Tribal Casino In Michigan Stops Revenue-Sharing Payments Because Of Online Lottery Launch

The Gun Lake Tribe Says I-Lotto Violates Compact

By Brian Pempus,

A Native American tribe with a casino in Michigan has stopped paying the state its cut because the state elected to offer lottery games on the Internet.

The tribe believes the state violated their revenue-sharing compact by launching online lottery products last summer. The compact was negotiated back in 2007.

The Gun Lake Tribe stopped making payments in June. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation receives roughly $60 million annually from the state’s tribal casinos. The Gun Lake Casino contributes roughly $13.3 million to the state annually.

According to, other tribes may follow suit and stop their respective payments. Michigan has 12 tribes that have gambling facilities.

So far in 2015, online lottery sales have yielded $15.9 million for the state.

Americans spent more than $70 billion on the lottery in 2014, which makes it the most popular form of gambling in the country. More and more states are considering offering games on the Internet, with the most recent being North Carolina, according to a report from the Winston-Salem JournalFlorida is also considering bringing the games to the Internet one day.

State lotteries basically were given permission by the federal government to pursue online lottery services and products when the Department of Justice re-interpreted the Wire Act in December 2011. That move also resulted in three states launching online poker.

Missouri Native group fights for recognition

Members of the Rolla Cherokee group display the materials they compiled for their application to become a federally recognized tribe.
Members of the Rolla Cherokee group display the materials they compiled for their application to become a federally recognized tribe.

The Rolla Southern Cherokee have spent the past 15 years preparing an application for tribal status

By Casey Bischel, AlJazeera America

ROLLA, Missouri — The paperwork for Southern Cherokee’s application to become a federally recognized Native American tribe weighed 79 pounds. Members divided the forms into three boxes, posed for a picture, and shipped them to Washington for $105, plus $12.90 for a signature upon delivery. More materials, 26 boxes of genealogies and family trees, will soon follow.

“It’s going to open some eyes,” said Steve Matthews, the group’s leader.

Fifteen years ago, members of the Southern Cherokee Indian Tribe — the group’s official name — began researching their ancestry and heritage. Finally, after years of compiling materials, in early May of this year, the group’s 484 members reached the end of the first step of the tribal recognition process.

Also called the acknowledgment process, it determines who is or isn’t a Native American tribe in the eyes of the federal government. Being granted tribal status gives a group access to federal funds, to the legal processes to obtain land and water rights, to tribal sovereignty, or self-governance, and to the right to define what indigenousness means.

Although there is no universally agreed-upon opinion about federal recognition, benefits do include an immediate financial infusion. Through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the New Tribes Program gives tribes with fewer than 1,700 members $160,000 a year for a period of three years.

If the Southern Cherokee receive federal aid, Matthews said, they would use it to address health problems within the community, and to fund heritage preservation and education. But unless they are federally recognized, they’ll never see a dime — and even under new regulations, which went into effect on June 29, it could take years before that happens.

In Missouri, there are nearly 30,000 American Indian and Alaska Natives, according to the 2010 Census. Although some belong to federal and state-recognized tribes, none of these groups are legally headquartered in Missouri. If their paperwork is approved, the Southern Cherokee Indian Tribe could become the first one. The only question is whether their story will stand up to scrutiny.

Hiding History

Traces of Missouri’s first peoples are scattered throughout the state. Osage Beach, a town on Lake of the Ozarks, was named after the Osage Indians before they were edged into Oklahoma. Chillicothe, a 10,000-person town in northwest Missouri now perhaps more famous as the home of sliced bread, was named after the Shawnee, who had their own “chillicothe,” or big town, nearby. The name of the state itself is indebted to the Missouria Indians.

Many Native groups fear fading away without federal support, but the Rolla group has held on for decades without it. Fearing persecution from the state and the bigger Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, with whom it has long-standing disagreements, the group’s ancestors would meet in secret in one another’s homes, Matthews said. Charles Wilcox, a barber and Southern Cherokee member, said that when he was young, his mother would tell him and his siblings to hide whenever someone came to the house unexpectedly. When he would ask her how much Indian heritage he and his siblings had, she would always respond, “just a little,” Wilcox said. “And she was a full-blood.”

When Wilcox and Matthews’ generation decided to take up the cause of recognition, their parents didn’t like it. Some were wary that just being a member of a tribe might mean that they would all be relocated to Oklahoma.

Guidelines and reform

The majority of the 566 tribes officially recognized in the U.S. never had to go through the recognition process. Their origins were established long ago via policy decisions, lawsuits and treaties with the government. Those who have gone through the process have often found it, as the Southern Cherokee do, monumental, overwhelming and expensive.

From 1978, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs implemented its previous standard, to this year, when the new system was put into place, there were 316 petitioners. Only 51 managed to complete the application, and just 17 were “acknowledged as an Indian tribe within the meaning of Federal law.” The other 34 were denied. Even tribes with documented historical lineages have taken decades to be acknowledged: The Mashpee Wampanoag, who greeted the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1620, waited 29 years before they were federally recognized in 2007.

The new guidelines will make it easier to obtain recognition. Under the revised criteria, only 80 percent of a group’s members have to be descendants of a historical tribe (instead of 100 percent); and only 30 percent need to maintain an active community (instead of a “predominant portion”). Tribes that have already been rejected won’t be able to re-petition. Luckily for the Southern Cherokee, the new standards will not force groups currently in the middle of the process to start over.

Not everyone is pleased about the reforms. Some politicians fear incursion from the casino industry if more petitioners are acknowledged. Then there are financial limitations: the more tribes there are, the less the federal government can assist each one. Recognized tribes also worry about diluting tribal sovereignty and the meaning of being Native. Principal Chief Bill John Baker of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, for example, worries that groups with “loose citizenship requirements” might have an easier time becoming tribes. Baker, like many tribal leaders, fears imposter groups may undermine the power and legitimacy of recognized tribes.

In evaluating candidates, the BIA uses a three-person team that includes a historian, a genealogist and an anthropologist. To be recognized, a group must satisfy seven mandatory criteria, including the tricky stipulation that petitioners show they have maintained community and political authority since 1900 to the present. For this reason, approving the Southern Cherokee in Rolla may be difficult. There are three other “Southern Cherokee” petitioners in different states, and the BIA frowns on what it calls “splinter groups.”

Differences between the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the Southern Cherokee, for example, are reflected in the records they use to evaluate members — preferring certain records over others means privileging a specific interpretation of the past. For Cherokee Nation, the Dawes Rolls, which were kept from 1898 to 1914, are the most important. Signing the Rolls was necessary to receive a land allotment during a period when the federal government was attempting to break up reservations. Members of the Southern Cherokee, Matthews is proud to say, never joined the 101,000 Dawes signatories. Instead, Southern Cherokee membership is based on the Tompkins Roll, a census of Cherokee living in Oklahoma in 1867, and on the muster rolls of Stand Watie, a Civil War brigadier general who is viewed as one of their founding leaders.

Still, these records don’t clarify what makes a tribe and when exactly a new one forms.

For example, several Southern Cherokee groups claim the 1834 Treaty of New Echota, which led to the Trail of Tears, as their founding document.

The treaty was signed by Major Ridge, a minority leader in the Cherokee tribe, amid pressure from the federal government to sell Cherokee land in what is now Northwest Georgia and parts of the southeast. The treaty deeply angered Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross and his followers, who had wanted to sell the land for a better price. This led to deep divisions between the groups, and after both resettled in Oklahoma, members of the Ross Party began to attack the Ridge Party and assassinate some of its leadership. When the Civil War came, Stand Watie, a confidant of Ridge, formed a military regiment and fought for the South, which is where the Southern Cherokee get their name. After the war, Steve Matthews said, some Southern Cherokee families moved to Missouri to escape Ross Party violence.

The complexities of histories like this, and the BIA’s reluctance to acknowledge them, are why many Native people are frustrated with what they see as a narrow recognition process. “We’re not any better or worse than the federally recognized groups,” said Robert Caldwell, a member of the Choctaw-Apache in Ebarb, Louisiana, which has not been officially recognized by the federal government. “We’re just different.”

Looking ahead

The Rolla Cherokee hold meetings once a month at the Elks Lodge a little south of town. On a cold night last February only one door was unlocked. It opened into a long white hall with a disco ball and a drum set at one end, and a mounted deer head at the other.

They spend a lot of time here reviewing birth and death records to trace individual members’ lineages back to their rolls. Other records — from letters to signatures in Bibles — are scrounged from handed-down papers and official repositories. The group’s journal, which Steve Matthews kept from 1976 through 2004, will also help establish their history, but the Rolla Cherokee will try to bolster their claims with anything relevant they can find. No one knows if they have enough material.

With the first part of their application finished, raising money to send the other 26 boxes of genealogies and ancestral charts is now the biggest challenge. All that weight is expensive, but they hope to send it in a month or so.

When asked what’s driving them, Steve Matthews replied, “We couldn’t tell our kids we didn’t try.”

Tiny tribe faces conflict after using adoptions for business growth

A brother and sister fight over members who were adopted to start ventures.

Alturas Rancheria’s tribal administrator Wendy Del Rosa, left, poses with former Bureau of Indian Affairs official Wayne Smith. Del Rosa says adding five tribe members through adoption was a mistake. Paul Kitagaki Jr./The Sacramento Bee
Alturas Rancheria’s tribal administrator Wendy Del Rosa, left, poses with former Bureau of Indian Affairs official Wayne Smith. Del Rosa says adding five tribe members through adoption was a mistake. Paul Kitagaki Jr./The Sacramento Bee

By The Associated Press

ALTURAS, Calif. — A tiny, casino-owning Native American tribe in Northern California has pursued an unusual strategy to boost revenue: adoption.

The Alturas Rancheria in Modoc County has adopted five members – two of whom are non-Indian – in recent years, the Sacramento Bee reported.

The new members have come with ambitious plans to make money, including a cigarette manufacturing plant. But the plans have fizzled out, and the adopted members have contributed to conflict among the tribe, according to the Bee.

The fight has landed in state and federal courts, and it recently required the U.S. Postal Service to decide which of the feuding members was entitled to receive the tribe’s mail.

The adoption of non-Indian people by a Native American tribe is unusual and raises concerns, experts said.

“It’s not necessarily against the law to adopt a white person. But if there’s no historical connection to the tribe, it sounds like a scam to take advantage of their membership for business reasons and manipulate the tribal government,” Howard Dickstein, one of the nation’s foremost tribal lawyers, told the Sacramento Bee.

The Alturas Rancheria has between three and seven members depending on who is counting, making it among the smallest of the 566 federally recognized tribes.

Siblings Phillip and Wendy Del Rosa are the only two current tribal members who can trace their blood line to an original member of the 20-acre rancheria. Phillip Del Rosa said the tribe wanted to diversify its investments, which included the Desert Rose Casino. In 2003, it adopted Darren Rose, a Karuk and Shasta Indian, to build a second casino at a much better location off Interstate 5 in Yreka.

It later adopted Calvin Phelps, a cigarette manufacturer from North Carolina. Phelps was sentenced to 40 months in prison in 2014 after pleading guilty to federal fraud charges involving his North Carolina tobacco business. Wendy Del Rosa said Phelps remains a member of the tribe.

But the second casino, cigarette business and other ventures put forward by the tribe’s adoptees did not pan out, and the adoptees have now become part of tribal conflict, the Bee said.

Phillip Del Rosa and his sister are now feuding and have formed alliances with adoptees, the Bee reported. At stake is about $2 million a year in revenue, including $700,000 a year from the tribe’s Desert Rose Casino.

As the conflict goes on, federal and state officials have frozen hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds for the tribe. U.S. Postal Service Administrative Law Judge Gary E. Shapiro ruled last month that Rose is entitled to receive the tribe’s mail.

Wendy Del Rosa said that looking back now, the adoptions were a mistake.

“When Phillip and I took over, we didn’t know what we were doing,” she said. “We should never have adopted anybody into the tribe.”

Chancery Court acknowledges Choctaw tribe in Jackson County

Chancery Court acknowledges Choctaw tribe in Jackson CountyPhoto/ TIM ISBELL — SUN HERALD
Chancery Court acknowledges Choctaw tribe in Jackson County



PASCAGOULA — A group of hundreds of Choctaw descendants, most of them living in the Vancleave area, made a great leap toward federal help Wednesday when the Chancery Court in Jackson County recognized them as an official Native American tribe.

“This is a huge hurdle to get past,” said Dustin Thomas, attorney for a portion of the descendants. He said it should speed the process of getting recognition by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Chancery Judge D. Neil Harris made the ruling after two factions within the group healed their differences and agreed on a constitution and bylaws for the Vancleave Live Oak Choctaw tribe.

The court directed Thomas to file an application and documents with the Interior Department for federal recognition of the tribe.

“… this agreement is in the best interest of the parties and all minor children affiliated,” the court ruled.

The factions set up a provisional council to handle matters under the ruling.

Thomas said the biggest benefit to federal recognition may be health care.

“They really need this,” Thomas said of the tribe. “They are so poor.”

He said the group can trace its ancestry to four women and a French trader in the 1700s. The tribe numbers about 1,500, most living in South Mississippi.

The group also is associated with a school established in Vancleave in the early 1900s called the Indian Creole School.

“We’re just so proud today that a court recognizes them,” Thomas said. “These people are so happy.”

Jackson County Supervisor Troy Ross said Wednesday the acknowledgement of this tribe likely would have no effect on the issue of casinos in Jackson County. Those who oppose casinos in the county long have expressed concerns one might be allowed on Indian land.

To do that would require going through the DOI, Ross said, and the governor would have “tremendous input.”

“The governor knows we’ve voted not to have casinos here,” Ross said Wednesday.

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Sonic signs franchise agreement with Native American tribe


As part of Sonic Drive-In’s strategy to develop new franchises in rural markets, the company has reached an agreement with the Wyandotte Nation, an Oklahoma-based Native American tribe, to open its first unit in Seneca, Mo.

“The Wyandotte Nation brings an appetite and acumen for operating businesses with high consumer appeal that create new jobs and stimulate business growth. They know the community desires the Sonic experience, and with our unit economics, Sonic is the perfect business opportunity,” said Cliff Hudson, chairman, CEO and president of Sonic Corp. “We also feel a personal connection because both Sonic and the Wyandotte Nation have their roots in Oklahoma. Native American tribes represent a very important part of our community here in the heartland, a significant business driver in our region and a contributor to economic activity and job creation nationwide.”

The new restaurant is slated to be built and open for business at 2314 Cherokee Ave., by the fall, adding to a portfolio of small businesses developed by the Wyandotte Nation. These businesses span multiple industries including foodservice, telecommunications, information technology, precision manufacturing and entertainment.

“We have looked at several concepts. What eventually brought us to Sonic was the opportunity to become part of a very recognizable brand,” said Kelly Carpino, CEO of the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma. “The effectiveness of Sonic’s media and promotional strategy along with an amazing product line drew our attention to the franchise. The decision was solidified by Sonic’s new small building prototype that is a perfect fit for smaller, secondary markets.”

This marks the first development agreement with a Native American tribe for the Sonic system.