Coquille Tribe Rebuts Oregon Casino Opposition Claims

Coquille Tribe rebutting opposition claims against their Oregon casino project
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The Oregon-based Coquille Indian Tribe has lashed out at efforts by other tribes to oppose its ambitions for a casino in the city of Medford, Oreg. In an op-ed for Oregon Live this week, Coquille tribal chair Brenda Meade accused fellow tribal leaders of “throwing tribal sovereignty under the bus” in order to retain their regional gaming monopolies.

In March of this year, the Karuk, Cow Creek, Elk Valley, and Tolowa Dee-ni’ tribes—all based in Oregon and Northern California — wrote to Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Deb Haaland. They asked her to torpedo the Coquille’s request to have land earmarked for the casino taken into trust. In their letter, they warned of “devastating economic consequences” for their own gaming operations if the project were to go ahead.

‘Reservation Shopping’ Allegations

The Coquille Tribe, which owns the Mill Casino on its reservation in Coos Bay, has harbored plans for a modest gaming venue in Medford since 2011. The tribe first submitted its application to the DOI’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 2013.

In 2020, the BIA under the Trump administration denied the application. But that decision was reversed by the Biden administration a year later on the grounds that it had been issued before an environmental review process was completed. The Coquille are still awaiting a final BIA decision.

In her op-ed, Meade was incensed by the four tribes’ insinuation that the Coquille were “reservation shopping.” The implication was that the Coquille had sought land far from their original reservation that would give them the best bang for their buck when they built a casino.

Meade said this fundamentally misunderstood the nature of tribal reservations, and she reinforced the Coquille’s ancestral ties to the region. The tribe was recognized in 1989 by the Coquille Restoration Act, which did not restore a contiguous area of land to the Coquille. Instead, it identified a specific area where land could be taken into trust to become part of the reservation.

This included Coos County, where the tribe has its existing reservation, as well as Medford’s Jackson County, and others. These counties were not chosen arbitrarily, Meade said.

“Congress studied where our people lived, traded and worked, both historically and during termination. It learned that its own policies had caused us to disperse across the landscape,” she explained.

Political Storm and Misunderstanding

Meade claimed the “reservation shopping” label has already whipped up a dangerous political storm. Bolstered by lobbying efforts, misinformation, and “widespread ignorance about tribal land,” it had created efforts to prohibit supposed “reservation shopping” on a state and federal level, she argued.

“With this accusation, they are creating a reckless and baseless precedent for political attacks against hundreds of tribes like ours who have worked to legally rebuild our reservations while carefully following layers of laws and regulations,” she warned.

State-Level Opposition

Oregon Governor Tina Kotek has said she opposes the Medford casino project, although she would ultimately have no say were it to be approved by the BIA. The political complexities and opposition from other tribes add layers of challenges for the Coquille Tribe in its pursuit to establish the Medford casino.

The outcome of this conflict will have significant implications not only for the Coquille Tribe but also for broader discussions on tribal sovereignty, economic development, and the regulation of gaming operations within tribal lands.