Minnesota Tribe Sues Federal Government Over Proposed Wisconsin Casino; Prairie Island Tribe Says Interior Secretary Babbitt is Ignoring the Law
PRAIRIE ISLAND, Minn., July 17 /PRNewswire/ -- The Prairie Island Indian Community on Friday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to stop the United States Department of Interior (DOI) and Secretary Bruce Babbitt from acting on a proposal to build an off-reservation Indian casino in nearby Hudson, Wis., until DOI consults with affected tribes. The Hudson casino proposal was rejected in 1995 by DOI, but Babbitt recently agreed in the settlement of a lawsuit brought by three Wisconsin tribes to reconsider their application and his earlier decision. Prairie Island says Secretary Babbitt is ignoring federal law by not first consulting with nearby tribes and local communities, including Prairie Island, about the impact that the new casino would have on them. "The process established under DOI's settlement agreement violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and should be stopped until it is in compliance with federal law," said Julie Fishel, an attorney representing the tribe. "The Department of the Interior previously denied this application. It has now decided to reconsider that earlier decision in response to a lawsuit brought by Wisconsin casino interests, but this time it wants to avoid its legal obligations and deny local tribes and communities their right to be consulted as guaranteed by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act." The 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) prohibits tribes from operating gambling on newly acquired off-reservation lands unless the Secretary of Interior first consults with other nearby communities and tribes and determines that a gaming establishment would not be detrimental to those communities or tribes. Three Wisconsin tribes and a limited partnership run by a Florida businessman have petitioned DOI to take 55 acres in Hudson into trust so that the tribes can build a casino on a failing dog track, currently owned by a separate limited partnership also run by the same Florida businessman. In 1993, Fred Havenick, the Florida businessman, formed a partnership with two Wisconsin tribes, the Lac Court Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians and the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, to purchase the dog-racing track and jointly manage a casino on the property. In 1994, the Sokaogon Chippewa Community joined the partnership. In July 1995, Secretary Babbitt denied the partnership's application to take the land into trust for the purposes of gaming. In that denial, Secretary Babbitt cited environmental, economic and competitive concerns under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and IGRA. The partnership sued DOI over the decision and claimed that Babbitt's actions were influenced by campaign donations made by tribes opposed to the casino. Babbitt was cleared of any wrongdoing and his department spent four years defending the decision until December 1999 when Babbitt unexpectedly announced a settlement agreement with the partnership. Babbitt agreed to throw out his previous decision and reconsider the application to take the land into trust. According to the settlement agreement, the DOI will only consult with and accept additional materials and evidence related to IRA and IGRA from the three Wisconsin tribes involved in the proposed Hudson casino. New comments by any other interested parties are limited to written comments addressing environmental impacts and concerns governed by NEPA. As for any other comments or consultations, DOI says it will consider only those materials submitted more than five years ago by Prairie Island, other tribes and the surrounding communities relating to competition and economic impacts. "Secretary Babbitt is not living up to the spirit or the letter of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act," said Fishel. "When Congress passed IGRA it included specific off-reservation gambling restrictions to attempt to balance the interests of local communities and neighboring tribes from situations like this one. It certainly did not intend for any tribe or community to have its voice silenced in the process." Prairie Island Tribal Council President Audrey Kohnen said, "This Settlement Agreement and Secretary Babbitt's actions are a slap in our face. Once again the government is saying it's okay to ignore the law if Indian tribes are involved. How many times will we have to live with the federal government's broken promises to Indian Country?" The Prairie Island Indian Community is a federally recognized Indian Nation. The reservation for the 550-member band is located in southeastern Minnesota, along the banks of the Mississippi River about 50 minutes south of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
SOURCE Prairie Island Indian Community
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