Posted on: March 10, 2021, 03:30h.
Last updated on: March 10, 2021, 04:45h.
Boyd Gaming’s and the Wilton Rancheria tribe’s joint casino project in Elk Grove, California will be known as Sky River Casino.
The name of Sacramento county’s first tribal casino was revealed Tuesday during a groundbreaking ceremony attended by tribal members, local officials, and well-wishers. The 36-acre plot is formerly home to an abandoned shopping mall that has been derelict for more than a decade.
Wilton Rancheria Tribal Chair Jesus Tarango told the assembled crowd the name had been chosen to reflect the tribe’s historical identification with the nearby Cosumnes River, along which its ancestors lived for generations.
“Today, we celebrate the hard-fought determination of generations of tribal members to create a future of dignity and self-sufficiency for Wilton Rancheria,” he said.
It has been a long wait.
Termination and Recognition
The Wilton Rancheria’s tribal status was terminated in 1958 under the federal government’s Indian termination policy. That sought to assimilate Native Americans into mainstream American society. The policy effectively ended the government’s recognition of tribal sovereignty.
From the late 1980s onwards, the Wilton Rancheria tribal council focused on restoring the tribe’s sovereignty, eventually receiving federal recognition in 2009 after suing the US government.
Then began the tribe’s quest for a casino – one that has been contested at every turn by campaign group Stand Up for California (SUFC), an organization dedicated to opposing new casino developments in the state.
Since the 2009 settlement came with no land, the tribe had to apply to the US Interior Department to take the Elk Grove plot into trust. Legal battles ensued.
SUFC has contended, variously, that the application violated the federal Indian Reorganization Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, and California’s Public Records Act and Ralph M. Brown Act.
The department approved the application in the dying moments of the Obama administration, just hours before Trump’s inauguration.
But SUFC challenged the action in a federal court, arguing that the subordinate DOI official had acted improperly in taking the last-minute decision to transfer the land.
Beating the Lawsuits
The tribe has resisted all these legal challenges and now moves ahead in its pursuit of economic self-sufficiency. Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock, tribal chair from 2012 to 2020, told The Citizen Voice it was an emotional moment.
“Today’s shovel in the earth marks a culmination of years of community outreach, public support, environmental reviews, consultations, lawsuit after lawsuit, and the eventual perseverance of our tribe to get land in trust, beat the lawsuits, and finally break ground,” he said.
The $500 billion Sky River Casino will be built and operated by Boyd and will boast 2,000 slot machines, more than 80 gaming tables, and 12 restaurants. A planned 302-room hotel tower and convention center aren’t part of the immediate project, but these may be built later in phases, a Boyd spokesperson said Tuesday.