California Tribe Levies ‘Reservation Shopping’ Accusation

A California tribe is accusing another Native American group of “reservation shopping.”

California tribal casino Sonoma Koi Nation
California tribal casino Sonoma Koi Nation
California’s picturesque wine country in Sonoma County is becoming the site of a turf war between two Native American tribes. The Koi Nation wants to build a tribal casino in Santa Rosa. But another tribe already operating gaming in the area is in opposition. (Image: TravelWeek)

The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which owns and operates the Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park, just south of Santa Rosa, made the complaint. They are none too thrilled to learn of the Koi Nation’s attempts to receive federal approval to build another tribal casino in Sonoma County.

The Koi Nation recently acquired 68 acres of land on E. Shiloh Road in Santa Rosa for $12.3 million. The tribe, which only gained federal recognition in 2019, is awaiting a decision from the US Department of the Interior regarding its application for the land to be deemed sovereign territory.

Graton officials say the Koi community claiming ancestral ties to Sonoma County is a stretch that seeks to alter history.

The consensus among ethnohistorians is that the Koi Nation’s ancestral roots are in the Lower Lake area of Lake County,” opined Graton Rancheria Chairman Greg Sarris.

“The Koi Nation has never been associated with Sonoma County, linguistically or culturally, as a people indigenous to its landscape. As an endowed chair and professor of American Indian history and literature for over 30 years, and having worked closely with renowned ethnohistorians and linguists, I can attest that the Koi Nation has no ties to Sonoma County,” Sarris added in his declaration.

No Friendly Welcome

The Koi Nation — if the US Interior Department takes its Sonoma County land into trust — plans to build a $600 million casino and resort on the property. The project plan includes 2,500 slot and table game positions, a 200-room hotel, and all the typical amenities of such a resort, including dining, entertainment, and meeting capabilities.

In announcing its casino endeavor, Koi officials claimed the tribe has struggled greatly to reestablish its roots and sovereign territory. Koi Nation Chair Darin Beltran said the tribe’s history dates back 17,000 years. But it has been landless since the 1850s.

Sarris argues that the Koi Nation’s ambition to build a casino in Sonoma is nothing more than “reservation shopping,” a concept where a tribe seeks to link its history to an area that is more economically attractive than its own.

No Coy Response

In a retort to the accusations levied by the Graton Rancheria chair, Beltran claims the Koi tribe tried to partner on the $600 million Sonoma gaming resort with the Graton Federated Indians.

We reached out to our Graton Rancheria brethren earlier this week to let them know about our plans. In fact, we offered them a partnership role in our project,” Beltran said. “Rather than responding in kind to the Koi Nation, they chose instead to reply through the media via a news release that regrettably paints an inaccurate picture of the Koi Nation.”

Beltran added that when the Graton Rancheria tribe sought to establish its own tribal casino nearly a decade ago, the Koi Nation lent its support to the enterprise.

“The Koi Nation asks for the same mutual respect as we seek the same road to economic independence on our land, in our historic area, from all those who are part of the larger tribal community,” Beltran declared.

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