The Town of Windsor did not have prior knowledge of a local Native American tribe’s plans to build a 68-acre casino at the south border, nor does it have the authority to prevent the project moving forward, according to town officials.
On Sept. 15, the Koi Nation Band of Pomo Indians announced plans to build the Shiloh Resort and Casino, including a 200-room hotel, at 222 E. Shiloh Road, just outside town limits. The land on which the casino is planned is in unincorporated Sonoma County, and was reportedly purchased in a private deal without the knowledge of town or county officials.
Since the announcement, there has been a public outcry around the project, one that includes misplaced blame fueled by misinformation about how Native American gaming works, according to Councilmember Esther Lemus.
“The overall public response is that people are adamantly opposed to (the Shiloh Resort and Casino). People do not want a casino in or near Windsor. There are concerns it will disrupt the family-oriented nature of the community, concerns it will have impacts on neighborhoods and concerns over crimes. Residents do not support it,” Lemus said.
Lemus said that the land in question is in the process of going into trust, a federal process at the end of which “it becomes sovereign land, which basically means it becomes a country of its own, not subject to state, federal or local laws.”
“People don’t have awareness on tribal laws and how it’s governed. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the potential development and (the town’s) lawful ability to stop it,” Lemus said.
Because Native American gaming is regulated by federal law, there’s little the town or county governments can do, as decisions such as the one pending are decided in Washington, D.C. While Lemus said she is sympathetic to the history of the dispossession of Native American lands, and respects tribal sovereignty, she said she agrees with many of her constituents that the proposed location adjacent to Windsor is not the right place for a casino.
“I would like the public to know that we’re listening. We share the same concerns that have been raised, and I just ask people to please stay in touch, and we will work together as we move forward. We don’t have the legal power to stop it, but we will do our best to work with the community to address concerns as we move forward,” Lemus said.
Tribal Chairman Darin Beltran acknowledged the pushback from the public in an interview with SoCoNews, but said that his tribe has been fighting to exercise its rights for decades. According to Beltran, the tribal lands of Koi Nation were terminated in 1956, ending their federally recognized tribal status. A 1995 petition to the Bureau of Indian Affairs resulted in restoration of federal recognition in late 2000.
“At this point, we’re trying to establish a homeland that has not been a part of who we are for 150 years,” Beltran said. “With that comes the ability to have a business protected by federal law.”
Beltran said that, although not legally required to, he and the tribe understand the concerns of the Windsor community and are willing to meet officials at some point.
“We want to reach out to work with our neighbors, tribal or not. There’s going to be a lot of issues that are going to need to be addressed,” Beltran said.
Town Manager Ken MacNab said he has been in introductory meetings with tribal representatives, reiterating that the town had no prior knowledge of the tribe’s plans.
MacNab also emphasized that, at this point, the Shiloh Resort and Casino is only a proposed project.
“Prior to construction of the proposed project, the Koi Nation must secure approval from the federal government to take the land into trust to allow the tribe to exercise its sovereignty over the land. The tribe must also secure approval of a gaming agreement from the governor of California,” MacNab said.
MacNab said it was important for Windsor residents to understand the town will be a part of the process moving forward.
“It will be important for the town to be at the table with tribal representatives and our county, state and federal representatives as this process moves forward. Clearly there is a lot of concern about this proposal in the community and we want to be sure that we have the opportunity to address those concerns with the officials who will be influential in the process.”
MacNab recommended members of the public visit the town’s webpage regarding the project. The webpage lists contact information for the Koi Nation, Sonoma County District 4 Supervisor James Gore, in addition to state and federal representatives, including Gov. Gavin Newsom.