Gila River Indian Community Takes Legal Action to Block Tohono O'odham Nation's Proposed West Valley Casino

The Gila River Indian Community filed a motion in federal court against the Tohono O'odham Nation in a bid to prevent it from building a West Valley resort-style casino.

The Gila River want to intervene in a federal lawsuit that the Tohono O'odham Nation filed in March to force the feds to make a decision on whether their West Valley property can be used for gaming purposes.

The Tohono O'odham bought 135 acres near 91st and Northern avenues six years ago and announced plans about a year ago to build the West Valley Resort, a $600 million complex with the state's largest casino, a nightclub, bars, restaurants, retail shops, and a convention center.

The tribe submitted its application for the federal government to take the land into trust, effectively turning it into Indian reservation to pave the way for a casino.

But the Gila River tribe claims that tract of land sits within its aboriginal lands -- and that the Tohono O'odham are "reservation shopping."

The issue is more about money than about land.

The Gila River casinos are under 40 miles from the Tohono O'odham's proposed West Valley casino and would no doubt present competition to the Gila River's gaming enterprise.

Consider that the Gila River Indian Community's map outlining aboriginal-use areas for various tribes shows San Lucy Village -- one of the Tohono O'odham's four reservations -- within land it designates as Gila River's ancestral lands. 

Clearly, each tribes has strong ties to the region.

Even though Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Arizona senators John McCain and Jon Kyl and city officials in Glendale are staunchly opposed to the Tohono O'odham's plans, a federal law granted the Southern Arizona tribe the right to buy land in Maricopa, Pima, or Pinal counties.

It was all part of an effort to allow the Tohono O'odham to replace tribal lands destroyed by flooding in the 70s and 80s after the federal government built the Painted Rock Dam near Gila Bend.

Flooding caused by the dam decimated the Gila Bend Indian Reservation, reducing it from about 10,000 acres to 40 livable acres now known as the San Lucy Village.

Even though the West Valley parcel designated for the casino complex is one of several the Tohono O'odham Nation was authorized to buy to replace land lost near Gila Bend, the Gila River tribe argues in its suit, filed yesterday, that the Tohono O'dham have "twisted and misinterpreted the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Land Replacement Act of 1986 in an effort to take into trust lands that trace back historically to the Pima and Maricopa tribes of the Gila River community."

Archeologists have determined that the Gila River and the Tohono O'odham tribes are both descendants of the Hohokam, who settled in Arizona about 300 A.D.

But a Gila River spokeswoman said that is too vague a reference is to determine ancestral land rights.

"The word Huhugam (Hohokam) refers to the ones who have passed before; this could mean those that have passed yesterday, a week ago, 10 years, or 100 years ago," said Alia Maisonet. "It's a shame they are using this reference to our ancestors for economic gain. This isn't our way...and it is greatly frowned upon."

Tohono O'odham Chairman Ned Norris begs to differ. He has told New Times that "there is no question in my mind ... where we come from, who we are. Don't suggest the Tohono O'odham have no ties to that area."

Read the full story of the struggle to build the casino here.

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