Tribal Government & News

Tribe planning to appeal Cowlitz ruling

08.01.2016 Dean Rhodes Tribal Council, Gaming, Federal Government

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde plans to appeal to the Supreme Court following a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling on Friday, July 29, that will allow the Cowlitz Tribe to keep its 152-acre reservation and continue building a casino 15 miles north of the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area.

Tribal Council Chief of Staff Stacia Martin said a majority of Tribal Council approved an appeal to the Supreme Court last week.

The ruling handed down by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected arguments made by the Grand Ronde Tribe and Clark County, Wash., during a March 18 appeals hearing held in Washington, D.C.

At issue was a decision by District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein that favored the Department of the Interior’s decision to take land into trust for a Cowlitz Reservation. The Tribe, city of Vancouver and Clark County appealed Rothstein’s December 2014 ruling.

The three-judge Appeals Court panel that heard the case included Cornelia Pillard, Robert Wilkins and Harry Edwards.

Attending the appeal hearing were Grand Ronde Tribal Council members Chairman Reyn Leno, Vice Chair Jack Giffen Jr., Brenda Tuomi, Jon A. George, Tonya Gleason-Shepek and Denise Harvey. Tribal Attorney Rob Greene, Assistant Tribal Attorney Kim D’Aquila and Tribal Council Chief of Staff Stacia Martin also attended.

Represented by attorney Lawrence Robbins, the Grand Ronde Tribe argued that the Cowlitz was not a recognized Tribe under federal jurisdiction when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed in 1934 and did not meet the initial reservation exception under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, among other arguments.

Robbins said during the appeal hearing that for the Department of the Interior to take land into trust for the Cowlitz Tribe under the Indian Reorganization Act, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell had to make two independent decisions: That the Cowlitz Tribe was a recognized Tribe and that the Cowlitz were under federal jurisdiction.

The decision, written by Wilkins, affirmed Rothstein’s decision.

“The Secretary (of the Interior) reasonably interpreted and applied the Indian Reorganization Act to conclude that the Cowlitz are a ‘recognized Indian Tribe now under federal jurisdiction,’ ” Wilkins wrote in his opinion. “The Secretary also reasonably determined that the Cowlitz meet the ‘initial-reservation’ exception to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.”

Grand Ronde Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno released a statement shortly after the Court of Appeals decision was released.

“The Tribe continues to believe it is wrong for the Cowlitz to build a casino in Clark County, a region historically belonging to the Tribes and Bands of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde,” Leno said. “We are reviewing the decision and are evaluating our next steps. Our Tribe has remained vigilant throughout this process and will continue to be.

“The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde doesn’t believe that a Tribe should be allowed to go reservation shopping outside their historic territory, simply because they have identified a location that is more desirable because of its proximity to an urban area. We look forward to keeping our membership informed and are determined to forge ahead in a positive manner.

“In addition to how we respond to this decision, the Tribe has initiated a major renovation of Spirit Mountain Casino, is redeveloping the greyhound track at Wood Village and continues to explore options to build the Grand Ronde economy.”

Tribal Council scheduled an executive session to discuss the ruling on Monday, Aug. 1.

The Grand Ronde Tribe has consistently stated that the Cowlitz Tribe’s traditional homelands are about 60 miles farther north in the Toledo, Wash., area. Tribal officials have previously stated that if the Cowlitz had received a reservation in that area, the Grand Ronde Tribe would never have filed a lawsuit.

The city of Vancouver withdrew from the lawsuit following oral arguments heard in March.

The Supreme Court, unlike the Court of Appeals, is not required to take all cases. If the Supreme Court does not take the case, the decision of the Court of Appeals stands.