court denied that request, vindicating our position," the post said. "We can expect additional appeals, unfortunately, but we are excited that we prevailed in this first attempt to derail the project."

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Richard Sneed said the issue isn't over.

"We are disappointed by the court's decision, but this is just the first battle in a long fight to reverse the unfair, arbitrary decision by the Department of Interior," Sneed said. "Protecting cultural rights on historic treaty lands is important not only for us, but for every Native American tribe. Allowing the federal government to illegally place the interests of unscrupulous developers above Native heritage would be a dangerous precedent."

The Interior Department announced in March that it had approved the taking of about 17 acres, just off of Interstate 85 near Charlotte, and that it could be used for Indian gaming.

The Eastern Band filed a lawsuit, seeking a preliminary injunction to stop it. Sneed called the action illegal.

"The federal government has no right or authority to create a new reservation for the Catawba Nation across state lines, into Cherokee historical territory, just to build a casino," he said in March. "This decision cannot and will not stand."

Both the Eastern Cherokee and Cherokee Nation say there is a possible existence of Cherokee cultural resources at the site, and that the Interior hasn't consulted with the Cherokee Nation.

The Catawbas have answered in court documents that the Eastern Cherokee are trying to keep competition from opening. Charlotte is one of the feeder markets for the Eastern Cherokees' casinos.

The Catawbas also claim a historical presence in the same area, and they say the Eastern Cherokees' claim of irreparable harm being done to Cherokee cultural resources is "bordering on frivolous."

Julie Hubbard, public relations supervisor for the Cherokee Nation, said in a statement that the federal government, under law, is supposed to consult with the Cherokee Nation on actions from federal agencies that impact cultural grounds within its historic treaty territory.

"The Cherokee Nation was never notified of the proposed trust acquisition and has intervened to assert consultation rights under federal law," she said.

Hoskin said the Cherokee Nation is seeking to prevent the Interior Department from approving the trust acquisition until it properly consults with the tribe and "conducts a cultural survey to ensure that historic resources are not located on the property."

"As principal chief, I'm committed to protecting the integrity of our cultural resources, and I expect the federal government to respect our history and treaty territories," Hoskin said. "I'm proud to join the Eastern Band in this common objective to ensure the federal government complies with the spirit and letter of the law."

Officials with the Catawba Indian Nation could not be immediately reached for comment, nor could the Catawbas' attorney Daniel Volchok, of the Washington, D.C., law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.

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