Pin It

Father of a Nation 

As head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Kevin Gover single-handedly gave the Koi Nation land rights. Now, he's stepped through the revolving door to hawk the tribe's plans for a Bay Area casino.

Wednesday, Mar 2 2005
On Dec. 29, 2000 -- his last day as director of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs -- Kevin Gover signed paperwork legitimizing a band of 53 people, most of them children, as the sovereign Koi Nation. He took the action even though members of his own staff warned him in a memo, made available to SF Weekly, that the designation was unwarranted and that he might be violating federal law in granting the Koi tribal status.

Now, owing to a quirk of federal gaming law, this landless band of Pomo Indians stands ready to reap untold riches. The tribe does not need the consent of California's governor to open a Las Vegas-style slot palace near Oakland International Airport. Once the federal government declares a 35-acre parking lot where the casino would be built as its "reservation," the Koi Nation will be a casino developer's dream come true.

Florida real estate mogul Alan Ginsburg is that lucky developer.

Ginsburg, who is also backing the landless Scott's Valley Band of Pomo in its attempt to build a Vegas-style casino up the road in Richmond, has spared no expense in assembling an array of lawyers, ethnographers, public relations consultants, and lobbyists to help the Koi attain their multimillion-dollar casino. Chief among those on the Ginsburg team pitching for the tribe is -- you guessed it -- Kevin Gover.

Although BIA officials have often passed through the revolving door to work for Indian interests, Gover's financial connection to the tribe whose federal recognition he engineered has raised eyebrows among even some of Indian Country's more jaded critics. "You build a trough and then you go feed in it. What else can you say about that?" says Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. "In my mind, he went out [of office] like a thief in the night."

As the oldest of three children born to a white mother and a Pawnee father in Oklahoma, Gover, now 50, arrived at BIA with both an impressive personal story and no shortage of critics.

The son of civil rights workers, he had caught the eye of an aristocratic VISTA volunteer who arranged for him to go away to a New England prep school on scholarship at age 15. He went on to obtain an undergraduate degree at Princeton and to attend law school at the University of New Mexico. After working at a prestigious Washington, D.C., law firm, he returned to Albuquerque and opened his own practice, which grew to become one of the nation's largest Indian law firms.

When President Bill Clinton nominated him to head BIA in 1996, it was Gover's second time around. He had been offered the job in 1992 and had turned it down. (A recovering alcoholic, Gover has said that he hadn't quit drinking at the time.) After he accepted the post in 1996, anti-gaming forces raised a ruckus, accusing him of being a mouthpiece for casino gambling. It hadn't helped that he had rather infamously gone to a White House coffee a few months before his appointment and forked over $50,000 to the Democratic National Committee on behalf of a New Mexico casino operated by one of his tribal clients.

By virtue of his being a former BIA director, Gover, who now teaches Indian law at Arizona State University, is a marquee name among Indian gaming consultants. Records show that within a year of leaving the bureau, he went to work for casino deal-maker Gary Fears, a controversial figure who has been involved with the Seminole in Florida and at least two California tribes, the Timbisha Shoshone and the Guidiville Band of Pomo. (The latter tribe, which is now partnered with Harrah's, the Nevada gaming giant, and another developer, wants to open an East Bay casino at Richmond's Point Molate, just four miles from the San Pablo card club the Lytton Band of Pomo seeks to convert into a Las Vegas-style gambling mecca.)

Gover has also provided services to the Scott's Valley Band of Pomo, the other tribe Ginsburg is sponsoring in the Bay Area, which wants to plop a casino into unincorporated North Richmond.

In an interview with the Weekly in October, Gover downplayed his connection with the Koi Nation, aka Lower Lake Rancheria, while avoiding discussing the details of his decision to award recognition to the tribe. "I had virtually nothing to do with [Ginsburg's] relationship with Lower Lake," Gover said. "I had, I believe, one meeting with Lower Lake." (He did not return calls seeking comment for this article.) Yet, when the tribe appeared before a special session of the Oakland City Council in January in an effort to win a resolution favorable to the casino, Gover was clearly the headliner. "We've developed quite a fantastic team," Tribal Chair Daniel Beltran told the elected officials before introducing the ex-BIA director as "a leading expert in Indian law and regulatory issues."

With only Mayor Jerry Brown and one of Oakland's eight council members on record as favoring the casino, Gover's pitch didn't appear to be well-received. He may not have helped his cause by taking a jab at casino opponents, suggesting that "to the extent that the issue has been prejudged, that probably diminishes [their] credibility" with the federal Department of the Interior, which will have the final say in the matter. The remark triggered a somewhat tense exchange between Councilwoman Jean Quan, who opposes the casino, and Gover about his role with the tribe.

Quan: "You are the former director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs?"

Gover: "I am."

Quan: "And were you not the person who made this tribe eligible for land rights?"

Gover: "I am the person that restored the Koi Nation to its rightful federal recognition, yes."

Quan: "Are you now an employee of either the Koi Nation or its investors?"

Gover: "I am a consultant to its investors, yes."

About The Author

Ron Russell


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment


  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed
  1. Most Popular