Things are getting a little tense between neighboring Native American tribes in Sonoma County, where the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria are none too pleased about another tribe moving in on their turf.
SFist reported last week on the proposed $600 million Shiloh Casino and Resort outside Santa Rosa, which would represent the first establishment of a sovereign land base for the Koi Nation tribe of the Pomo people in the county. The tribe said in their announcement that the tribe had "struggle[d] harder than almost any other tribe in California to re-establish our sovereignty," and the casino plan south of Windsor would be an important first step.
But the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, the tribe behind Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park, don't think it's right that the Koi Nation should be allowed to establish a land base in a county where they did not historically live. They refer to this as "reservation shopping," and they contend that if the Koi Nation wants a casino, they should build it in Lake County, where their people once lived.
"The consensus among ethnohistorians is that the Koi Nation’s ancestral roots are in the Lower Lake area of Lake County," says Greg Sarris, chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. "In 1916, the federal government acquired a rancheria for the Koi Nation in Lake County. In fact, the Koi Nation was previously known as 'Lower Lake Rancheria,' a reflection of its geographic and cultural ties to the area, but changed its name in 2012, amid prior attempts to acquire a gaming site in the Bay Area.
Sarris goes on to say the Koi Nation has "never been associated with Sonoma County, linguistically or culturally," and he says this with some authority as a professor who has "worked closely with renowned ethnohistorians and linguists."
The Koi Nation acknowledged in their earlier announcement that their tribe originated on an island in Clear Lake. But, they said, they have been largely landless for the last 150 years, and many of their people had resettled in the Russian River area.
But it sounds like there will be more pushback to come about the Koi Nation's chosen site, a 68-acre former winery on East Shiloh Road, just north of Santa Rosa near Highway 101.
Sarris notes "this is not the Koi Nation’s first attempt at reservation shopping," and he points to the tribe's attempt in the early 2000s to acquire a casino site near Oakland Airport, and another failed attempt to establish a reservation and casino on Mare Island in Vallejo.
"The Koi Nation now seems to be reviving its attempt to gain access to the Bay Area market through its most recent application for the Shiloh Road site," Sarris says in his statement. "This effort ignores federal law requiring restored tribes to demonstrate a significant historical connection to the lands on which they propose to game."
The Koi Nation, which has about 90 members at present, gained federal recognition through a court ruling two years. That recognition allows them to establish a sovereign land base, but that may not end up being here.
Update: The Koi Nation has issued a statement in response to the attack from Graton Rancheria:
"The Russian River Valley is home to a number of Pomo tribes, including the Koi Nation. When Graton Rancheria sought to establish its economic independence by purchasing land to build a casino, the Koi supported their Pomo brethren. The Koi Nation asks for the same mutual respect as we seek the same road to economic independence on our land, in our historic area, from all those who are part of the larger tribal community.
“We reached out to our Graton Rancheria brethren earlier this week to let them know about our plans. In fact, we offered them a partnership role in our project. Rather than responding in kind to the Koi Nation, they chose instead to reply through the media via a news release that regrettably paints an inaccurate picture of the Koi Nation.
“Our Tribe and its people have lived in the region that includes Lake County and Sonoma County for thousands of years. There is irrefutable historic evidence that demonstrates this fact. Our land is within our tribal territory, and we are within our sovereign rights to build a resort and casino on the land. Using the term reservation shopping to describe our land is both inappropriate and offensive, and we would hope Mr. Sarris will reconsider and retract his words."