SAN DIEGO - The Jamul tribe's plan to build a large casino 20 miles east of
downtown San Diego became more complicated last month with a U.S.
Supreme Court ruling that bars the Secretary of the Interior Department from taking tribal land into federal trust for tribes that were federally recognized after 1934. The transfer of land into federal trust grants tribal sovereignty and permission to gaming.
Jamul Indians owned 6 acres which have already been transferred into federal trust. However, the tribe did not appear on federal lists in 1934, when the Indian Reorganization Act passed. Instead, the tribe was recognized through their ratification of a tribal constitution approved by the department in July 1981. The following year the Interior secretary included Jamul on the master list of federally recognized tribes. Then the tribe's 6-acre reservation was taken into federal trust in two separate actions finalized in 1978 and 1982.
Jamul Indian Village Chairman Kenneth Meza compared the Supreme Court's decision to the federal government's history of broken treaties with Indian tribes.
"It was a terrible decision," he said. "It sets us back 100 years." But
Meza believes the ruling will not end of the tribe's reservation or its plans for a casino.
Indian law expert Kathryn Rand said, "Those questions might ultimately be decided in favor of the tribe, but . . . they are dependent upon the particular circumstances surrounding the tribe's recognition and the land taken into trust."
Matthew Fletcher, a law professor and director of the Indigenous Law & Policy Center at Michigan State University, agrees that Jamul's land taken into trust appear secures, despite the decision. He cites the federal Quiet Title Act which provides a six-year statute of limitations for such legal challenges.
In addition to impact of the Supreme Court ruling, the financial backer, Lakes Entertainment, says the casino project will be delayed at least five years because of financial concerns and a lawsuit over access to the casino site.
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