The current administration has restored federal recognition to the Tejon Tribe of California enabling it to move forward with plans for a casino. An application for a land trust for 360 acres in Kern County accompanied by an environmental impact (EIS) statement is being prepared by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
A notice published on Thursday in the Federal Register, outlined plans for a 250,000 square-foot casino, to be followed by a hotel with up to 300 rooms in a second phase. Signed by Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the casino would improve on health care, housing and education provisions as well as other services to the Tejon Tribe.
No date has been set for a public opinion meeting in the community as of yet, but September 14 is the deadline for draft EIS comments, which are both part of the review process. As work on the application by the BIA progresses, additional meetings will be held. Generally tribes have a two to three year wait for word from the agency, but the decision does not have a timeline. According to a statement in June given by Kathryn Morgan, chairwoman of the Tejon Tribe, “Best case scenario is two years, but it’s going to be probably longer than that.”
While it will have to endure a lengthy decision process, prior to January 2012 the Tejon wasn’t even a federally recognized entity so the EIS notice is a milestone. A previous decision made by then assistant secretary Larry Echo Hawk did not follow any government required process. Since that time tribes who seek federal recognition, clarification or affirmation status must go through the BIA’s Office of Federal Acknowledgment, which is new policy adopted by Washburn. Coincidentally on Thursday a final rule was issued pertaining to appeals of federal recognition decisions. Although the changes won’t affect the Tejon’s federal status, it will have some obstacles to navigate before a casino can be opened.
Land acquired after 1988 is generally barred from having casinos, but a hitch in Section 20 of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act contains an exception to the rule, and it is presumed the Tejons meet the criteria for the exception which enables tribes restored to federal recognition to qualify. Kern County officials appears receptive to the casino plan and the county is negotiating an intergovernmental agreement with the tribe
The proposed casino site is west of the town of Mettler, an unincorporated area approximately 14 miles south of Bakersfield off Highway 99.