Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rep. John Conyers: No special deals for tribal casinos


No special deals for tribal casinos

I would like to add a few points concerning the upcoming vote in Congress on legalizing off-reservation casinos in Romulus and Port Huron ("Legislators, tribes divided over casinos; At issue: Romulus, Port Huron sites," June 22):

The validity of the land claims the bills purport to "settle" is questionable. The Bay Mills Indian Community filed its claim in federal and Michigan courts, and lost in both. The Sault Ste. Marie tribe has never bothered to pursue the established legal paths available for settling such claims.

The settlements are for land hundreds of miles from the tribes' reservations. Under the established procedures for considering permitting a tribe to build an off-reservation casino, distance from the reservation is a major factor weighing against approval, because the detriment to the tribe is more likely to outweigh any benefits.

Other important factors under the established procedure are the potential environmental problems and the potential detrimental effects on the surrounding community. The deals the bills cut for the Bay Mills and Sault Ste. Marie tribes would circumvent every part of the careful consideration that is usually required.

In 1993, the two tribes signed a compact with other Michigan tribes in which the signatories agreed to share revenues from any off-reservation gaming facility. The bills pending in Congress allow Bay Mills and Sault Ste. Marie to sidestep that compact.

Michigan voters approved a referendum in 2004 to limit the spread of casinos in their state. These bills would legalize new casinos in defiance of the express wishes of Michigan voters.

Opposition to the bills extends far beyond Detroit's local elected officials and its congressional representatives. It includes more than 60 Indian tribes in Michigan and across the country, all of whom have their own interest in being able to build casinos on their own lands, but who are unified in their opposition to this effort to circumvent the law and the free-for-all it could unleash.

The bills are also opposed by the NAACP, which is concerned that both these bills raise serious questions regarding procedural fairness, due process and respect for the role of states and local governments, as well the voters in our country.

The House Judiciary Committee, which shares jurisdiction over these bills with the Natural Resources Committee, voted unanimously to oppose them.

I believe that by passing the bills favoring the narrow interests of the Bay Mills and Sault Ste. Marie tribes and their private-sector allies, Congress would set a dangerous precedent for sidestepping the established review process for land claims and create a shortcut for the opening of casinos in any corner of the country. The tribes should be allowed to pursue their claims through the normal procedures, including approval by Michigan voters, but not by special deals in Lansing and Washington.

John Conyers Jr.
U.S. House Judiciary Committee

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