Land subject to IGRA

US Congress passes bill reaffirming Catawba tribe land rights for North Carolina casino

Rendering for Catawba Two Kings casino in Kings Mountain, Cleveland County, NC.
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The U.S. Congress has passed the Catawba Indian Nation Lands bill, which affirms the tribe’s territory extends to North Carolina, and clarifies the nation is subject to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) in said lands

The news was highly expected by the Catawbas, which opened the Catawba Two Kings casino in Kings Mountain, Cleveland County, in a temporary facility in July, while awaiting federal approval. The tribe calls the passage of the legislation “historic,” and describes it as the “final step in a decades-long fight.”

The bill was part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and passed the Senate by a vote of 89 to 10 last Thursday, after passing the House of Representatives on December 7. The House had first voiced bipartisan support of the Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act in a 361-55 vote on November 1.

In a press statement, the Catawba Nation voices its thanks and appreciation for the passage. President Biden is now expected to sign the National Defense Authorization Act, and thus the Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act, into law in the coming days.

“The Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act reaffirms the U.S. Department of Interior’s action recognizing our historical and ancestral ties to North Carolina,” said Catawba Nation Chief Bill Harris. 

“Congress, Interior, the State of North Carolina and a federal court have now all confirmed what the Catawba people have said from the beginning — these lands are the ancestral homelands of the Catawba people, and we intend to use them to improve the life of all the people in the community,” he added.

The Department of Interior first completed a thorough review prior to a March 2020 action taking 17 acres of land into trust status in Cleveland County for the Catawba Nation. It confirmed the tribe’s aboriginal lands extend to six North Carolina counties and farther north in the Piedmont of North Carolina. The six counties in North Carolina are part of Catawba's service area, as defined by the U.S. Congress in 1993. 

“These are the lands of not just our ancestors, but also the hundreds of Catawba citizens residing there today,” Harris stated. “Make no mistake, this legislation means more people will have good-paying jobs, more kids will have a better education and more people will have better housing and health care. That’s what this bill really means.”

In their statement, the tribe further said the enactment of this legislation will help the Catawba secure economic self-sufficiency, as originally envisioned by Congress when passing the IGRA in 1988. Moreover, the new law also confirms that the tribe is subject to the rules and regulations of the IGRA on their modern and ancestral lands in North Carolina.

In April, the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia rejected a lawsuit filed against the Department of Interior by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in 2020. The Eastern Band has since filed an appeal, which is proceeding in the U.S. Court of Appeals. But according to Harris, the enactment into law of the lands act “will likely have a significant impact” on the appeal.

The Catawbas currently have a compact with the State of North Carolina, approved in March by the U.S. Department of the Interior, to share revenue from the Two Kings Casino in Kings Mountain in Cleveland County.

The venue launched a temporary facility on July 1, with 500 gaming machines. Initial success in the summer led the tribe to begin site work in September on an expansion of the facility to add 500 gaming machines, which opened last week. The Catawba are simultaneously continuing planning for the permanent casino resort project, their statement reads.