Appellate Court Rules Tohono O’odham Nation Has Right to Take West Valley Land Into Trust
On September 11, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Tohono O’odham Nation's request to take land in Maricopa County, Arizona into federal trust as reservation land.
The tribe's appeal was contested by the City of Glendale ("Glendale"), the Gila River Indian Community and other parties that seek to stop the development of the O'odham's proposed resort and casino. The Gila River Indian Community operates the closest casino to the trust land in question, and the O’odham's gaming destination would be built near Glendale's sports-and-entertainment district, reported The Arizona Republic.
Since 2009, the tribe has pursued a plan to create a Las Vegas-style resort and casino dubbed the West Valley Resort, featuring a spa, convention center and meeting rooms, an event center, retail space, restaurants and bars, and a three-acre atrium.
While the Nation owns all 135 acres in Maricopa, an unincorporated “county island” surrounded entirely by Glendale, the tribe requested the Interior accept into trust only a 54-acre portion of the land not challenged by Glendale in state court.
"To say this plan has been controversial is an understatement," the circuit judge wrote in the appellate court ruling. "But the strong feelings and emotional drama of the casino fight do not dictate the outcome here. This appeal relates only to the status of the land as trust land and does not involve the particulars of Indian gaming, which are the subject of separate proceedings and pending legislation."
Among several other federal cases, the circuit judge is referring to a June 19 vote (342-78) by the U.S. House to pass a bill that would prevent the Tohono O’odham Nation from building a casino on the trust land, which is located more than 100 miles from the tribe’s reservation lands in southern and central Arizona in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties.
Ned Norris, Jr., chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation, applauded the Ninth Circuit ruling, calling it an economic opportunity for the Nation and the West Valley. "Just as courts and federal agencies have done eight straight times before, the Ninth Circuit weighed the arguments and then ruled in the Nation’s favor. The Court reaffirmed today that when the federal government makes a commitment to native peoples, it will stand by those commitments.”
Norris also spoke to the "special interests" seeking to derail the West Valley project, telling them to "step aside and allow job growth and economic opportunity to come to the West Valley, where this project has widespread public support."
The tribe projects the construction of the facility will create 6,000 new jobs and, once opened, more than 3,000 permanent jobs. The nation additionally claims the West Valley Resort will have a more than $300 million annual economic impact. For more information, visit www.westvalleyopportunity.com.