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Federal Court Rules County Has No Authority over Tribal Land.

U.S. District Court Hands Victory to Chukchansi

COARSEGOLD, Calif. -- A federal court Thursday ruled against Madera County refusing to sanction its attempts to stop new hotel construction at Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino, the gaming and entertainment facility owned and operated by the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians.

The ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel of the U.S. District Court's Northern District of California, San Jose Division, agreed with the Tribe's lawyers that Madera County officials have been interfering with the Tribe's rights as guaranteed by the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). Madera County leaders had claimed authority and jurisdiction over Tribal Land. Madera leaders had also claimed the federal courts could not enforce laws against state and local governments on Indian Country land.

"We are extremely gratified that the U.S. District Court has ruled in our favor," said Dustin Graham, on behalf of the Tribal Council of Chukchansi Indians. "The Madera County Board of Supervisors has challenged our status as a sovereign Indian Nation. It has fought our plans to expand the hotel on our reservation. Their lawsuits against us have bounced between federal and state courts for nearly three years, and now we finally have a ruling in Federal Court that that the County has no jurisdiction over tribal lands. This is a real day of celebration for our people."

"The County's litigation strategy and press releases have been very troubling," said Graham, who is the Chair of the Tribe. "We are very happy that the court now agrees with us. We're eager for the next legal step to reaffirm the fact that our people have lived on this land for thousands of years, and that the County has no authority over our business plans," he said.

In 2005, the Chukchansi Economic Development Authority (CEDA) successfully completed the refinancing of its outstanding debt, setting the stage for an expansion of its successful casino business to include hotel and spa amenities.

CEDA successfully closed the $310 million bond offering and committed to use the proceeds from the offering to provide millions of dollars to fund the Casino's expansion in Madera County. Construction on the expansion began in October 2006. The expansion is expected to create hundreds of new jobs for local residents and will pour millions of dollars into the Valley's local economy.

"This court decision is a good sign, not only for the Tribe, but for the people of the Central Valley," said Graham. "We have played by the rules and have built our casino on our Indian Land. It's time for Madera County and the Tribe to begin a positive government-to-government relationship, one that is based on partnership and mutual respect," Graham continued.

The United States established the Chukchansi Tribe's current reservation in 1912. In the 1960's, the U.S. Government illegally stripped the Tribe of its legal status and took away its land. A federal court later ruled the United States' actions were illegal and restored the original boundaries of the Chukchansi reservation. The federal court has made it abundantly clear that the Tribe's reservation is "Indian Country," a legal term that stems from federal law.

In 2004, Judge Fogel, of the same U.S. District Court Division, ruled in two separate decisions that Madera County does not have authority to unilaterally tax Indian Land.

The Chukchansi Indians have operated their gaming business under its Compact with the State of California, and completed all environmental impact reports before proceeding with the expansion project.

"There will be off-reservation impacts from our expansion--we know this," said Graham. "We will help pay to mitigate those impacts just as we have done in the past. We hope Madera County Supervisors take this opportunity to return to negotiations and help us craft a fair solution so everyone in this Valley can benefit from our growing business. For today, we will celebrate this ruling as a Tribe."
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Publication:Business Wire
Date:Feb 2, 2007
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