Top Indian official describes new gaming policy

By Justin Juozapavicius
Catoosa, Oklahoma (AP) June 2011

The Department of the Interior will begin processing off-reservation gaming applications with a new approach that allows for greater transparency and input from tribes, elected officials and affected residents, a top American Indian official with the agency said.

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk said a memorandum put in place in 2008 by the previous administration did not take into account consultation of tribes and had no opportunity for public comment.

“So that is not the way that the federal government is supposed to do business with Indian tribes,” Echo Hawk told The Associated Press before he delivered remarks at the Society of American Indian Government Employees in Catoosa.

Echo Hawk’s administration rescinded the 2008 memo and held six meetings with tribal leaders from across the country from September through December 2010 and received hundreds of comments from tribal leaders about how off-reservation gaming should be handled, Echo Hawk said.

“We must consult with state and local officials who are affected by the developments like this and the other tribes that may be affected,” said Echo Hawk, a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. “So there are plenty of opportunities in this process to receive comment.”

Echo Hawk said people should not misread the new regulations as a sign the administration has become more lax when it comes to reviewing applications.

“You might say it’s a relatively steep hill to climb,” he said. “It says in the regulations the farther you go from the reservation, the greater the scrutiny is.

“I don’t think anyone should be looking at this as if now we’ve opened the gates and we’re going to start approving casinos at great distances,” Echo Hawk said.

Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and the Department of Interior’s new policy, tribes must meet several criteria to operate off-reservation gaming facilities. They include having land in trust by the department for the benefit of the tribe, approval from the governor of the state the operation would be located in and entering into a tribal-state gaming pact, according to the act.

Echo Hawk declined to comment Wednesday on the ongoing conflict over who is the rightful governor of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma, saying that Washington is staying out of the local matter.

Last week, a Bureau of Indian Affairs deputy regional director told AP it was unlikely the power struggle between former political allies Janice Boswell and Leslie Harjo will be settled soon because the matter is tied up in an appeals process.