Tribal Work by Greg Sarris
Greg Sarris is currently the Tribal Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. He is in his thirteenth elected term as Chairman of the Tribe and is currently leading the Tribe in its economic development endeavors with Station Casinos. Greg oversees all business negotiations and the daily operations of the Tribe. Greg spearheaded the effort to build a casino, the Graton Resort and Casino, which opened November 2013. A large portion of the profits from the casino will be given back to the community where it is located, Sonoma County and the City of Rohnert Park, for the preservation of public parks and open spaces, and for the establishment of low-cost organic farming for low income members of the community. Learn more about Greg Sarris and all that he has accomplished for his tribe and community.
Restoring the Tribe
While Greg was working toward his PhD at Stanford in the late 1980’s, he discovered that his biological father was descended from the Coast Miwok and Pomo tribes of Marin and Sonoma Counties. Sadly, the Coast Miwok and the Southern Pomo tribes had lost their status as a recognized tribe that had been called the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (the Tribe) in 1958. However, Greg was able to establish contact with members of those tribes, many of whom were located in his own childhood home – Sonoma County. Greg delved into the task of finding many survivors and descendants of the Coast Miwok and the Southern Pomo tribes, some of whom were his blood cousins through his biological father.
In 1992, when Greg Sarris was beginning his teaching career at UCLA as an assistant professor, he got word of another tribe attempting to establish a casino at Tomales Bay. This tribe was not Coast Miwok or Southern Pomo and was well out of its ancestral territory. Greg immediately notified and consulted with Tribal elders, and soon after called the first meeting to reorganize the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria. He led the push for restoration of the tribe as a federally recognized American Indian nation. It took years of gathering records, family histories and interviews of all who were descended from the original Tribal members, in order for this evidence to be submitted to the United States Department of the Interior. Finally, eight years later, Greg co-authored the Graton Rancheria Restoration Act, 25 U.S.C. §1300n (Act) with California Indian Legal Services. President Clinton signed the Act into law on December 27, 2000, officially granting the Tribe status as a federally recognized tribe. The Act mandated that the Secretary of the Interior take land in the Tribe’s aboriginal territory of Marin or Sonoma Counties into trust as the Tribe’s reservation. This was only the beginning…
Greg is currently the Tribal Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. He is in his thirteenth elected term as Chairman of the Tribe and is currently leading the Tribe in its economic development endeavors with Station Casinos. Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris oversees all business negotiations and the daily operations of the Tribe. Greg spearheaded the effort to build a casino, the Graton Resort and Casino, which opened November 2013. A large portion of the profits from the casino will be given back to the community where it is located, Sonoma County and the City of Rohnert Park, for the preservation of public parks and open spaces, and for the establishment of low-cost organic farming for low income members of the community. Read Greg Sarris’ biography and discover more about Greg and his remarkable background.
Greg Sarris plans Economic Development
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In April 2003, Greg solicited bids for business partners. The Tribe entered into an agreement with Station Casinos, Inc. to acquire land for its Reservation to develop and manage a destination resort hotel and casino. The Tribe borrowed over $225 million from Station Casinos for the purchase of the property that became the Tribe’s Reservation and for the pre-development costs of the Graton Resort and Casino.
At the request of elected officials and local environmental groups, the Tribe twice moved the proposed location of its Reservation to respond to local land use and environmental concerns. The Reservation consists of 254 acres of land: 64 of which will be used for the development of the Graton Resort and Casino, the remainder of which will be held for open space and mitigation.
Full Environmental Review
In February 2004, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) began preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Project. The final EIS, published in February 2009, includes a comprehensive analysis of eight different alternatives. The Tribe agreed to implement all mitigation measures identified in the Record of Decision approving the EIS.
Land into Trust
On October 1, 2010, the United States Department of the Interior accepted the 254-acre site into trust and established the Tribe’s Reservation. The NIGC has determined that the lands within the Tribe’s new reservation constitute “Indian lands” and are eligible for gaming.
Compact With State of California
Led by Greg’s skillful lobbying and political savvy, on March 27, 2012, the Governor of California signed a gaming compact with the Tribe to conduct Class III gaming. The compact was then ratified by the California Legislature and approved by the Secretary of the Interior in July 2012. The Compact, which will directly benefit the Tribe’s nearly 1,300 citizens, the local community, and the State, includes the following provisions:
- The Compact establishes the Graton Mitigation Fund for the purpose of mitigating the impact of the Tribe’s gaming operation on the local community and requires that the Tribe pay up to 15% of gross income to the Graton Mitigation Fund. Revenues from the Graton Mitigation Fund will be distributed on a quarterly basis to the City of Rohnert Park and Sonoma County in amounts ranging from at least an estimated $10 million per year, to an estimated $36 million per year or more, in the later years of the Compact, with the remainder being paid to the RSTF and a new fund, the Tribal Nation Grant Fund, to provide grants to assist California tribes.
- The Compact protects the health, safety, and welfare of employees and patrons of the gaming facility.
- The Compact protects the environment during the construction and operation of the gaming facility and any expansion thereof.
- The Compact ensures the integrity of the gaming operations through regulation and regular audits.
The Tribe has agreed to aid the communities and mitigate potential impacts of the Graton Resort and Casino by entering into legally binding agreements with the following entities:
1) Fair Labor and Employment
In a pioneering effort by any Native American tribe, Greg Sarris is insisting that all employees at the casino will be paid a good living wage with benefits. This means that all employees at the casino will be earning at least the equivalent of union wages for all positions of employment. In addition, all employees will have recourse to the card check neutrality agreement which the Tribe has already entered into with HERE United.
The Project will provide an important stimulus to the struggling Sonoma County economy. The Project will produce:
- 900 immediate union construction jobs
- 2,200 permanent jobs
- 3,000 additional full and part-time jobs at surrounding businesses
- $275 million in annual economic benefits to the region
2) Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino County Building & Construction Trades Council
The Tribe and its general contractor, the Perini Building Company, Inc., entered into a project labor agreement with the Trades Council to ensure that the casino is being built by union labor.
3) Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, AFL-CIO
The Tribe entered into a card-check neutrality agreement with HERE in August 2003, to ensure that future employees at the casino will have the right to unionize if they wish.
4) The City of Rohnert Park
The Tribe entered into an amended Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City in March 2013 to provide the City with approximately $250 million over 20 years to mitigate project impacts.
5) The County of Sonoma County
The Tribe entered into an Intergovernmental Agreement with the County in October 2012 which will pay the County at least $9 million annually to offset the project’s impacts, plus up to $38 million more a year for parks, preservation of open spaces, and other joint ecological projects.
6) Charitable Giving
The Tribe has made significant contributions to restore environmental habitat and watersheds, to improve public safety, and to promote educational opportunity as follows:
- Education — Contributed $2.653 million to Sonoma State University, College of Marin, Santa Rosa Junior College, and Rancho Cotati High School.
- Environment — Assigned its $4.171 million purchase option to the Sonoma Land Trust for 1,679 acres along Highway 37 and San Pablo Bay in southern Sonoma County in November 2003, followed by a $75,000 contribution to the Sonoma Land Trust to establish a successful fundraising drive for the purchase of the 1,679 acres and other remaining open space along Highway 37. The tribe will donate a contiguous 321-acre parcel for conservation purposes. The Tribe contributed $115,200 to the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation to establish the Laguna Learning Center, and for other purposes. The Tribe is currently contributing $500,000 toward the development of the master plan and environmental assessment for Tolay Lake Regional Park pursuant to an agreement with Sonoma County.
- Public Safety — Over $2.7 million in advance payments under the Rohnert Park MOU to the Rohnert Park Public Safety Department for funding a highly successful special enforcement unit to combat gangs and other criminal activity.
- Community Support — The Project enjoys significant local support, including some 7,000 local residents, who have signed on to support the Tribe and the Graton Resort and Casino project.