New US Defense Bill Includes Protection for Catawba Nation Casino

New US Defense Bill Includes Protection for Catawba Nation Casino

If there were any chance, even the slightest, that a South Carolina tribe’s construction of a casino in North Carolina could face a new challenge, it has been eliminated. Federal law now recognizes a bill that supports the Two Kings Casino project of the Catawba Indian Nation.

POTUS Protects Tribal Casino Project

President Joe Biden signed Monday the Catawba Nation Indian Nation Lands Act into law. It is included in the National Defense Authorization Act. William Harris, Catawba chief, called the bill “the last step in a decade-long struggle” to get federal support for the casino.

The casino has been under construction despite continued challenges by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). They had claimed that the Catawba couldn’t claim rights to the North Carolina land upon which the casino was to be built. However, the Catawba disagreed and a recent decision by the Department of the Interior (DoI) supported the South Carolina tribe.

The Cherokee claim that the land is their ancestral land. In March 2020, the DoI placed the land into trust for the Rock Hill-based Catawba Indians and designated the site as the tribe’s aboriginal land. The US District Court rejected the most recent lawsuit filed by the EBCI. The EBCI has since appealed.

Catawba Chief Bill Harris stated that “the enactment into the law of our land act will likely have an important impact on the Eastern Band’s appeal.” The Catawba Nation Lands Act gives federal backing to the DoI decision. This makes any challenge to the Catawba’s ownership of the land a matter of federal legislation. An appeal in court won’t be able to reverse that.

Construction to Switch Into High Gear

Construction on the entire project, which includes a casino and resort worth $273 million, is still ongoing. The opening date has yet to be determined, but a temporary, smaller venue is now open. Majority Whip Jim Clyburn sponsored the bill in the US House of Representatives.

A statement by the legislator from Monday indicated that he is “proud to have worked with his colleagues in both the House and Senate to pass this bipartisan piece.” He added, “The Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act is a very significant step towards rectifying historic injustices that have been perpetrated against the Catawba Indian Nation. This legislation will be crucial in helping the Catawba Indian Nation secure economic self-sufficiency.”

The overwhelming majority of the Senate voted in favor of the bill with 89-10 and the House with 361-55. In the Senate, it was sponsored by Senators Chuck Schumer, Lindsay Graham, Thom Tillis, and Richard Burr. It was sponsored in the House by Clyburn and Representatives Alma Adams, William Timmons, David Price, Joe Wilson, and G.K. Butterfield.