The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday took a largely performative stand against a proposed Native American-owned casino project in Windsor, voting a resolution to oppose the project.
We heard last summer about a plan by the Koi Nation tribe of the Pomo people to build a casino resort in an unincorporated area south of Windsor, just north of Santa Rosa. Dubbed the Shiloh Casino and Resort, the plan was for a 200-room hotel, casino, and spa, with six restaurants and food service areas, as well as conference space.
The site is a 68-acre former winery on East Shiloh Road, near the Mayacama Golf Course, and across the 101 freeway from the Sonoma County Airport.
The Koi Nation has only had federal recognition as a sovereign people since 2019, and this gives them the right to establish a sovereign land base — but the question is where, and whether this 68-acre casino site qualifies is going to be a matter for the U.S. Department of the Interior to decide.
Still, residents in Windsor have been making noise — as have the members of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, who have a casino in nearby Rohnert Park, and who put out a sternly worded statement in September accusing the Koi Nation of "reservation shopping" in an area that they never historically resided in.
And this week the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to "oppose" the proposed casino, as KPIX reports. The Board said in a statement that the Koi are a "non-Sonoma County tribe."
In response, the Koi Nation put out a statement saying, they were "troubled" by the resolution, and "The Koi Nation has been, and will continue to be, open and transparent throughout the process of taking our land into trust for the benefit of our members and the entire Sonoma community."
According to a statement that the tribe put out last year when they announced their intentions for the land near Windsor, the Koi Nation has been largely landless for over a century, but they long ago came to live along the Russian River in Sonoma County.
The Koi Nation is one of the remaining groups of Pomo people who have remained landless for most of the last 150 years. Their ancient home was on an island in Clear Lake, on which they lived peacefully for thousands of years. Beginning with the arrival of colonists during the Gold Rush, the Tribe’s people were exploited both as slaves and as cheap labor. In 1871, their homes were burned to the ground by settlers who had seized land in the area; as a result, the Koi Pomo then came to live in communities along the Russian River Valley from Sebastopol to Clear Lake.
But Greg Sarris, chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, says that the Koi Nation has "never been associated with Sonoma County, linguistically or culturally." And he says this with authority, as a professor who has "worked closely with renowned ethnohistorians and linguists."
"The consensus among ethnohistorians is that the Koi Nation’s ancestral roots are in the Lower Lake area of Lake County," Sarris said. "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 further pointed to the Koi Nation's "first attempt at reservation shopping" in the early 2000s, when they tried to acquire a casino site near Oakland Airport.
The Koi retorted, "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."
The process of getting Department of the Interior approval for their sovereign land may take another couple of years, as KPIX reports. It's not clear what comes next in the process, or when the project may be up for environmental review.