Catherine W. Idzerda" />

Chippewa want spot at negotiating table

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Friday, January 13, 2012
— On Tuesday, the Ho-Chunk Nation presented its plans for a $150 million casino facility in Beloit to the public.

Two days later, representatives from the Chippewa Nation spoke to the Rock County Board, asking to be part of the negotiations.

"I am here to ask that the Bad River and St. Croix Chippewa have a place at the negotiating table," said Peter Bigboy, a representative from the Bad River Band of the Chippewa.

In other words, they want in.

To understand the Chippewa request, you have to go back more than a decade. As early as 1999, the Chippewa were negotiating with the city of Beloit to build a casino near Interstate 90/39.

The proposal was hotly debated. In 2000, Beloit held a referendum, and 61 percent of voters said "yes" to the casino.

At that time, a spokesman for the two tribes said the casino could be built as soon as the project was approved by the Beloit City Council, the Rock County Board, then-Gov. Tommy Thompson and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The proposal jumped through all of those hoops except for the last one. The Chippewa proposal and dozens of others were rejected due to concerns about the number of off-reservation casinos.

The two bands of Chippewa have an option on property that is next to the property that the Ho-Chunk own. The option runs out at the end of the year.

At Tuesday's public hearing, Ho-Chunk spokesman and former Vice President Daniel Brown said the nation has "some concerns" over the St. Croix and Bad River tribes, whose proposed casino project sits on what Brown said are ancestral lands of the Ho-Chunk.

In October 2009, the Ho-Chunk bought the 32-acre parcel from the Chippewa bands' development partner for $4 million.

Brown also told residents he wanted to "completely and utterly acknowledge, respectfully, and with a great deal of sensitivity, the relationship that many folks had

here with the St. Croix and the Bad River."

Brown first met with Beloit City Manager Larry Arft in January 2010, and Arft asked the nation to be respectful of the community's 10-year relationship with the Chippewa tribes, Brown said.

The city also asked if the nation would consider partnering with the two other tribes, which the nation agreed to explore.

The Ho-Chunk, Bad River and St. Croix met numerous times to seek some sort of arrangement, Brown said, but "it just didn't work out."

"When it was all said and done, they were in New York, and we were in L.A.," he said. "We made a conscious decision to move ahead by ourselves."

So why should the Chippewa have a place at the table now?

In an interview after the board meeting, Bigboy pointed out that the Chippewa did the legwork for the original casino proposal. At that time, the two bands opened an office in Rock County and spent a significant amount of time educating the public—and lobbying county board members—in an effort to get the proposal passed.

Janesville resident Billy Bob Grahn pointed out that the Chippewa brought something valuable to the table: a casino proposal that's already at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Although the proposal was previously turned down, it's still on file at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In today's political climate, that proposal stands a better chance of approval and could lead to the casino being up and running sooner rather than later, he said.

Earlier Thursday, Rock County Administrator Craig Knutson said the casino proposal is tentatively scheduled to be on the county board's agenda Thursday, Jan. 26.

Gazette reporter Gina Duwe contributed to this story.

Last updated: 7:19 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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