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Shooting Star Casino one step closer to trust status

The White Earth Band received notification from the United State Department of the Interior, Interior Board of Indian Appeals, that the decision of the Midwest Regional Director accepting the Shooting Star Casino properties into trust has been upheld on appeal.

The Board agreed with the BIA that it "had a statutory, nondiscretionary duty to accept the casino property into trust because the land was purchased with White Earth Land Settlement Act Funds and is located within the exterior boundaries of the Band's reservation."

The Band is suing Mahnomen County in Federal Court for the District of Minnesota, seeking to enjoin the County from collecting taxes it claims are owed on the property, and claiming a refund for taxes paid on the property over the past 12 years.

White Earth Chairwoman Erma Vizenor stated, "The property in question has been subject to multiple appeals as to trust status in an attempt to delay the inevitable. WELSA was signed by the governments of White Earth, the State of Minnesota and the United States. No one was completely satisfied with its terms, but it is the law."

The White Earth Band contends that the land must immediately be taken into trust County tax liens because the terms of WELSA restrict lands as soon as they are purchased with WELSA funds. This ruling should apply to thousands of acres of White Earth lands that White Earth has purchase with WELSA funds that are awaiting acceptance into trust status.

The Band also claims the lands are not taxable under the terms of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. A recent decision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in a similar case concerning casino lands of the Oneida Nation of New York found that any taxes claimed by a county did not have to be satisfied before the land could be taken into trust.

The Band is awaiting a decision by the BIA on whether it will apply the same reasoning to this land.