Coquille Tribe Battles Rival Tribes Over Medford Casino Plans

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In the bustling city of Medford, Oregon, a brewing conflict escalates. At the heart of this controversy are the ambitions of the Coquille Indian Tribe, who have vociferously voiced their discontent with the efforts by other tribes to hamper their plans for a casino.

Brenda Meade, vigorous chair of the Coquille tribe, pens a fiery op-ed piece on Oregon Live, critiquing her fellow tribal leaders for what she considers, “throwing tribal sovereignty under the bus”. The alleged motive behind such actions? A desperate bid to sustain their regional gaming monopolies.

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Earlier this year, in March, leaders of the Karuk, Cow Creek, Elk Valley, and Tolowa Dee-ni’ tribes, all proudly rooted in Oregon and Northern California, addressed a plea to Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Deb Haaland. Their request was to sink the Coquille’s aspiration of having land allotted for the casino taken into trust. Their missive cautioned about potential “devastating economic consequences” for their own gaming enterprises were the project to proceed.

The Coquille Tribe, proud owners of the Mill Casino located on their Coos Bay reservation, have been nursing plans for a humble gaming venue in Medford since 2011. Their application first graced the Department of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) desk in 2013. The tides appeared unfavorable in 2020 when the BIA, led by the Trump administration, forewent the application. However, the paperwork gained a second life under the Biden administration, citing that the previous decision was reached prematurely, preceding a completed environmental review. The Coquille’s wait for the BIA’s final verdict continues.

Meade, however, took offense to the suggestion by the four tribes that the Coquille were indulging in so-called “reservation shopping”. The implication suggested that the Coquille Tribe had strategically selected land distant from their original reservation that would lucratively maximize their return on casino investment. Meade vehemently contests this suggestion, accentuating the Coquille’s deep-rooted ancestral ties to the region.

Meade explains how in 1989, the Coquille Restoration Act recognized their tribe but did not return a contiguous area of land to them. Instead, it identified a specific locality where land could be taken into trust and potentially become part of their reservation. This covered areas inclusive of Coos County, home to their existing reservation, along with Jackson County (Medford), and multiple others. The designated counties, Meade argues, were not selected in an indiscriminate manner.

A tempest of political discord brews, spurred on by the labeling of “reservation shopping”. Lobbying forces, coupled with the sowing of misinformation and the prevalence of ignorance regarding tribal land, have agitated for prohibitions against alleged “reservation shopping” on both state and federal scales, Meade asserts. She presents a stern warning about the repercussions of such accusations, expressing concern about the possibly detrimental precedent for hundreds of other tribes diligently working towards legally rebuilding their reservations.

While Oregon Governor Tina Kotek has publically stated her opposition to the plan for a Medford casino, the final verdict rests firmly in the BIA’s hands, leaving her with no influence over the final decision. The development of this story continues to unfold, as the Coquille tribe stands tall, pushing back against political pressures and defending their right to expand within their ancestral territory.