The county’s bad call

As is well known, Butte County strongly opposes the site near the intersection of highways 149 and 99 where the Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria proposes to build a casino. The site is environmentally inappropriate, the county argues, and putting a casino there also would require placing a stop light on Highway 149, which would be counter to the current upgrading of the highway to make it freer flowing.

These are legitimate arguments, and the federal officials now assessing the tribe’s application to take the land into trust and become entitled to build a casino there should consider them closely. In fact, we agree with the county that the site presents sufficient potential environmental and traffic problems that a full environmental-impact report should be prepared.

Having said that, we also believe that the county has done the Mechoopda a disservice by attempting recently to convince the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs that the Mechoopda had “manufactured” their history, were not a legitimate tribe and had no historic right to claim any land in the county as a reservation site (see “Revisionist history,” Newslines, page 12).

Making such a charge was wrong, tactically and otherwise. The Mechoopda have been a federally recognized tribe since 2000, when their tribal status was officially restored. From what we’ve gathered, the BIA and the Department of the Interior are not about to overturn that decision.

Just as significant, the county’s action was offensive to many Chicoans, who are perfectly aware that the Mechoopda were here when white settlers arrived and have long recognized the Mechoopda as a legitimate tribe from the Chico area.

If anything, the county’s action only made Chico residents more sympathetic to the Mechoopda’s quest to build a casino.