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Tohono O'odham Nation Breaks Ground at Site of West Valley Resort and Casino

TON Chairman Ned Norris hugs Councilwoman Norma Alvarez, a casino supporter from Day 1.
TON Chairman Ned Norris hugs Councilwoman Norma Alvarez, a casino supporter from Day 1.

Officials from West Valley cities, including Peoria, Tolleson, Glendale, gathered with leaders from the Tohono O'odham inside a white air conditioned tent in the middle of a dusty, vacant field this morning.

They were there to break ground on the West Valley Resort and Casino -- a momentous ceremony taking place more than five years after the project was announced.

See also: -Wanna Bet? The Tohono O'odham Want to Build a Casino in the West Valley -Tohono O'odham Nation Racks Up Another Legal Victory in Federal Court -Glendale City Council Begins Formal Casino Negotiations With Tohono O'odham Nation

"Today is a day that's been a long time coming," Nation Chairman Ned Norris told the more than 100 people who attended the event. "This is the work of generations of the Nation's leaders; the result of a long struggle to turn a great wrong into a new opportunity for our people and for all of Arizona."

Norris recounted that the land they purchased in the West Valley was recompense for thousands of acres of the Nation's land near Gila Bend, in the San Lucy District, were destroyed by flooding when the federal government built a dam to protect area farmers.

As soon as it was publicly proposed, then-Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs and most of the council members at the time, met the project with fierce opposition. They shuddered at the thought that the Nation would build a resort-style casino any where near Westgate, the city's prized sports and entertainment district.

Convinced the Nation's project would drain business away from Westgate, the city fought the project to the tune of more than $3 million in legal fees, and were ordered to pay nearly $90,000 in the Nation's court fees.

"The Nation has always committed to being a good neighbor. That's just who we are," Norris said. "That's a commitment to friendship and compassion that we always extend to our sister tribes in the East Valley."

The Gila River Indian Community, and other east-side Indian tribes, have led the most vehement opposition to the TON's casino. Millions have been spent by them in lobbying federal lawmakers to block the West Valley project, namely because the GRIC has the sole West Valley casino.

"We know the leaders have used misinformation to try and demonize the Nation in order to protect their own marketshare, creating much ill-will," Norris says. "But the four sister tribes, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the Gila River Indian Community, the Ak-Chin Maricopa Indian Community, we're all part of the same family. We are all decedents of the Hohokam .. and that includes this area."

He continued: "So don't tell me there is no tie, don't tell me there is no relationship. Don't tell me we have no business here because this is the ancestral land of our people. We are family. We will always be related ... even long after the West Valley Resort is built."

Peoria Mayor Bob Barrett, who spoke at the event, reminded the crowd that his city has always been supportive of the project and the 6,000 construction jobs, 3,000 permanent jobs, and other economic development it would bring to the West Valley.

He said that support for the project was a "no brainer," and addressed several of the opponents talking points, namely that the Nation was breaking a promise by moving forward with the casino.

"[Opponents] say that there were promises made that were would be no more casinos in the Phoenix area." he said. "But, consider all the lawyers, consider all the lobbyists, consider all the legislators who were involved with [Arizona's gaming compact], and I'm supposed to believe that they just forgot to put that in? Really?"

A federal court judge already rendered that argument untrue, confirming that no promises were included in the voter-approved gaming agreements between Indian tribes and the State of Arizona.

Tolleson Mayor Adolfo Gamez, also a speaker, said he is proud that "Tolleson was the first city to stand with the Tohono O'odham, supporting them and never wavering from that position."

Gamez said the "West Valley Resort is the perfect addition to our community."

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