Marshals close Meskwaki casino

Jennifer Hemmingsen
5/30/03

MESKWAKI SETTLEMENT, Iowa - Under a judge's order, U.S. Marshal and deputies, assisted by local law enforcement, closed the Meskwaki casino shortly before 6 a.m. on May 23. The move put more than 1,000 people out of work, and will cost the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa an estimated $3 million a week in revenue.

The casino will remain closed until the National Indian Gaming Commission decides whether to permanently close the casino, one of Iowa's largest gaming businesses.

Casino proceeds help fund tribal housing, education and health care programs, as well as being distributed in monthly per-capita payments to tribal members. But not enforcing a May 14 National Indian Gaming Commission order to temporarily close the casino would cause even greater damage, U.S. District Court Judge Linda R. Reade ruled.

"Although this decision creates negative economic impacts, it protects the public," Reade said in an order filed with the court on May 23. "Tribes are strengthened by following the rule of the law, in this case, having federally recognized leadership. Permitting unrecognized factions to take control of a tribe and its gaming activities creates instability and rewards those who would use force or intimidation to take power."

Reade denied a Meskwaki appointed council request to restrain the NIGC from closing the casino, saying the council did not use normal administrative remedies before appealing to the court. According to NIGC rules, the council has the right to ask for a full commission review, and a further right to appeal any commission decision.

In March, Meskwaki tribal members voted "no confidence" in an elected tribal council, led by Chairman Alex Walker, after the council refused to honor petitions to hold a recall election. Hereditary Chief Charles Old Bear appointed a new council, which occupied the tribal center and took over government. Tribal members again tried to legitimize the appointed council in a special election May 22. About half the tribe's eligible voters voted in the election, certified by independent overseers, electing the seven-member appointed council, appointed council advisor Thomas Jochum told local television news stations. But the BIA, NIGC and state of Iowa all continue to recognize the Walker council as official Meskwaki leadership.

Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals Director Steve Young has given the appointed council until June 5 to turn over control of the casino to the Walker council or risk termination of the tribe's state gaming compact.

Iowa Workforce Development spent the week of May 26 in Tama County to help casino workers register for unemployment benefits.

About 480 of the 1,300 Sac and Fox of the Mississippi in Iowa tribal members live on the settlement, located three miles west of Tama. The tribe purchased the land in Tama County in 1857 and now own more than 6,000 acres.

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