March 20, 2009
BARSTOW - At the urging of Barstow's Mayor Joe Gomez, the leaders of the two Indian tribes hoping to build casinos in Barstow sat down together last week to clear the air.
Chemehuevi tribal Chairman Charles Wood met in Barstow with Francine Kupsch, spokesperson with the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno, in the first formal meeting ever between the leaders of the tribes.
"I think the meeting went very well, and it was long overdue," Wood said.
He anticipates future meetings between the tribes, but does not anticipate the tribes forming a joint venture on the casino project.
Kupsch said they discussed their respective tribal histories and past struggles giving both leaders a better understanding of each other.
However, she said the possibility of forming a joint venture did not come up during the meeting.
In the past, there had been tension between the tribes over their separate casino projects. This was especially true over the 2006 ballot Measure H, which would have created a casino zone for the Chemehuevi but not for the Los Coyotes. The measure was defeated by voters.
Mayor Gomez said asked the tribes to meet, in hopes that they could find ways to support each other or at least not interfere with each others casino plans.
"I think it should have been done a long time ago," he said. "I think we would have had a better opportunity to get a casino if they had met from the very beginning and got their input from the very beginning."
Both tribes previously applied to the U.S. Department of the Interior for land in Barstow to be used for off-reservation gaming, but their applications were rejected in January 2008 under a new federal standards requiring off-reservation Indian casinos to be within commuting distance of the reservation. Since then the Los Coyotes have filed an amended application, and the Chemehuevi are undecided on their next step.
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