At a Friday, March 13, 1 p.m., press conference held inside the Kings Mountain City Hall, Catawba Nation Chief Bill Harris stood with members of the Kings Mountain City Council, Cleveland County Commissioners, and Catawba Nation Tribal Council members and spoke about what is described as a "major economic development" for the area.
Catawba Nations Chief William Harris said that after seven years, two months of waiting and wondering, the United States Department of the Interior came down in their favor, saying, via email, that 16.75 acres of land off Dixon School Road in Cleveland County would, after so many years of political wrangling, be set aside in land trust for the Catawbas to use for the building of a casino and gaming resort.
Chief Harris said at the meeting the decision from Washington, D.C., was a dream come true for him and the entire Catawba Nation. He noted the decision about after an environmental assessment was finalized regarding the land off of I-85. That assessment, he said, began December 2019.
The Friday, March 13, press conference began with Kings Mountain Mayor Scott Neisler telling everyone how excited he was that all of the hard work by the City of Kings Mountain, the Catawba Nation, and Cleveland County has finally come to fruition with the land trust decision.
Said Neisler, "This is a surreal thing! While we are here welcoming the Catawba Nation, they should, in fact, be welcoming us. They and their ancestors have been around longer that we have but we are happy they are working with us to make this happen for Kings Mountain and Cleveland County, as well as other surrounding counties whose economies can and will be affected by this development."
Neisler continued, "We looknforward to the economic development that will come from this."
The economic development Neisler speaks of is the possible 9,000 total jobs that could come about - 5,000 construction phase jobs, according to Chief Harris' estimates, and another 4,000 when the facility opens up.
It is noted, said Chief Harris, that any profit from the casino, once it is built and gets going, will go to the Catawba Nation to benefit it and its tribal members, it is not unreasonable to note that Cleveland County in general, and Kings Mountain in specific, will be the beneficiaries as well. Chief Harris talked about Kings Mountain utilities in the form of power supply to the casino, as well as what other attendant industries and such that might spring up around the casino, adding to the tax base as well.
Assistant Chief Jason Harris talked about the proposed casino and resort bringing the areas many young men and women who went away to college and to other areas seeking jobs, back to the county and the nearby towns.
Mayor Neisler commented on how Chief Harris, who has served for nine years as the Chief of the Catawbas, has been an inspiration for his tribe.
Chief Harris said this time in history is momentous because as his people befriended our relatives, so it has all come around full circle and the Catawba Nation is being welcomed.
Said Chief Harris, "This is, in a way, about a righting of wrongs; how that there are not many times we can be a part of something this historically significant."
He continued, "We will work together to bring about a good economy and good things for our people."
When asked when this would happen, Chief Harris smiled and said, "Now! As soon as possible! That's what I would like to say."
Much was made by some in the media present about the Cherokee not being happy with the federal government giving the land in trust to the Catawba Nation, to which Chief Harris replied, "We would like to work together with them, to unite with them in this. Blood that runs through the Cherokee runs through the Catawba." He said he wants to see a discussion take place whereby both nations might come together and work to bring people to both casinos.
The proposed Catawba Nation Casino has been touted by all as a "destination resort" and "entertainment complex"; however, no set date has been mentioned, let alone finalized, according to officials.
Chief Harris said this will be a "first class operation and it will be highly regulated. We are in it for the long haul!"
Chief Harris introduced Jack McNeill, of Delaware North, whose group is a consultant to the Catawba Nation, who noted the casino's long-term impact on Cleveland County, Kings Mountain, and other local communities, as far as jobs are concerned, will be, as he termed it, "phenomenal."
Regarding the Cherokee's suing the federal government on the land trust matter, Chief Harris noted he didn't feel, as these were "aboriginal lands", the Cherokee Nation had any legal right on which to stand, so far as it goes.
He alluded to historical maps of the original 13 colonies and how land was divided up in those days.
"If you look at them (the maps from that time), they were drawn up by whites, not (Native Americans). These are aboriginal lands."
On March 13, 2019 Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, of N.C. introduced legislation in Washington, D.C., allowing theCatawbas to take land into trust in order to build a casino on Dixon School Road near I-85 in Kings Mountain. Co-sponsoring with Graham were Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, who Mayor Neisler and Chief Harris thanked for their action and support in making this happen.
Officials at the press conference noted the finished casino will be roughly 1.8 million square feet and will generate the aforementioned 9,000 jobs as well as drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists to the area every year.
In a media release from the Catawba Indian Nation, Chief Harris noted the land in trust is "located in close proximity to our current landholdings and is our ancestral land, in an area the Catawba people have used and occupied since time immemorial." (Additional informationby Loretta Cozart)