Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act

US President signs law that reaffirms Catawba tribe's rights to develop North Carolina casino

Joe Biden, President of the United States.
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Catawba Indian Nation’s rights to operate a casino in North Carolina has now been reaffirmed by a new federal law. President Joe Biden signed on Monday the Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act, 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 Catawbas opened the Catawba Two Kings casino in Kings Mountain, Cleveland County, in a temporary facility in July last year, while awaiting federal approval. The preliminary operation is already up and running at the site off Interstate 85, as construction of the permanent venue is ongoing.

The news was celebrated by Catawba chief William Harris, who called the law “the final step” in a decades-long fight to secure federal support for the casino. As the bill has now become federal law, it halts legal attempts by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to try to stop the project.

Rendering for Catawba Two Kings casino in Kings Mountain, Cleveland County.

The Cherokees, which run two casinos in North Carolina, challenged the Catawba’s claim on the land where the Two Kings Casino sits. Cherokees filed lawsuits which kept the development in jeopardy, as they claimed the land was actually their ancestral land. The new bill, however, should end disputes over who the land belongs to.

The Department of Interior first placed the land in trust of the Catawbas in March of 2020, which the Cherokees protested. Their most recent lawsuit was rejected in the U.S. District Court, and they have since filed an appeal. With the federal law now in place, any challenge to the Catawba’s ownership of the land would also be a challenge to federal legislation.

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

According to the tribe, the enactment of the legislation is set to provide the Catawbas 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.

The tribe currently has a compact with the State of North Carolina, approved in March last year by the U.S. Department of the Interior, to share revenue from the Two Kings Casino. The temporary facility was launched with 500 gaming machines, but initial success led the tribe to expand the facility to add 500 more machines.

The Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act was sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives by Majority Whip Jim Clyburn. “This legislation will be crucial in helping the Catawba Indian Nation secure economic self-sufficiency,” Clyburn said on Monday, according to The Herald.

It is believed the creation of the permanent casinos would return economic control to the tribe, which currently experiences high unemployment and poverty rates. The complete project calls for a $273 million casino and resort, for which no opening date has yet been set.