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Amador County Casino Site May Have History Against It

By Liz MacLeod

There could be a bump in the road for the Buena Vista Band of Me-Wuk Indians, the tribe pursuing a casino project on the Buena Vista Rancheria, south of Ione on Coal Mine Road.

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation sent letters to the National Indian Gaming Commission, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers March 13.

The letters, written by ACHP historic preservation specialist and archeologist John Eddins, state that ACHP has been contacted by several members of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians who have expressed concerns that a casino project could adversely impact a number of sacred cultural sites located on the Buena Vista Rancheria.

Eddins said potential archeological sites include a burial ground used by the Ione Band for thousands of years. “The Ione Band contends that the Buena Vista Rancheria site, in its entirety, constitutes one of the tribe´s four most sacred sites,” Eddins wrote. “The project may also have an impact on the rural visual character of the Jackson Valley area and on nearby Buena Vista Peaks, which is considered a scenic landmark and of special significance to one or more Native American tribes in the region.”

According to Eddins, EPA is considering issuing a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for the proposed casino project and ACE may be involved in issuing a Section 404 permit. NIGC has approval authority over compacts, management contracts and tribal gaming ordinances.

“As a result, approvals for this proposed project may constitute an undertaking for NIGC for the purposes of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act,” wrote Eddins in the NIGC and ACE letters.

Section 106 of NHPA states that the head of any federal agency having direct or indirect jurisdiction over a proposed federally-assisted undertaking shall, prior to the issuance of any license, take into account the effect of the undertaking on any district, site, building, structure or object that is included in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register.

“The head of any such federal agency shall afford the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation established under Title II of this act a reasonable opportunity to comment with regard to such undertaking,” stated NHPA.

Eddins requested that NIGC, EPA and ACE inform the historic preservation council as to their implementation and compliance with Section 106 of NHPA as well as the current status of the proposed casino project.

“The ACHP has not received any notification of adverse effect for this undertaking and we have no correspondence indicating that the Section 106 process has been initiated,” Eddins wrote.

A March 20 letter written by “hereditary” Chief of the “historic” Ione Band of Miwok Indians Nicolas Villa Jr. echoed the sentiments expressed by Eddins.

The letter, addressed to Doug Eberhardt of EPA, requested that all temporary or permanent permits issued by the agency be revoked.

“The Buena Vista land base is a significant sacred religious site and ancient burial grounds associated to our tribe, our culture and by blood since time immemorial,” Villa wrote. “We must insist as provided by federal law that we be included in any further investigations or processes of the intent to desecrate our sacred sites and ancient burial grounds associated with the Buena Vista land base.”

Rhonda Morningstar Pope, chairwoman of the Buena Vista tribe, said that no such sacred sites will be impacted by the casino project. She said she and the tribe are first and foremost to be concerned about the preservation of such sites. “All archeological resources are being protected,” she said. “We have taken measures to protect all of our sacred sites in a cultural resources protection area … no casino is being built on any of those sites whatsoever.

“The tribe has no problem meeting and consulting with tribes, however we will not do that with individuals who are not tribal members,” she said, referring to the fact that the “modern” Ione Band of Miwok Indians is the tribe most often recognized as legitimate by the federal government.

Morningstar Pope said a common misconception is that the tribe has control over the Buena Vista Peaks, land she says is owned by a number of private individuals. “The tribe is addressing that issue as well,” she said.

“We are very confident we have already addressed all concerns regarding cultural issues,” Morningstar Pope said. “I have no concerns.” She added the tribe used recommendations from the Office of Historic Preservation when determining the cultural resources protection area. “That makes me feel even more confident,” she said.

“We encourage people who are members of surrounding tribes to contact the tribal office and we have no problem meeting with them,” she added.

The Buena Vista Band can be reached at (916) 491-0011. ACHP can be reached at (202) 606-8503.

Reprinted with permission : Amador Ledger Dispatch