Tomorrow the House Resources Committee is holding a hearing over special permission for a group of Indian businessmen to create a new reservation. Michigan’s Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Cheppewa Indians wants to establish a $350 million casino-convention complex but does not have land in a suitable location for the project. Rep. John Dingell, Michigan Democrat and dean of the House, is using his influence to pass legislation to recognize new Indian borders. It is our opinion that establishing new reservations for the purpose of building casinos is an abuse of the special treatment Indian nations receive from the federal government.
The property the tribe wants designated as a reservation is not part of its ancestral lands and will not be used as a homeland for any Chippewas. The proposal is strictly for business purposes. The land is in a barren suburb by Detroit’s Metro airport, which offers easy access for gamblers to get to and from the slots and tables without ever having to venture into the city. This violates an agreement that was made with the owners of the three existing Detroit casinos (one of which is owned by the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe) not to build more gaming houses within 150 miles of downtown. Congressional approval of this new reservation would give the tribe an unfair advantage over its competitors. As an Indian business, the tribe already benefits from federal, state and local tax breaks that other corporations don’t get.
The deal the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe wants Congress to approve is not in the spirit of the pacts that established the reservation system. There is a difference between attempted restitution for lost lands and providing special congressional imprimatur to be able to make hundreds of millions of dollars from gambling because of a special political relationship that provides significant business advantage over local competition. Mr. Dingell tried to sneak a provision for approving extraordinary recognition of a new Sault Ste. Marie reservation into the transportation bill, but Republican leaders pulled it out at the last second. Now it is up again and could go through. Chairman Richard Pombo’s committee should reject this abuse of the reservation allowance.