Tribal bill won’t open way for Ashland casino

A tribal restoration bill is being modified to restrict a Siskiyou County tribe from taking Oregon land into trust and potentially building a casino in Ashland, according to the office of the California congressman who is sponsoring the bill.

The chairman of the rancheria also said no casino would be built in Oregon. U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, introduced HR 3535 in 2017 to restore federal recognition of the Ruffey Rancheria, a group of American Indians who historically inhabited villages in central Siskiyou County. Its status — along with other California tribes’ — was terminated by Congress in 1958.

If passed, the bill would restore more than 440 acres of land to the tribal group and allow for a casino on reservation land, according to the bill.

Ashland City Council directed city staff to draft a letter “expressing concerns” over a potential casino in the city if the restoration were successful.

But Mark Spannagel, LaMalfa’s chief of staff, said changes in the proposed legislation should resolve those concerns.

“We are working on an amendment to restrict the legislation to eastern Siskiyou County only,” Spannagel said. “There’s no possibility of a casino in Ashland under any circumstances.”

The amendment has yet to be published, according to Spannagel.

Tahj Gomes, chairman of Ruffey Rancheria, said in a phone interview that he has been in contact with the Consolidated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon, who expressed concerns over the same possibility.

“We are a California tribe, and we don’t have any territorial claim in Oregon,” Gomes said. “We welcome and appreciate support from the city of Ashland for the restoration bill.”

Acting City Administrator Adam Hanks said that city staff was aware of the pending amendment, and drafting the letter is a cautionary measure. All councilors agreed with drafting the letter.

“The amendment is in the process but it hasn’t been approved yet,” Hanks said. “We are happy that the congressman will be restricting it within Siskiyou County, and our letter will latch onto that.”

Councilor Dennis Slattery said the letter is strictly to “express concerns that we would be forced into doing something we might not want.”

“We are not in the position to consider this matter,” he said. “We don’t have any say in this — except for expressing concerns.”

The council told staff last week that the letter should focus only on the casino aspect of the bill while supporting the restoration of federal recognition of the tribe.

Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.

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