Appellate Court Opinion Favors Creating West Valley Reservation for Tohono O'odham Nation

See also: Gila River Indian Community Attacks Sister Tribe With Federal Lawsuit See also: Glendale Officials Ordered to Pay Tohono O'odham Nation's Legal Fees See also: Wanna Bet? The Tohono O'odham Want to Build a West Valley Casino

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Glendale officials should start baking cookies to walk over to their soon-to-be new neighbors -- the Tohono O'odham Nation.

In a 55-page decision published today, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower district court ruling that feds were right to take land owned by the Tohono O'odham into trust, which essentially means it becomes part of the Nation's reservation lands.

The Nation announced years ago that it plans to build the West Valley Resort, a resort-style casino on that land near 95th and Northern avenues.

That announcement sparked the ire of Glendale city officials, who fear that competition from a casino will steal business from the city's Westgate City Center, a sports and entertainment complex in which the city injected millions of tax dollars.

Today's appellate court ruling is the latest in a string of victories for the Nation, which has been assailed for wanting to create a reservation and build a casino on a 54-acre swath of land sitting in unincorporated Maricopa County, yet completely surrounded by the City of Glendale.

Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs and her fellow city officials have been rabid opponents, tripping over themselves to thwart the Nation's plans. Scruggs and other opponents have enlisted help from elected officials across the state, including Governor Jan Brewer, and even from the Gila River Indian Community.

Glendale officials are planning to issue a statement on the Court of Appeals opinion.

It wouldn't be surprising if they intended to appeal that decision as well.

We'll comb through the appellate court ruling for other interesting tidbits, but here's the gist of it:

The panel of judges set aside the rancor and looked "only to the status of the land as trust land and [not] the particulars of Indian gaming, which are the subject of separate proceedings and pending legislation."

In doing so, it affirmed the decision by the district court which "granted summary judgment for the government after concluding that the Secretary of the Interior reasonably applied the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act ("Gila Bend Act"), and that the Act did not violate the Indian Commerce Clause or the Tenth Amendment."

"To say this plan has been controversial is an understatement. But the strong feelings and emotional drama of the casino fight do not dictate the outcome here," the appellate judge writes.

Ned Norris, Jr., Chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation, said in a press release, that today was a "great day 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."

He also took a shot at the "special interests" behind the campaign to thwart the Nation's plan, telling them it was time for 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 Gila River Indian Community owns the casinos closest to the Valley -- in fact, it bills its casino in Laveen as "minutes away. The West Valley's Vee Quiva Casino." Meanwhile, the Tohono O'odham Nation's Desert Diamond casinos are primarily in remote parts of southern Arizona.

That means if -- or, perhaps, when -- the TO builds its casino in the West Valley, it will create unwelcome competition for the Gila Rivers' gambling operations.

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