South Carolina’s only federally recognized tribe, the Catawba Indian Nation, has the federal go-ahead for a controversial $273 million casino — in North Carolina.
On Thursday, after six years of deliberation, the US Department of the Interior approved the Catawba’s application to take 16 acres of land into trust in Kings Mountain in southern North Carolina, 35 miles north of the Catawba reservation.
The decision should put an end to the tribe’s years-long quest to establish a casino as a path to greater economic self-determination.
These efforts have, in the past, been thwarted by political opposition in South Carolina, where there are no casinos. This is despite a federal bill in 1993 that recognized the tribe and reversed the 1959 “termination” of its lands and government, theoretically paving the way for a casino.
The bill also set aside $50 million for the tribe to help it acquire more lands in areas that were considered ancestral homelands, which includes all of South Carolina and a smattering of counties north of the border.
Cherokee to Fight Back
But the DOI decision is controversial because North Carolina’s only federally recognized tribe disputes the Catawba’s ancestral claim to the lands.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee, owner of the state’s only two casinos, argues the area in question was historically Cherokee.
The Eastern Band told The Charlotte Observer Friday it would fight the decision in court.
The federal government has no right or authority to create a new reservation for the Catawba Nation across state lines, into Cherokee historical territory, just to build a casino,” Chief Richard Sneed said in a statement.
In another official statement, Catawba Tribal Chief Bill Harris said: “The land is located in close proximity to our current landholdings and is our ancestral land, in an area that the Catawba people have used and occupied since time immemorial.”
Ties to the Land
Tara Sweeney, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, agreed, noting the Catawba had “both a tribal population and governmental presence” at the North Carolina site and provided healthcare, employment, and other services to around 250 tribal members who live there.
“Though the site falls within an area where another tribe may assert aboriginal ties, that fact does not detract the Nation’s ties to the land,” she wrote.
The Catawba may have selected Kings Mountain, 30 miles west of Charlotte, because of the tribe’s own historical connection to the Battle of Kings Mountain. The Catawba fought on the side of Patriot militias against Loyalists in the key battle of the Revolutionary War.
Harris said that the DOI decision represented the “righting of a wrong.”