RALEIGH — On March 12, the Catawba Indian Nation held a press conference to present renderings and construction plans for a new destination casino on a site in Kings Mountain, North Carolina.
According to a press release, the U.S. Department of the Interior has taken the land in question into trust and, as a result, the Catawba Indian Nation can now move forward with the proposed project.
“The Nation is very thankful for the Department’s decision to take this land into trust, enabling us to achieve the promise of self-determination though economic development,” said Chief Harris in a statement.
“The Department has a very rigorous process for reviewing proposed trust land acquisitions. We are very thankful for the hard work of the Department’s solicitors and staff on our application, who carefully reviewed our history, including our historic land settlement, ensuring that it is consistent with the Supreme Court’s Carcieri decision,” Harris said.
The proposed destination casino and resort is projected to bring as many as 5,000 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs to the King’s Mountain area. Supporters of the casino estimate it will bring $350 million in potential revenue to the town, which is located just 35 miles west of Charlotte.
The Catawba Indian Nation statement said that the tribe plans to “begin working closely with Gov. Cooper’s office so that the state of North Carolina can also benefit from the project in Kings Mountain.”
The proposed casino project, which was first discussed during tribal meetings in 2013, now is expected to include a $600 million 220,000-square-foot casino complex with an estimated 1,796 electronic gaming devices and 54 table games. There is a plan for a 1,500-room hotel, as well as restaurants, shopping and a full-sized concert and event venue.
The Catawba Indians are located in South Carolina, but claim tribal lands that extend north into the area of the casino project near King’s Mountain. The project has been met with strong opposition from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians located in North Carolina, which operate casinos further to the west of King’s Mountain.
The Catawba River is named after the tribe and originates in Western North Carolina. The word “catawba” means “the people of the river” in their Siouan language. The tribe’s name is also referenced in Catawba County, a foothills county whose county seat is Hickory. Catawba College, now located in Salisbury, was founded in Newton, a town in Catawba County.
The federal government terminated recognition of the tribe in 1959. In 1973, the Catawba Indian Nation reorganized and began the process of reestablishing federal recognition. In 1993, the federal government recognized the Catawba nation and paid, along with the state of South Carolina, a $50 million settlement for land claims.
The Eastern Band is promising to sue the U.S. government for “its illegal and corrupt decision” to allow Catawba casino to go forward.
In a press release, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians claim that the government is ignoring federal laws that prohibit the “Catawba Indian Tribe of South Carolina” from tribal government gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
“The federal government has no right or authority to create a new reservation for the Catawba Nation across state lines, into Cherokee historical territory, just to build a casino,” Chief Richard Sneed said in a statement.
The statement also says that the Bureau of Indian Affairs also has yet to consult with the Cherokee on protection measures and that a possibility exists of archaeological artifacts and resources being discovered during construction on the proposed casino site.
“This decision creates a dangerous precedent for all federally recognized tribes that empowers corrupt developers and their lobbyists to use politicians to determine what laws and precedents are followed and which ones are ignored. This decision cannot and will not stand,” said Sneed.
The Cherokees operate two casinos west of King’s Mountain: Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, which is 130 miles away; and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel, around 190 miles away. The Catawba casino would be located just 35 miles from Charlotte.
The casino project also drew harsh criticism in early 2019 from North Carolina state lawmakers after North Carolina’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, signed on as primary sponsors of a bill introduced by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
U.S. Senate Bill 790, which has had no activity since being introduced in March of 2019, would have authorized the U.S. Department of the Interior to allow the South Carolina Catawba Nation to obtain around 16 acres near Kings Mountain in North Carolina for its proposed casino complex. With the Department of the Interior now taking the land into trust, the bill has been rendered unnecessary.
Thirty-eight N.C. state lawmakers signed a letter opposing the casino project bill. The letter dated May 16, was sent to the chairman and vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and called Senate Bill 790 an “unprecedented overreach.”
The letter to the committee also said if the project was allowed to go forward it would “encroach upon Cherokee aboriginal territory defined in the Cherokee Treaty 1777 map.” The letter also said it would “deal an economic blow to a region of the state that depends on this industry and the thousands of jobs it provides annually.”
At the time, Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) said “This bill that was introduced by a South Carolina senator to allow property in North Carolina to be given to a South Carolina tribe is something that I would hope our representatives would fight.”
House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican from Kings Mountain, took no position on the bill last year, despite it being proposed for his town.