The federal government has approved a plan by the Tejon Indian Tribe to operate a Hard Rock Casino Resort 14 miles south of Bakersfield. It is now up to Governor Gavin Newsom to approve the decision before the plan can become a reality.
“Since our relationship with the United States government began in 1851, our tribe has fought for a homeland for our people. Today we have taken two important steps closer to this dream, ”said Octavio Escobedo III, leader of the Tejon Indian tribe, in a statement. "The decision of the department enables us to come closer to the promise of self-determination through economic development."
On January 8th, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Tara Sweeney, signed a record of the decision and issued a secretarial decision finding the proposed location suitable for the tribe's plans and allowing local gambling.
Newsom must agree to the federal government's decision, a decision it will have to make for a year. If he does, the US Department of the Interior can trust the country and the tribe will finally have a place to call home.
"This has been a long but rewarding journey for the tribe and its citizens," wrote Escobedo. "These decisions are necessary and significant steps in the development of a tribal home for the tribe that has been landless for more than 150 years."
In its decision, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs said the casino near Mettler best allowed the Tejon tribe to support themselves and maintain a stable source of income for government programs.
The office also considered several alternatives, including a smaller casino, an organic farm, an alternative location along the Maricopa Highway, and no action. The office said, however, that the Mettler location best served the "purpose and need" of the tribe.
At the Mettler location, the tribe is planning to build a 166,500 square meter play area and an 11-story hotel with 400 rooms. The site would also include a convention room, event center, restaurants, RV park, and a shared sheriff and fire station, as well as housing and administration offices.
The entire complex is expected to support 3,000 full-time positions. The project was supported by many local officials, including the Kern County Regulatory Authority.
Officially recognized in 2012, the Tejon tribe now has 1,111 members, the vast majority living in the Bakersfield area, according to their website.
The environmental assessment process for the site has been going on since 2016. With the determination of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the tribe can finally move on from the long process.
However, it is not known when the casino can open or even be built. Scott Nielson, a consultant who manages the project for Hard Rock, said there are still a few steps to be completed before a schedule can be released.
In his statement, Escobedo thanked federal officials for their decision, along with local supporters and the Seminole Tribe that owns Hard Rock Cafe Inc.
The Florida tribe, he said, "stood shoulder to shoulder with us in making our dream of restoring our land base a reality."
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