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Joyce Clark Unfiltered

For "the rest of the story"

September 17, 2014 the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on Senate Bill 2670 introduced by Senators McCain and Flake. I have offered the direct testimonies of the  panelists, Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn; Governor of the Gila River Indian Community Gregory Mendoza; Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers; Glendale Councilmember Gary Sherwood and Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. Each of the panelists was asked questions by Senators McCain and Tester.

I have never heard so many non-responsive answers in my life. It’s as if the questioner and the person answering were on parallel universes. Isn’t that the mark of a true politician? If so, they all passed the test. The only person to answer a question directly was the Attorney for the Gila River Indian Community, Allison Benney (my apology if I have slaughtered her name).

Sherwood, in his answers to Senators McCain and Tester, pumps out a great deal of misinformation. His reference to one 30 minute conversation between Glendale staff and the TO…wrong. His estimate of jobs created…wrong. There was one very telling revelation however. The city’s position on the referendum petitions submitted in opposition to the TO/Glendale Settlement Agreement et. al., relies exclusively on the argument that council votes were administrative not legislative. Gary Sherwood, went off script (which he does quite frequently). At the 43 minute, 46 second mark of the hearing he refers to the council votes as legislation (in a convoluted way). In his mind, he recognized that those council votes were legislative… Oh Oh. I hope the attorneys take note.

I also stand corrected on the amount of annual revenue the Tohono O’odham (TO) earn from their 3 casinos. I had used $38 million. Well, you can nearly double that. The figure that Senator McCain used was $68.2 million. No matter the number…no matter whether that is net revenue or gross revenue that is still a lot of money. Again, what have the TO been spending all of that revenue on? Too bad no one is allowed to audit their books…they are a sovereign nation, you know.

Chairman Norris downright refused to verify or disqualify the annual revenue figure Senator McCain used. He kinda, sorta answered Chairman Tester’s question. The only relevant fact he could come up with was the $5 million dollar scholarship fund before he began ranting about the use of the Border Patrol agents’ use of TO roads.

Miss Binney, on the other hand, offered some startling testimony when she said they had hand written notes in their possession describing discussion of a possible closure of the 3 TO casinos in Southern Arizona and a move to rebuild and reopen them in the Phoenix area.

The last portion of testimony from the hearing is below:

Chairman Tester: “Thank you, Chairman Norris, for your testimony. Thank you all for your testimonies. Senator McCain.”

Senator McCain: “Thank you, Chairman. Ah, Chairman Norris, would you like to, for the record, supply the, ah, the amount of money, the revenue that your casinos have gained for the tribe on an annual basis?”

Chairman Norris: “I’ll be happy to give that some consideration but I will not do that without the express umm, umm, authorization of my legislative council.”

Senator McCain: “So, what ah, tell us how impoverished you are. I will provide for the record, Mr. Chairman, hearings that Senator Inouye and I had, including that with Attorneys General, especially in states that came and testified before our committee, where their great concerns were what would happen, is happening exactly now. That was one of the reasons why we had great difficulty getting the support of Governors and Attorneys General because they said, ‘if we don’t look out we’re going to have Indian gaming operations in the middle of our towns and cities.’ So, I would be glad to provide the record of hearings and the conclusions and statements that Senator Inouye and I made at the time of the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, um, which clearly was designed to prevent a non-contiguous, middle-of-a-metropolitan area, Indian gaming operation for which the people have, ah, maybe their elected representatives have, maybe some like Mr. Sherwood who changed their mind over time. Umm, but they have not been able to make their will known as far as a very significant impact in not only Glendale but in the entire West Side. So, Mr. Sherwood, out of curiosity I think you used to be very much opposed. You even wrote articles in opposition to this. What changed your mind?

Councilmember Sherwood: “Ah, thank you for the question, ah, Chair and Senator McCain. Umm, when I campaigned I had campaigned against this proposed based on information I had and I had read deal…quite a bit of information on it. Umm, the thing that was distressing to me though, that in the very beginning there was a half hour conversation when the city first found out about it in April of 2009 and that was the only conversation the previous administration had and I was, was always quite upset by the fact that we didn’t have the dialogue. We weren’t very doin’ very good in the courts. So when umm, we ah, after the new council got seated in January ’13 and we, ah, took care of the hockey situation we turned our attention to the casino issue which again, had been laboring for five years and started havin’ that informal dialogue and learned quite a bit more about the project from the fact that it could benefit us umm, in many more ways than what the gaming compact even called out for. So, those informal discussions led into, ah, formal fact finding in the November time frame which led to negotiations in March. Umm, and, and having gone through that and having voted on this a couple months ago to approve the project and to ah, equivocally set ourselves against this legislation (43:46) umm, and the benefits, certainly after talkin’ to other developers, I mean we’ve had several developers come to us uh, since this casino project was announced wanting to develop on Glendale, on land in Glendale city proper.”

Senator McCain: Well, thank you. Chairman Norris, I have before me information that, ah, I’m not sure where it came from but it alleges that your annual revenue from gaming is  $68,200,000. Is that in the ballpark?”

Chairman Norris: “Chairman, Senator McCain, as I stated before without the authorization of my legislative council I’m not at this point, ah, able to disclose, to agree or disagree with your information.”

Senator McCain: “So you refuse to tell this committee who is expected to support your effort to establish a casino and you won’t even tell me whether this is a correct or incorrect number, $68,200,000?

Chairman Norris: “Mr. Chairman, Senator McCain, the courts have already made that determination on whether or not the Nation is within its legal right to be able to establish…and our current compact also authorizes it as well.”

Senator McCain: “I asked…that’s not in response to the question I asked Mr. Chairman. You refuse to give, to authenticate or disagree with roughly $68,200,000 in revenue for a year, ah, for your Nation?”

Chairman Norris: “Mr. Chairman…”

Senator McCain: “Is that correct? You do not wish to give that information? Either agree or disagree. “

Chairman Norris: “Mr. Chairman, Senator McCain, I am not agreeing or disagreeing. What I’m saying…”

Senator McCain: “Actually what you’ve done is refuse to answer questions before this committee. I’m not sure why you came. Ah, Mr. Mendoza, is there a concern, Chairman Mendoza, President Mendoza, is there a concern that there may be other loopholes such as this exploited and using this precedent to other casinos that would be established in the Valley?”

Governor Mendoza: “Mr. Chairman, Senator McCain, uh, thank you for that question. You know, umm, I’ve been hearing about this particular bill and it would create that particular precedence and in my mind, no. The act has been very consistent with Congressional precedents and umm, if you’ll allow me, I will allow my attorney here to offer some specifics. Miss Benney.”

Miss Benney: “Yes, thank you Senator McCain. So the concern that you have is a legitimate concern in that Tohono O’odham if they’re able to build this Glendale casino can actually shut down their other three casinos in the Tucson area and move them up to the Phoenix area basically using the same legal theory. That’s why the East Valley mayors are so concerned because they think the same thing that is happening in Glendale can happen in the East Valley and I think it was Congressman Gossar last time brought it back that showed 200 county islands in other parts of the Phoenix Valley where the same thing can happen. But more importantly, in the negotiations and during litigation, umm, hand written notes have come out from Tohono O’odham’s representatives basically indicating that they would do such a thing. They’re aware that they have that legal ability if they’re successful in Glendale to shut down the other three casinos and move them up to the Phoenix area. That’s one of the biggest concerns of the East Valley mayors.”

Senator McCain: “Well, Mayor Weiers, you find yourself in the minority here. Maybe you can tell us how that happened going from the majority to the minority on this issue. I’m sure it didn’t have anything to do with a $26 million dollar commitment over several years.”

Mayor Weiers: “Chairman, Senator McCain, I don’t actually know how I find myself in that position. I, you know, I’ve been ah, on one line of one thought, ah, ever since this issue came up when I was a state legislator. I know in our campaign, ah, that people have ran their campaigns, ah, stating certain views and certain beliefs and I guess I never really expected people to change their opinion but, ah, I don’t know exactly how we find ourselves here. You know the same facts, the same truths that were there two years ago are the same facts and truths today. Nothing’s changed. People’s opinions have changed and how they’ve changed their minds because of those truths and facts I don’t know. Sir, I really don’t know if that’s the question that maybe I should be asked but I’m not exactly sure how we came to that position.”

Senator McCain: “Thank you. Mr. Chairman, it bears repeating to all the witnesses in response to some of the statements. The Constitution calls for the Congress to have a special responsibility as far as Native Americans are concerned. It’s written in the Constitution. So although some may view this hearing and our action as being unwarranted interference it is a specific Constitutional responsibility of the Congress of the United States. Umm, so Mr. Chairman, this is a very busy week. We’ll be leaving tomorrow for quite awhile and you were kind enough to hold this hearing for me and I take that as a very special favor that you granted me and I wanted to express openly and repeatedly my appreciation for you doing this. I thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

Chairman Tester: “Well, thank you for those kind words, Senator McCain. We always appreciate your commitment to the Senate and to this committee and we thank you for your leadership on a number of issues including this one. I, um, have a few questions here. I’ll start with Governor Mendoza. Ah, Governor, when it comes to tribal gaming in Arizona being successful, could you talk about the kinda success Gila River has enjoyed, ah, because of gaming.

Governor Mendoza: “Thank you for that question, ah, Senator. You know Gila River does enjoy the benefits from our casinos. Ah, we’ve been able to fully fund for our students to go to college, any college in the world. We’ve been able to provide funding for our public safety, police, fire, umm, our emergency management program. We’ve been able to provide programs for our elders, our youth, housing, you name it. We’ve been able to do a lot for our community and again, we’re very thankful and blessed.”

Chairman Tester: “Well, I commend you on your commitment to your people and education, ah, is one of my priorities. You reference, when it comes to the expansion of gaming, you reference a commitment made by the Tribes in 2002 that there be no additional gaming facilities in the Phoenix area. In the current gaming compacts there’s specific limitation on the Tohono O’odhams from building a fourth facility in the Tucson area. If the parties thought enough to put a Tucson limitation expressly in the compact why wouldn’t the state include such a limitation around Phoenix? Any insight into that?”

Governor Mendoza: “Thank you Senator Tester. You know, Senator Tester, I’m not an attorney. I’ll allow my attorney to answer that.”

Chairman Tester: “Well Allison, I think it’s a good point that you’re not an attorney. I’m not either. So, Allison, since you are, have at it.”

Miss Binney: “So, I think there’s some, there’s a little bit of confusion. So in Arizona it’s different than in most other states. Most other states the governors can go and just negotiate a compact directly with the Tribes and enter into it. In Arizona that’s not the case. The governor had to get authority from the voters to enter into compacts and so the voters voted on a model compact that I actually have the Proposition that the voters had here. So Tohono O’odham does say here, like nowhere in the model compact or the compact does it say Tohono O’odham can’t go into Phoenix. I mean, number one there was no need to say that in the compact because no one ever thought that would happen; but two, in all the negotiations which are a key part of what this bill is trying to address Tohono O’odham specifically said their fourth casino would be in the Tucson area or in a rural area. They never once indicated that they would somehow go a hundred miles up to the Phoenix area. But I will say the Proposition that has the model compact that the voters actually saw when they voted to give the governor authority, there’s a chart in there and in the chart it shows the number of casinos that the Tribes in Arizona were authorized to build under the old compact and the number of casinos that the Tribes would be authorized to build under the new compact, the model compact that the voters were voting on. In the Phoenix area Tribes, all are shown as giving up a right to an additional facility that they had under the old compact. Tohono O’odham, because they’re not a Phoenix area Tribe, kept the same number of casinos, the right to build the same number of casinos. So Gila River is shown as giving up an additional casino, right to an additional casino. Salt River gave up the right to an additional casino. Ak Chin gave up the right to an additional casino. Fort McDowell gave up a right to an additional casino and so did Pasqua Yaqui. Tohono O’odham didn’t have to give up the right to an additional casino ‘cause they weren’t in the Phoenix area. So in our view, it is in the compact. Why else would these charts be in here showing that the Phoenix Tribes gave up rights to casinos and Tohono O’odham didn’t if it wasn’t intended that the whole goal of the compact was to limit the number of facilities in the Phoenix area?”

Chairman Tester: “Okay. Umm, if you don’t mind Allison, I wanna ask you another question. Umm, since you are an attorney and since you know the law and I say this in the most friendly way. When I talk to Chairman Norris and I think was referenced in one of your testimonies. Maybe it might have been Washburn’s testimony about breaking ground on a facility already. So ground has been broken. If we are to pass this bill would there be a takings issue?”

Miss Binney: “No and I thought it was interesting that Assistant Secretary Washburn didn’t address this issue at all. Because he was aware of it and Senator McCain asked him about it last time. And the fundamental reason why is because this bill just provides a temporary restriction on gaming activities on certain lands. That’s what IGRA does. The Indian Regulatory Gaming Act was passed to restrict gaming on Tribal lands. So, if this bill is a taking so is the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act and that’s been around for 25 years and that’s been upheld again and again and again.”

Chairman Tester: “So, in one point you’re talking about policy that prevents gaming activities to happen with IGRA. This is an actual, physical construction. You don’t see that there’s any difference there? And I ask this because I don’t know.”

Miss Binney: “Yeah, no. We, actually, when it came up in the last hearing, Senator McCain asked it, we actually went and did a thorough analysis because I will say, last Congress there was some legitimate concerns raised by Tohono O’odham and we addressed them in this new bill. But we looked at it and the other reason it’s not a takings is ‘cause Congress does these types of bills fairly frequently actually restricting gaming on lands and they can build a resort; they can build a new sports stadium. They can do economic activity…”

Chairman Tester: “Thank you. That’s fine. Thank you, Allison. Uh, Chairman Norris, ah, you’ve got a similar question that I just asked Governor Mendoza. You’ve got gaming facilities, umm, can you discuss what benefits you’ve got from these gaming facilities and while you’re in that vein could you also discuss unmet needs that are still out there by your Tribe?”

Chairman Norris: “Mr. Chairman, ah, I, too, am not an attorney. I am the elected chairman of my Nation and have an obligation to speak for my people.”

Chairman Tester: “Yes.”

Chairman Norris: “So I will do so. There are still third world conditions that exist in my tribal community and many tribal communities nationwide. The Nation has had an enormous amount of benefit in comparison to where we were at prior to gaming. We have been able to construct different facilities that were only dreams facilities, that we were needing within our communities to be able to provide the necessary services. We have been able to create a government of employees that are, that are able to provide the necessary services that many of our Nation’s members require. We have been able to provide scholarships to our, to our members. Prior to gaming we had probably less than 300 members that acquired masters, associates and doctors degrees and some law degrees. Today we have graduated more Tohono O’odham with those types of degrees this many years later and my council continues to allocate some $5 million dollars towards scholarship programs to our Nation. So we have had an enormous amount of benefit from the results of gaming but we still have those third world conditions that continue to exist. As far as unmet needs, Mr. Chairman, we know today that we have 500 families that are homeless on the Nation. We know today that there are many people within our communities that do need housing. We know today that much of the roads that are within our Tribal communities are being used and misused by the U.S. Border Patrol because of the influx of Border agents on our Nation, have really done wear and tear on our roads, and primarily BIA are on our roads. And so there’s a need for us to work hand in hand with the Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs to try and address the roads conditions that are so needing to be addressed, to be able to deliver the services, to be able to enter and to exit our Tribal communities nationwide. We have a reservation that is 2.1 million acres square. We have some 2.9 million acres in size. We have some 80 villages within that geographical area. The reservation is vast. The villages are remote. We’ve got homes that do not have running water. We’ve got homes that do not have electricity. So there’s a serious amount of unmet needs on my Tribal community.”

Chairman Tester: “Ah, thank you, Chairman. Mayor Weiers, umm, you’re a former state legislator. You’ve worked with city government as mayor and I think you understand the actual text of laws and contracts and the weight that carries with the weight that carries with those contracts and that text. In this case there was a specific limitation, correct me if I’m wrong, on TO developments around Tucson but not Phoenix. Umm, with that said, if this limitation on gaming around the Phoenix area was important, why was it not included in the contract or Prop 202?

Mayor Weiers: “Chairman Tester, all I can tell you is, is, is the knowledge that I have of talking to one of the authors, Senator McCain, and he had told me, point blank, that, uh, there was never, ever any intention in their mind that this would ever be an issue. And I don’t believe personally, quite honestly, that the average person, a non attorney person, would ever thought something like this. You know, uh, I guess that’s why we have attorneys to sit around and think of ways to get around stuff. But ah, I don’t believe anybody ever believed that this was going to be an issue and, and it is an issue. And, and quite honestly all this bill is trying to is just, let’s do what everybody said and thought we were gonna do and then when that compact’s over, renegotiate. Chances are we’ll probably end up with more casinos in the Valley. Most certainly.”

Chairman Tester: “Thanks, Mayor. Ah, Councilman Sherwood, ah, your testimony discusses the impacts that the agreement with TO would have on the city of Glendale. Ah, positive impacts. Umm, could you talk about those benefits of this development and while you’re on that, if there’s downside that comes to mind, could you talk about that too?”

Councilmember Sherwood: “Ah, thank you, Chair. Well, right off the bat, I can’t see of any downside in the negotiations, ah, in the settlement agreement that we concluded with the Tohono O’odhams in August. Ah, they’re covering existing infrastructure, new infrastructure, umm, water, umm, it’s not costin’ the city a penny. I mean, how often do you get a development where you don’t have to give in to anything? Umm, in terms of the development, we were hurt pretty hard with the down turn of our sports and entertainment. There was 8 funded projects that were to occur, south of the University of Phoenix Stadium where our Arizona Cardinals play. Umm, one of ‘em, umm, was Mr. Bidwill’s, ah, CB 101 Project before he started building. Those either went into litigation afterwards or the developers pulled back. Those are slowly comin’ back but not nearly the pace that was expected. So, our sports and entertainment area which has two professional sports teams, large entertainment area along with some retail, umm, was hurt vastly by that. And so when we have the mega events, like when we have the Super Bowl next February, umm, we don’t have anything to keep people in the area. So they go off into Scottsdale and Phoenix. Umm, a project like this resort will, umm, entice other development. In fact within, within weeks of us signing that agreement we had two major developers; one that had done a large scale project in Phoenix come through and they were only interested in us now because of this project and they were lookin’ at land within the city of Glendale to develop that would, ah, be real close to the sports and entertainment area. So, yes, we’re lookin’ at a lot of, ah, development activity that will directly benefit our city coffers and then again, on the deal that was referenced earlier about the $26 million or so, umm, that we get directly into the General Fund from the Tohono O’odhams. In fact we’ve already received a check for $500,000, ten days after the agreement was signed. Umm, that helps the city that has struggled as has been widely reported, umm, because of our past deals with some of the sporting facilities we have. It’s sorely helped our community.”

Chairman Tester: “Okay. Talk about jobs. How many jobs?”

Councilmember Sherwood: “The jobs, in terms of the operations, you’re gonna see 3,000 jobs, 1,500 of ‘em probably indirect. Ah, 15 direct in terms of construction jobs. It’s right now scheduled for three phases, the casino and then the attached resort and then probably year later, another resort based on how things are movin’ along. So you’re talkin’ thousands of construction jobs, ah, over this project that’s gonna take place over the next four years. But in terms of actual jobs, umm, in the West Valley, I’d say about 3,000.”

Chairman Tester: “Well, once again, I want to thank all of you for, ah, makin’ the trek to Washington, D.C. I know it’s not easy and some of you made it twice and I thank you for that. And I mean that. This is obviously an emotional issue it’s ah, it’s ah, an important issue. Umm, note that the hearing will remain open for two weeks and I encourage all stakeholders to submit written statements for the record. I’m gonna’ say that again. Ah, this hearing record will remain open for two weeks and, ah, if you’re a stakeholder on this issue I would encourage you to write written statements, ah, for the record. With that thank you all and this hearing is closed.”

© Joyce Clark, 2014


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On September 17, 2014 the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs took testimony on Senate Bill 2670 introduced by Senators McCain and Flake. In previous blogs, Part I and Part II, I offered verbatim transcripts of the testimonies of Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, Gila River Governor Gregory Mendoza and Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers. Today the verbatim testimony is that of Glendale Councilmember Gary Sherwood and Tohono O’odham Chairman Ned Norris, Jr.

Actually Councilmember Sammy Chavira was slated to testify. Why didn’t that happen? Have you ever noticed that the Sherwood-Chavira pairing is eerily similar to Mutt and Jeff? I’ll leave you to figure out who is Mutt and who is Jeff. At the last minute, at the hearing table in fact, Sammy was bumped and Sherwood took over as self proclaimed representative of Glendale’s majority council position on the issue.

Many have asked who pays for these trips to Washington, D.C. The answer is easy. You do – the taxpayers of Glendale. Each councilmember has 2 budgets: one for “communication” and one for “infrastructure.” These budgets total an annual $30,000. It is from these budgets that a councilmember’s trips are paid.

Sherwood’s testimony was a combination of rhetoric and fantasy. He delivered facts that can only be characterized as misinformation. He said, “…88% of the wage earners who live in our community must travel elsewhere to work.” According to http://www.citydata.com/city/Glendale-Arizona.html#ixzz3Ej8KFaU3 workers who live and work in Glendale number 25,039 (23.6%). He went on to say, “I was stunned to learn that the prior Glendale administration had failed to make any effort to learn more about this proposal before it rushed to oppose it.” Wrong again. City administrative personnel were directed by council in 2009 to meet with the Tohono O’odham (TO). That meeting as well as subsequent meetings did not go well. The TO were arrogant telling city staffers that the casino was coming and there was nothing the city could do about it. The only information they were willing to share were the same conceptuals of the project they had released publicly. So much for the TO’s willingness to share specific information with the city. Sherwood then went on to say,“ We have talked to many business leaders in this area including leaders of two professional sports teams and major hospitality developments and they all support this West Valley project.” Who is this ‘we’? Despite his rhetoric the businesses, especially the sports teams, are not supportive of the casino. Why should they be? The casino will siphon off discretionary dollars from those who usually attend their games. Councilmember Sherwood, show us the money, or rather some letters from these businesses attesting to their support of direct, unfair competition. We’d all like to see those.

Tohono O’odham Chairman Ned Norris used a combination of sheer arrogance and threat in his testimony. He admonished all entities but most specifically sister Tribes in Arizona by saying, “…we ask these tribes to carefully consider the damage their efforts are causing…” He, once again, made reference to the Nation’s poverty status, “…our population is one of the poorest in the United States with average, individual incomes just over $8,000.” What are the Nation’s leaders doing with the $36 million earned by its existent 3 casinos annually? He referred to their back room deals as misinformation and said they had been litigated. How? The TO has consistently refused to waive “sovereign immunity” in court proceedings.  He also verbally stamped his feet and said if they didn’t get their casino it would be a “profound injustice.” What about the “profound injustice” the TO have caused to Glendale, its sister Tribes and the state of Arizona?

The last blog in this series will wrap up with questions posed to the panel by Chairman Tester and Senator McCain. It is certainly interesting. Below is the verbatim testimony of Councilmember Sherwood and Chairman Norris:

Chairman Tester: “Councilman Sherwood.”

Councilmember Sherwood: “Good afternoon Chairman Tester and members of Senate Indian Affairs Committee. My name is Gary Sherwood and I am the councilmember of the city of Glendale, Arizona. On behalf of Glendale I am here today with my fellow councilmember and colleague, Sammy Chavira. We are pleased to have given the opportunity to present Glendale’s official position on S. 2670, the so-called Keep the Promise Act.

“Let me be absolutely clear. The city of Glendale strongly opposes enactment of this legislation. The city, twice, has adopted official resolutions clearly expressing this opposition and these resolutions have been provided to the committee. In this opposition to 2670 and House Bill 1410 we have been joined our sister cities, Peoria, Tolleson and Surprise all of which have long opposed this legislation. It is important to understand that collectively our cities represent the vast majority of the population of Phoenix’s West Valley.

“Our communities desperately need this economic development and employment opportunities which the Nation’s casino and resort project bring to our area. In Glendale alone, nearly 80,000 of the nearly 90,000 workers who live in Glendale must leave the city for their employment. In other words, 88% of the wage earners who live in our community must travel elsewhere to work. Obviously, this job situation is a significant problem in our community. In the next twenty years 65% of the growth of the Phoenix Metropolitan area will occur in the West Valley.

“Existing casinos in the Phoenix area are over whelmingly concentrated in the East Valley and the West Valley Resort will be over twenty miles away from the nearest of these existing casinos. There is no doubt that these successful facilities will continue to prosper.

“When I was first elected to council in 2012, I knew we had to do our homework on a project like this. I was stunned to learn that the prior Glendale administration had failed to make any effort to learn more about this proposal before it rushed to oppose it. It was time to make decisions based on the facts. At the direction of my colleagues, Councilman Chavira, whose district borders the Nation’s reservation, Councilman Ian Hugh, Councilwoman Norma Alvarez and myself, city staff spent months carefully examining every aspect of the Nation’s proposed development.

“A minority of Glendale City Council including Mayor Weiers continue to maintain that there’s no opposition to this project. But as President Reagan once said, ‘facts are stubborn things.’ Facts show that we have been misled, not by the Nation, but by the interests seeking to protect their overwhelming casino market share. Based on this misinformation the city clearly on rebuffed the Nation’s efforts to forge a mutually beneficial relationship.

“I am glad that now the city has opened a new chapter with the Nation and has entered into an agreement that will bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of direct benefits to the city. Today the City of Glendale and the Tohono O’odham Nation are bound by ties of friendship. I recently had the honor of participating in a historic ground breaking ceremony with Chairman Norris, members of the legislative council, local and business leaders and hundreds of supporters. Construction of the project is now underway. This facility will be located next to our vibrant sports and entertainment district, an area that is represented by Councilman Chavira. We have talked to many business leaders in this area including leaders of two professional sports teams and major hospitality developments and they all support this West Valley project.

“I am sorry to report to the committee that despite these benefits and the unequivocal support of Glendale residents who in poll after poll expressed overwhelming support for this West Valley Resort the East Valley casino interests are again trying to interfere. Over the last several days these casino interests have been using paid signature gatherers to mislead Glendale residents into signing a petition to challenge the city’s agreement with the Nation. As been widely reported to the press these paid signature gatherers have been caught on tape lying to Glendale voters suggesting that the petitions are in favor of the West Valley Resort. Thankfully, even Mayor Weiers has acknowledged that this dishonest publicity stunt will not in any way affect the city’s agreement. I share the sentiments of a long time Glendale business owner who told me this bill is more properly titled ‘keeping the profits after 2014.’

“For the broadest reasons the city respectfully urges that the federal government should not interfere in our efforts to improve the lives of our citizens. Do not destroy this valuable partnership between the Tohono O’odham Nation and our community.

“Umm, Senator McCain, you did bring up a point, umm, about what this would do to other Phoenix area casinos. Again, a good share of the growth in the Valley of the Sun is gonna take place in the West Valley over the next twenty years and currently there are, of the seven casinos that are considered in the Phoenix Metro area six of ‘em are in the far East Valley with the one being a little over twenty miles away. So I really don’t think that’s gonna be a concern.

“Thank you for this opportunity to testify in this matter. I, and Councilman Chavira, will be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.”

Chairman Tester: “Thank you Councilman Sherwood. Ah, Chairman Norris.”

Chairman Norris: “Chairman Tester, Senator McCain, and honorable members of the committee, Good Afternoon. This is now the fourth time that I’ve had, that I’ve come before Congress to testify about this legislation.  If enacted it would commit a profound injustice against the Tohono O’odham Nation and set a terrible precedent for Indian country.

“Although I do very much appreciate the opportunity to provide our views on this bill the Nation is profoundly disappointed that Congress continues to entertain the cynically named Keep the Promise Act. This legislation shows no respect for the clear terms of the 1986 settlement agreement between the Nation and the United States; no respect for the contractual agreement between the Nation and the state of Arizona in our 2003 gaming compact; no respect for the federal court and the administrative agencies which in sixteen decisions have reviewed the settlement, the compact, the law and found in favor of the Nation; and no respect for the United States’ trust responsibility to the Tohono O’odham Nation.  

“At the heart of this matter, as I have testified previously, is the fact that the Corps of Engineers destroyed nearly 10,000 acres of the Nation’s Gila Bend Reservation in Maricopa County. In 1986 Congress enacted the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act to compensate the Nation for the loss of its land and valuable water rights. An important part of this settlement is the right to acquire replacement land that has the same legal status as the destroyed land. Most of our reservation land is located in remote, isolated areas and our population is one of the poorest in the United States with average, individual incomes just over $8,000. As Congress clearly provided in 1986 the Nation will develop its replacement reservation land to generate revenue for public services and employment for our people.

“ In deciding to use our land for gaming we relied on the plain language of the Gila Bend Act which promises that we can use our replacement land as a federal reservation for all purposes; the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act which explicitly allows settlement lands to be used for gaming and our tribal state gaming which the state and all Arizona gaming tribes negotiated and signed and which explicitly allows gaming on new lands consistent with the requirements of IGRA.

“The Nation has had it with the constant misinformation and rhetoric about the backroom deals and secret plans. These arguments have been litigated and rejected by the courts. Here are the facts. Not only is the Gila Bend Act a public law that was the subject of extensive hearings in the 1980s. This land acquisition authority was explicitly preserved in the 2004 Arizona Water Settlements Act by which Gila River Indian Community secured its enormously valuable water rights settlement. Further not only does the tribal state compact clearly allow the Nation to game on its settlement land in Maricopa County it also explicitly prohibits outside agreements which would change the compact terms. Our sister tribes have long benefitted from the advice of numerous experienced attorneys. The idea that these tribes had no understanding of the Nation’s rights under the plain language of the Gila Bend Act, IGRA and the tribal state compact is, as the United States courts declared, entirely unreasonable.

“The Gila River Indian Community, the Salt River Indian Community and the Tohono O’odham Nation are relatives and friends and our shared history is vitally important to the Nation but these tribes continued assaults has taken a toll and we ask these tribes to carefully consider the damage their efforts are causing both in Arizona and in Indian country, generally.

“Honorable members of the committee, the Nation respectfully urges that you put an end to this misguided, cynical legislation. Embrace the promises made by the United States and the Indian Water Rights Settlement. It unilaterally amends the negotiated terms of federally approved tribal state gaming compact. Most of all it is a return to a dishonorable era of federal Indian policy and will leave a black mark on this committee and this Congress’ legacy. Thank you. I would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.”

Chairman Tester: “Thank you, Chairman Norris, for your testimony. Thank you all for your testimonies. Senator McCain.”

© Joyce Clark, 2014


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