The old sense of tranquility no longer exists in tiny San Lucy, roughly the size of 30 football fields and one of 11 political districts in the Tohono O'odham Nation. Sometimes Manuel ventures through the old reservation land that is frequently flooded by water backed up from the dam. He doesn't find much tranquility there either.

"This area used to have a lot of life to it," Manuel said. "You could hear the doves cooing and the small animals rustling in the bushes. Now look at it."

In sight are a couple of concrete slabs, a few stacked bricks, remnants of an outdoor grill, heaps of blackened and broken trees — and a cemetery with a few dozen white crosses circled by man-made berms to protect it from the periodic flooding.

But the water sometimes pours over the berms and carries away cemetery markers. "There are a lot more graves," Manuel says, "than there are crosses here."

The graveyard and a site where centuries-old petroglyphs were discovered are the most important remnants of the lost reservation. The petroglyphs are where the ancestors of Manuel and his people etched on stone the stories of their lives in the hard desert.


Today, the Tohono O'odham Nation is trying to write a new chapter in its story. The southern Arizona tribe is moving forward with plans to build that $600 million resort-style casino on the dusty, vacant piece of land it owns in the West Valley.

As a result, a battle rages in Arizona over the fate of the tribe's 134-acre parcel of county land that sits between Peoria and Glendale. Governor Jan Brewer and a smattering of state and local politicians have spent more than a year trying to derail the casino.

Their opposition campaigns have been hypocritical, hysterical, and untruthful.

Somewhere inside the rhetoric of those who object to the West Valley casino and the rights of the Tohono O'odham Nation are voluminous and complex federal laws that deal with Indians reclaiming lost land or establishing casinos on "replacement" acreage.

Though Indian gaming laws prohibit casinos on reservations created after 1988, they make exceptions for reservations established as part of a "land settlement."

And it is a land settlement that the Tohono O'odham believe was granted when Congress in 1986 adopted Public Law 99-503, also known as the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Land Replacement Act.

The law pointedly gives the tribe the right to search for replacement land in Pima, Pinal, and Maricopa counties that is "suitable for sustained economic use." It also requires that the federal government take the replacement land into trust, which effectively creates new reservation acreage.

That is why Nation leaders are pushing ahead with West Valley Resort, which would sport the state's largest casino. It would be just a couple of miles from Westgate City Center, Glendale's sports-and-entertainment district, Jobing.com Arena, and University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Phoenix Coyotes and the Arizona Cardinals, respectively.

The area is already a magnet for mega-events such as the Super Bowl, WrestleMania, and concerts by artists such as Paul McCartney and the Black Eyed Peas.

The casino, expected to generate 6,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs, would lure another 1.2 million people to the region each year. It promises 1.2 million square feet of posh rooms and fine dining, a full-service spa, bars, and a nightclub. The project also calls for a convention center and more than a dozen retail shops.

Not a bad prospectus at a time when the Valley faces double-digit unemployment, a massive budget crisis, and businesses shutting down left and right.

While local leaders typically salivate at the opportunity to stimulate an economy that is showing few signs of life, Glendale officials have been leading the all-out battle to keep the casino from building next to their city; in fact, they would like to see it as far away from the Phoenix area as possible.

They don't want to hear that a major project like the Tohono O'odham development would draw professional conferences, out-of-state visitors, and give well-heeled pro sports fans a big reason to stay in the West Valley (instead of heading to Phoenix or Scottsdale). Proponents of the casino argue that the extra pedestrian traffic might even create a strong enough buzz that other businesses would flock to the area.

All state and Glendale officials want to talk about is that an Indian reservation casino in the middle of suburbia is a bad idea. They bring up the standard morality arguments, saying the surrounding area would be ruined by a massive gambling establishment that plans more than 1,000 slot machines, 50 table games, 25 poker tables, and a 1,000-seat bingo hall.

Opponents have argued from atop every soapbox imaginable, shifting from social disdain (the casino will destroy families and give way to organized crime) to disapproval for financial reasons (it will force nearby businesses to close) to legal arguments (the federal government's creation of the reservation land it would occupy is unconstitutional).

Mayor Scruggs has likened an Indian reservation next to Glendale to the German government's buying land next door and declaring it Germany.

Glendale's opposition to the casino is born out of desperation.

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25 comments
Francine Romesburg
Francine Romesburg

This is a fabulous article that I wish to print to add to my book of information regarding TO Nation and it's plight with the idiocy of City of Glendale fighting the proposed Casino that is legally allowed to be built according to all court cases, The 1986 Gila Bend Reclamation Land Act, Arizona Gaming Compact, and Prop 202. This is so sad. I believe the TO Nation's Dream of this beautiful Resort/Convention Center/Casino/Atrium will become a reality in 2012 and there are many of us who can't wait and have been helping TO Nation fight to WIN!

NamU
NamU

I wish they were building an incinerator instead so they could just burn all the foreign invaders who now live in stolen Native American Indigenous lands and decimate it with their pollution.

James Bailey
James Bailey

Wouldn't it be a hoot if the Tohono Oódham Nation purchaed the Coyotes Hockey Team!!!

That would be hililarious - those old coots over in Glendale would have to lick the boots of the very tribe they condemn now instead of Ellman's boots.

Trina
Trina

Ok with the greed thing, Do you know where AZ gets a lot of money for everyday funding that ALL state citizens use? Casino's, not just TO casino but all casino's. We think that the nation is just greedy then we better look again. Look how far this soverign nation has come and the future of where it wants to go. Think of the economy boost for the city of Glendale not just the boost of money for the nation. Everyone get a piece back and you people in opposition to the tribe as well. I'm sure you have used some kind of state funded program for yourself but for your family as well. If not what the hell do you drive on. . . roads are funded so you can get to and from work. Park and Rec where your family enjoy thier time together. Remember people we all win in this decision. Also Eric it is not just your city it is other peoples as well. You may have an opionon but there are a lot of other people involved as well. The politicans involved in stopping this project have to remember who helped get them into office. It's all about money and yes it is a major issue but as I have stated before, everyone wins from this type of establishment. So what if purchases were done on a low, either way those opposed would have tried to stop it someway. I just hope that people will stop and see the big picture and what this will do for not only Glendale's economy but for AZ and the people of the Tohono O'odham Nation. We are looking to protect the future not destroy it.

billT
billT

Glendale leaders dont seem to have a good grasp of economic development. They made a better that sports, bars and restaurants could never be hit by a recession. They were wrong. Now they are scared shitless this casino will be the final nail in the coffin for westgate and Jobing.com. This is Ed Beasely and Elaine Scruggs trying mitigate their bad decisions. The tribe should not have to pay for the stupidity and lack of vision of Glendale decisionmakers.

Eric
Eric

You could take this land and sell tacky turquoise jewelry on it and I would not mind. You could sell Fry Bread on it and I would not mind. You could put up historic native-american dwellings and I would not mind. You could erect a massive statue of an extended middle finger up in the air at us, and I would not mind. You could erect an outlet mall on it and I would not mind. You could move every Tohono O'odham nation tribe member into a massive condo building on the property and I would not mind. You could use it as a seasonal football game "cheap alternative parking lot" and I would not mind. You could use it as an administrative HQ for your OTHER casino operations and I would not mind.

But you decided to deceptively acquire the land and secretly plan to develop a casino on this land in the middle of my neighborhood. This I mind.

Knock off all the charges of racism and whatnot. This has nothing to do with homelands, longing for simpler days, yearning for Gila Bend or anything even remotely related. It has to do with your insensitivity over land use in a suburban neighborhood. Apparently you are not satisfied with the profits being realized from casinos located within traditional reservation lands. Either you're not getting the revenue, or you're getting plenty, but just want more. That's not my problem to solve.

I was OK living in an area where casinos were located nearby, but not in my neighborhood. Now they'll be moving into the domain where I live. I can't have that. I won't have that.

I think you members chose unwisely. You had to be arrogant and push the issue right into the middle of the developed urban centers. And as a result, you'll probably lose more than you gained from this. If you think that the feds will side with unchecked and unrestricted gaming growth in urban areas, you have seriously misjudged us.

Francine Romesburg
Francine Romesburg

You are so very wrong in your thinking. This is not your land. It is unincorporated land within Maricopa County which is deemed allowed to be purchased by TO Nation to build economic development. They did not do so deceptively as you state. what they did do is purchase the land as all white businessmen do, under a third party to keep the price down. they learned well from us on how to buy wisely. They wanted to make sure this time, the feds kept their promise to them. I, personally don't blame them. We don't live all that far away. I've spoken to many people who live near the area and have no problem with the building of the Casino. In fact they welcome it. It's way better than another office complex sitting around empty, or strip malls with empty store fronts, or even more bars, or better yet, more strip joints. As it stands now, it is just a huge empty piece of land sitting there doing nothing right beside a huge empty office complex that went bankrupt twice. The Resort is a beautiful building, as well as a 3 acre atrium, walkways lined with trees, Convention Center, Restaurants, and shopping. Parking and the Casino will be over near the on / off ramps of the Loop 101 so how does that effect you. Your neighborhood as you call it is about a mile down the road. There is office buildings, gas stations, restaurants, empty land, empty buildings, fields of something growing there, what used to be and maybe still an egg/chicken farm, mall with more buildings, parking, restaurants, and a movie theater further west of the Casino. Homes/neighborhoods/apartments etc., don't really start until almost a mile eastward. Guess you don't mind the Strip joint a little further down the road on Northern do you. That is okay. Let's get serious. This will create much needed jobs and revenue to revitalize the City of glendale and Westgate. Only thing at moment keeping Westgate alive now is the Wednesday Bike night, Big Boy's toy show once a year, maybe a few overpriced concerts, and oh yea, let's not forget the money losing Coyotes games that don't bring in much revenue, and all the huge lighted Billboards around the way cool dancing waters that promote all Gila River Indian Community Casinos that are anywhere from 45 minutes away to over 1 hr away. that's all ok though. Bars are plentiful all around the area, off track betting and poker all down in the Westgate City Center Plaza. Go figure. But, oh my, not a Casino. Can't have that now can we. Get a clue.

Nancy Phillips Watkins
Nancy Phillips Watkins

I don't agree with your comment-I also live in the area of the proposed casino--- and hand made Turquoise jewelry is NOT tacky!

Trevor
Trevor

So it's OK for the tribes way of life to be destroyed for the benefit of us for more than a century, but it's not ok for them to do something that benefits them in "your neigborhood"?

I'm pretty sure they couldn't and wouldn't have their 22,000 acres cut down to 40 and then flooded by the gov't, but it happened and they dealt with it. Their not trying to take your half-acre property and cut it down to 100 square feet and then flood it.

The only reason people are mad now is because they're using the same progressive, deceptive, underhanded techniques that the u.s. gov't has been using for decades to acquire land and allow you to have your beloved neighborhood. If you don't like, don't patronize it.

Eric
Eric

I'd be more than happy for the feds to write them a check to allow them to purchase some other piece of property (that doesn't sit in the middle of my city) and open any casino they like. Likewise, if they want to buy this piece of property and open a Walmart with a "no-sales-tax" gimmick, I'm fine with that too. But no way do I want a casino in my city. Just no way.

A casino will not help the tribe recapture its "way of life" next to the river. Sad that they have chosen casinos as their new way of life.

JayMarno
JayMarno

The Glendale property acquired by the Tohono O'odham and purchased through a fictitious company, is entitled to be transfered into trust and deemed by the U.S. Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs to be an Indian reservation by the terms of the $30,000,000 Gila Benda inverse condemnation settlement Act and payment proceeds, BUT it is not eligible "Indian Lands" upon which any gambling casino can be built and operated. The Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act of 1988 prohibits class II or class III gambling on lands acquired by any Indian tribe after October 1988. The Glendale property was acquired in 2003 and is, not only ineligible for gambling, but is NOT ENTITLED TO one of the specific EXCEPTIONS to the general prohibition on gambling which exceptions are set out in 25 USC 2719. The land can be used, however, for other types of economic development as provided in the 1986 settlement Act.

darwin
darwin

It's nice to know that "Sara Mae Williams" would be willing to divide this money to dept. around the Nation. But then what? Think of it like your check comes in, its spent. Now what? The casino idea is to have continuous money for the Nation so we CAN have money for education, O'odham based stores. etc. to continue living in a world that wants to ________________ O'odham way of living.

Indigenous Citizen
Indigenous Citizen

The idea that the Tohono O'odham are infringing on City interests is looney. "Arizonians" squatted on Tohono O'odham land, not the other way around. The selected lands replace 10,000 acres? This is reflective of American responses to all things "Indian". We are invisible until the next time we get in the way. As long as we act the hollywood image, we are ok, but watch out if "they" feel that we don't play the part. The Tohono O'odham face outright institutionalized racism veiled under capitalistic greed. BUT, this is AZ: America's latest Ol' Southern Hospitality State!

Tony Perille
Tony Perille

They better let the Tohono O'odham Nation put up that casino. If John McCain, Jon Kyl and Jan Brewer is going to stay in office becouse I and a lot of people will not vote them back in office.

Nancy Phillips Watkins
Nancy Phillips Watkins

I won't vote them back into office no matter what they do! But I would like to see the casino built.

Fact Check
Fact Check

Sorry, John... you might want to check your facts again. The land is unincorporated. Glendale has treated it as such and public documents confirm this. Heck, even a visit to the assessor's website shows this.

bob chiago
bob chiago

Regardless of the opposition by the politicians mentioned, it seems that the problem is with the inability of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, to make a decision to place the 134 acre parcel in trust so that it will become a reservation of the Tohono O'odham (TO) Nation. The Federal Government needs to fulfill it's responsibility to the TO Nation or return the lands it had taken for the Painted Rock Dam.

Politicians support Luke as a base for the F-35 and they want the Coyotes to remain in Glendale because they help the economy. A casino would probably be even more helpful to the economy as it's a 24/7 operation.

The two casinos operated by Casino Arizona adjacent to the City of Scottsdale have been positive economic engines to Scottsdale and have not increased the crime rate.

Sara Mae Williams
Sara Mae Williams

My name is Sara Mae Williams and I am a member of the Tohono Oódham Nation. One month and a half ago, I left the comforts of our Nation to live and work on a sustainable living farm in Obera, Misiones, Argentina for three months. While I have kept many of our Nations people updated with my travels, they in turn have kept me updated with information about issues regarding our Nation. I have never had the opportunity to properly respond and with the news in regards to our latest casino development, I would like to share my thoughts with you, respectively.

Recently, I have read responses from all sides of the West Valley Casino development issue, and there are many people for and just as many against, the entire casino development. Like a see-saw there sits three governments, Arizona State and all their supporters on one end, Tohono Oódham Nation and all their supporters on the other end and riding snug in the middle waiting to make a decision, the Federal Government.

While the issue of the land acquisition in the West Valley area is a no-brainer, I believe the real issue we as a Nation should be more concerned with is whether or not the West Valley Resort is in the best interest of our ¨People¨ to spend $500,000,000 dollars, that our government either has or will receive by loan, to invest in one (1) casino.

While I have read the numerous reports provided by our Nation from, The State of the Tohono Oódham Nation to the newly released Seth Waxmen Report and the West Valley Resort Study II. I can´t help but wonder, where is the voice of our Oódham People, where do we as a ¨People¨ fit within the West Valley equation?

A little over two years ago, we as a Nation elected our current Executive Administration, there was a new prospect for change on the horizon, hope was in our hearts for a new theme rang out, which said to the pèople, We:sig T-we:m. All of us Together...

We:sig T-we:m?

Not to be disrespectful and some might take it a such, but I have yet to see this idea actually practiced. Decisions have been made and are continually being made and often I feel that our Nation´s ¨People¨ are the last to be properly informed. I have yet to see a report written to the People on the State of the Tohono Oódham Nation´s Economy.

While the United States grapples with high-unemployment, States on the brink of bankruptcy, homes in foreclosure, and now many American´s find themselves in financial ruin. So, in the midst of a National recession, where does the Tohono Oódham Nation stand and how has it affected and effected our Nation?

I think by answering a few questions and properly informing our people about all aspects of the project, they in turn can make an informed decision on whether to support or not support the West Valley Resort project. I strongly believe that if we are going to spend money on gathering people´s decision about the project, off Nation, we should also spend money on gathering our own people´s opinions about the project, on Nation.

As far as, my own opinion is concerned, without all the logistics laid out, I currently do not stand in favor of the casino. The one question, I would like to ask the People of the Tohono Oódham Nation is simply,¨If you had $500 million dollars to spend and knowing what you know about the current economic situation, would you invest in a casino and if not, what would you do with $500 million dollars?¨

My own answer to this question is this, If I had $500 million dollars...

First, I would give $20 million to TOCC to finally build their new campus, I would give them an additional $10 million to begin a language and culture institute, where curriculum can be developed to be taught in all our school from Headstart to College. I would give 10 million to every school from new headstart centers to highschools, that need to either be built or remodeled. Remaining money can go toward program development. I would invest in Renewable Energy projects that not just benefiting the big business that have the money to buy energy but for our own people to benefit, as well. I would give $50,000 to every family that is willing to learn and build a sustainable earthen home, remaining money can be used to invest in solar technology. I would invest in job creation for our people and hopefully diminish our high-unemployment. Create quality human resource programs that get our people back to work, programs working for our people, not against them. I would shut Basha´s down and start our own grocery chain selling traditonal foods grown by our own Oódham farmers, meat provided by our own Oódham ranchers...and on and on....

Ultimately, what I am saying here is that I would invest in our ¨People¨. In the end, with this thought in mind, I think I would still have 100 million left over...

Unfortunately, I feel that this project has left a lot of people feeling uneasy. At the core, our brothers and sisters all over our traditonal Oódham land leave us to stand alone in pursuing this endeavor.

I wonder, if it would be in our best interest that if we, as a whole, We:sig T-we:m, find that this project will be beneficial to our, People, that we go forward, United and if so, maybe all our Oódham will follow. If not would it be so terrible to invest in our own ¨People¨?

In the words of the late Wilma Mankiller she once said, ¨In Iroquois society, leaders are encouraged to remember seven generations in the past and consider seven generations in the future when making decisions that affect the people.¨

Casinos do not define us, our People do....

gordinaz
gordinaz

I do think its all about"greed" but not on the part of the Tohono Nation but from the politicians. Once again the stall to allow the minorities to have something for themselves. Instead of looking at the benefits for the state after all the funding cuts for education, day care, etc...that the 8 percent could go to. If Gov. Brewer feels it is wrong then let her take a pay cut and sacrafice for our state as the middleclass do. If it was a white run corporation doing this, the white rich institutions would be all for it. But anything coming from brown in this state is all bad. And the worry about neighborhoods? why dont they take care of the neighborhoods of south phoenix, central phoenix, instead of just worrying about the affluent neighborhoods of the new west valley. Everyone is out for their own self interests thats how its always been and if the state is not willing to help let the various races that have found a way to survive in these pityful times then let them be.

pietrainer
pietrainer

No shit the tribe wants to make money. Its not masked in the article. They are doing it to make lots of money. Glendale is trying to stop it because they will lose lots of money. Its all about money. The story was very upfront about this and its the basis of the entire battle.

sadie
sadie

The City of Glendale are acting like a bunch of hypocrites. I guess they had no other choice since Scruggs was asleep at the wheel.

John
John

I like how the author is trying to mask greed as longing for a lost homeland, like any of these Tohono O'odhams will actually live there, all they want is casino $$$$, Why dont they build one in Gila Bend?

besides, the law being refered to only allows for UNICORPORATED areas to be annexed by the tribe, not west Glendale, hence the judge stopping it

VikThor
VikThor

Best of luck to the Tohono O'odham!

 
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