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California Voters To Decide Fate Of Proposed Madera Casino

North Fork Rancheria

An Indian tribe located near Yosemite has state and federal approvals to build a casino off of its reservation. But a referendum on the California ballot next year might kill the project. Katie Orr reports from Sacramento.

California Indian tribes are allowed to build casinos on federally recognized tribal lands. A new project slated for Madera is testing what “tribal lands” are. The state government recently approved a compact with the North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians that would allow the tribe to build a casino along Highway 99, about 35 miles from its reservation. The federal government approves as well. The tribe maintains the site is part of its ancestral lands.

But a referendum slated for the 2014 ballot would stop the project. Cheryl Schmit is with Stand Up California, which is leading the referendum effort. The group has formed a coalition of organizations, including several other Indian tribes, opposed to the North Fork Casino.

“This compact will set a precedent that basically will allow, one person, the governor, to place casinos in urban and metropolitan areas of the state,” says Schmit.

The tribe’s Charles Banks-Altekruse says that’s a misrepresentation. Governor Jerry Brown did sign a compact with North Fork allowing the project to go forward. But final federal approval is still needed. And Banks-Altekruse says the tribe has been working with the federal government for over a decade to acquire the land.

“This is a very dangerous, anti-tribal sovereignty initiative. And we think that all tribes should take a look at this and respect the wishes and sovereignty of their fellow tribes,” says Banks-Altekruse.

The North Fork tribe says other tribes are just afraid of more competition. Opponents fear the project could start a race to get more casinos closer to population centers.

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