SOU professor Brook Colley writes book about Tribal casino conflict

06.14.2018 Dean Rhodes People, Gaming, Federal Government

Ten years ago, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Warm Springs Tribe were on opposite sides of a proposal that would have allowed the eastern Oregon Tribe to build a new casino in Cascade Locks in the Columbia River Gorge.

Grand Ronde Tribal Council members at the time, including Cheryle A. Kennedy and Reyn Leno, testified at five public hearings held in Stevenson, Wash., Portland, Hood River, Warm Springs and Cascade Locks held by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Warm Springs representatives also turned out in force as well.

As reported by Smoke Signals, the Warm Springs proposal to build a $389 million, 603,000-square-foot riverfront destination and casino on 60 acres in Cascade Locks boiled down to debating green vs. green – environmental concerns against badly needed revenue for the Warm Springs Tribe and economic stimulus for the depressed town of Cascade Locks.

Grand Ronde Tribal representatives also expressed concerns about encroachment by another Tribe into Grand Ronde ancestral and historic homelands and abrogation of a long-standing state policy of one casino per Tribe on Reservation land.

In the end, the Warm Springs Tribe never built a casino in Cascade Locks and the Grand Ronde Tribe weathered criticism for not supporting another Tribe’s economic development efforts. Even some Grand Ronde Tribal members debated their own Tribe’s opposition, reminding people of Warm Springs’ support for the Grand Ronde Restoration effort in the early 1980s and its members’ help in rejuvenating Tribal culture after Restoration occurred.

The contentious time between two Oregon Tribes is the topic of Southern Oregon University Native American Studies Assistant Professor Brook Colley’s new book, “Power in the Telling: Grand Ronde, Warm Springs and Intertribal Relations in the Casino Era.”

The book, published by the University of Washington Press, contains a forward written by former Grand Ronde Tribal Historian and Cultural Resources Department Manager David Lewis.

Colley conducted 33 interviews for the book, which creates an “in-depth study that unravels the history of this disagreement and challenges the way conventional media characterizes intertribal casino disputes in terms of corruption and greed,” states a press release from the University of Washington Press. “Instead, she locates these conflicts within historical, social and political contexts of colonization.”

Colley examines how casino economies affect the relationship between gaming Tribes and federal and state governments, and the repercussions for the Tribes themselves.

“Ultimately, Colley’s engaging examination explores strategies for reconciliation and cooperation, emphasizing narratives of resilience and Tribal sovereignty,” the releases states.

“Brook Colley brings a dynamic voice to researchers who have much to offer in terms of their rich cultural heritage and craft wisdom in decolonizing methodologies,” said Cornel Pewewardy, professor emeritus of Indigenous Nations Studies at Portland State University, in one of the book cover’s blurbs.

“I think it made some pretty good arguments about what’s been going on,” Lewis said. “About the various overlapping land claims. I think it really reveals a lot about that whole situation.

“I think really what she is revealing, and I think everyone needs to see this, that there is no sort of right answer. Tribes have been put in an impossible situation of trying to work it out now with limited resources. … It’s just the case that we’re basically trying to look out for our own interests in the modern age of Indian politics. That’s the pie we’ve been given. We didn’t create the pie. We were given that structure by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and we were told to live with it.

“We all wish that the Tribes of Oregon worked together and shared finances, but that’s not the way right now that Tribal politics is working.”

Lewis said one important lesson from the book is that Tribes need to work together, especially in light of the Trump administration, which appears to be working to reduce Tribal sovereignty.

“We need to be working together for the future,” Lewis said. “If we are separated, as we are now in many ways, we’re weaker than if we’re working together for our future.”

Colley is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

The book, available at, retails for $90 hard cover and $30 paperback.

To hear Colley discuss the book and her research, visit and search for “Smoke Signals podcast” to listen to an interview posted on Thursday, June 7.