Tribe says 'yes' to Gorge casino

With a strong voice the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs gave a resounding “yes” this week for siting a casino somewhere in the Columbia River Gorge.

On Tuesday, the referendum passed by a 76 percent margin, a 3-1 show of support for the economic opportunities afforded by building a gambling center near the Portland-metro area.

“The collective wisdom and concern of the people for the benefit and welfare of the current and future generations was reflected in the vote,” said Rudy Clements, chairman of the Kah-Nee-Tah High Desert Resort and Casino board of directors.

“The membership made this decision for our well-being and survival, that’s the bottom line,” he said.

However, the tribe faces stiff opposition from Friends of the Columbia Gorge and No-Casino if it tries to construct the facility on 40 acres of trust land just east of Hood River.

“We just hope the tribe keeps talking to everybody and doesn’t try to do any illegal activity above Hood River,” said Michael Lang, Friends conservation director.

“No-Casino is not surprised by the outcome of the vote, it was anticipated,” said Toni Vakos, No-Casino coordinator. “We followed the tribal vote campaigning fairly closely and felt that members were not given the whole or accurate story regarding casino choices, especially in regards to the Oregon one-casino-only rule.

“No Casino respects the right of the tribal members to decide their future, and we will continue to urge tribal gaming proponents to develop a casino outside of Hood River, preferably on the tribe’s 660,000-acre reservation,” Vakos said.

Greg Leo, tribal spokesperson, said the tribe has a sovereign right to build on its trust land, which is exempted from regulation, but the “win-win” solution for everyone is to construct the casino in Cascade Locks, a willing community.

He said the most recently proposed location, an industrial park within the urban center of Cascade Locks, was actually suggested by Friends and the tribe agreed with that recommendation and hopes to move forward on it.

“Friends of the Columbia Gorge suggested that site, we listened to them and it was on that basis of that recommendation that we even considered it,” said Leo.

Lang said the Portland-based environmental group has taken no official stand on the industrial park site, but simply mentioned that location as a better choice than Government Rock, the nearby island purchased by the tribe in 1999.

Although Gov. John Kitzhaber vetoed Government Rock as a casino site in 1999, Leo said tribal leaders hope he will revisit the issue when they formally begin renegotiation of their gaming compact within the next few weeks.

No-Casino has vowed to take legal action to stop a casino from being built above the Mark O. Hatfield State Park but said it will not oppose placement of a casino in Cascade Locks.

“The tribal vote in no way ensures or guarantees the tribe the right to build a casino on the eastside site,” said Vakos. “Regardless of the will of the tribe, this proposal violates numerous federal laws that the tribe is not exempt from and that a positive tribal vote has no impact on. This could be tied up in court for years,” she said.

Leo said the Columbia River Gorge is part of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs ceded territory under the Treaty of 1855. He said with the advancing non-Indian population, at the request of the federal government, the tribes negotiated the treaty of 1855. As part of that agreement, the tribes reserved the current reservation as their homeland and relinquished 10 million acres to the federal government. The tribes also reserved certain rights to fish, hunt and gather roots and berries in the ceded areas.

“Our tribal leaders, at that time, were looking to the future, and trying to protect the future of unborn generations,” said Clements. “They also acted in good faith in being a good neighbor to the newly arrived immigrants.”

Now, more than 145 years later, Clements said a decision was made by the tribal membership that parallels that 1855 decision.

“The decision made by our membership on Tuesday was done for the same reasons: to protect our people and serve current and future generations. It is still important to our people to honor our legacy of being good neighbors.”

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