According to a report from AL.com, the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians might be one step closer to gaining the ability to host casino gambling. It has been four decades since the group began the long journey to gain federal sovereignty designation that would allow them to access millions of dollars, including hosting casino gambling. In the same report, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, a Democratic lawmaker in the U.S. House, whose efforts first began in the 1980s, was highlighted as being the key piece in passing the new legislation through. Shelby’s role could, according to some other federal tribes, be a key factor in allowing the MOWA tribe to become the second in Alabama to gain federal recognition.
For this article, SBS will be going over the latest news from Alabama and also some other facts and information about gaming in the Cotton State.
According to AL.com, with Shelby’s retirement a few weeks away, hundreds of federally recognized Native American tribes are now worried the master strategist has one final political trick up his sleeve. Some fear that Shelby has the political clout to upend the long traditions of tribes gaining federal recognition through an expert-led process overseen by the U.S. Department of Interior. Moreover, as pointed out in the report, the recognition could kickstart the prospects of Indian gaming in Mobile or Washington counties similar to what exists on federal trust land for the Poarch Creeks in Atmore, Wetumpka, and Montgomery.
In the past, Shelby has called the MOWA’s efforts a “long shot” but one that could happen during the waning days of the current lame-duck session that will end before Christmas of this year. Per the report, he also thinks the group should “be a tribe” and that they have proved they are, even with politics involved. The people who have federal recognition have also shown they do not want to share with others. This, as Shelby points out, is human nature and they are blocking others from gaining federal recognition.
The Senator, who has long supported the MOWA’s efforts, is sponsoring legislation to grant a federal designation to the tribe that is largely based on 300 acres of land west of Mount Vernon. About the 5,000 people who claim to be MOWA live in Alabama, according to tribal chief Lebaron Byrd. Some reports estimate that the total membership is between 6,000 to 7,000. However, to the 141 tribes opposed to the legislation, the fear is that federal lawmakers will circumvent the traditional recognition process through the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs by sliding into a federal spending package.
Shelby is a ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, considered among the most powerful committees with enormous power to authorize federal spending priorities. Federal recognition through congressional approval is viewed as a last-ditch effort and it is likely the only tool remaining for the MOWA tribe that has come up short in its applications before the Bureau of Indian Affairs. One member of an opposing Native American tribe has said that MOWA has not demonstrated that their members are even of native ancestry, let alone meet the standards to qualify as a historical sovereign tribal government.
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