US Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S. Carolina) on Wednesday dropped a bill on Capitol Hill that, if passed, would take land into trust for the Catawba Indian Tribe for the construction of a $560 million casino in North Carolina.

Catawba

Lindsey Graham’s bill would bypass the DOI and have land in North Carolina taken into trust for Catawba Indian Tribe, allowing it to build a casino, possibly in partnership with the Seminoles of Florida. (Image: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty)

Graham is the kind of man we’re more accustomed to see introducing anti-gambling legislation — specifically of the kind that would prohibit regulated online gambling in the US. But this bill is — in its own way — just as controversial the senator’s flirtation with the Restoration of America’s Wire Act.

Graham is a South Carolina senator advocating for a South Carolina-based tribe to fulfill their long-cherished dream of building a casino in North Carolina. Needless to say, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which operates North Carolina’s two casinos, is hopping mad.

The Catawba is the only federally recognized tribe in South Carolina. This status was restored to the tribe in 1993, 34 years after its sovereignty was stripped under the federal government’s Indian termination policy.

Battle of Kings Mountain

The bill that restored federal recognition set aside $50 million to help the tribe acquire more land in areas deemed to be their ancestral homelands, which includes all of South Carolina, plus a handful of counties in North Carolina.

The Catawba has selected the small city of Kings Mountain — some 30 miles from Charlotte and part of the Charlotte metropolitan area — perhaps due to the tribe’s historical connection to the Battle of Kings Mountain, for which the city is named.

A key battle in the Revolutionary War, the Catawba fought on the side of Patriot militias against militias loyal to the British Crown in what has been described as the war’s “largest all-American fight.”

Ironically, the actual site of the battle was actually just south of the present town, in what is now South Carolina.

The Catawba has proposed building a “major brand name” casino — just like the Cherokee did with the Harrahs Cherokee Casino Resort — and is known to have held talks with the Seminole tribe of Florida, which owns the Hard Rock casino chain.

But the Catawba’s application to have the land for the casino taken into trust has been sitting with the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs since early 2014, with no decision forthcoming — and let’s face it, it’s a thorny one.

‘Modern Day Land Grab’

Graham’s bill seeks to bypass the department altogether and have the tribe’s land and casino approved by an act of Congress.

But within 12 hours of the bill’s introduction, the Eastern Cherokee branded it “unprecedented in US history,” and “a federal government bully tactic.”

“While the [Eastern Cherokee] tribe respects and encourages progress for other Native American communities, including South Carolina’s Catawba Indian Nation, the recent filing of a bill in the US Senate to give North Carolina land to the South Carolina tribe for an off-reservation casino is nothing more than a modern day land grab by the federal government of Cherokee aboriginal lands,” it said in an official statement.