Leaders from the Wilton Rancheria spoke at the Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce’s April 29 luncheon. They addressed their tribe’s history and hopes for the future as their Sky River Casino project is expected to open this fall.

The guest speakers at the gathering in the Valley Hi Country Clubhouse announced they did not have updates for the casino project’s development.

“I’ll burst your bubble and say I don’t have anything super exciting to show you,” said Dahlton Brown, the Wilton Rancheria’s executive director of administration. “I don’t have a grand opening date.”

He then joked about seeing “hearts broken” in the dining room.

The Sky River Casino is being built on a 36-acre lot near Kammerer Road and Highway 99 in south Elk Grove. Planned features for the $500 million project include a 110,260- square-foot gaming floor, 2,000 slot machines, and 80 game tables. Wilton Rancheria is collaborating with Boyd Gaming on this project.

Brown and Chris Franklin, the Wilton Rancheria’s executive director of economic development, focused most of their speeches on their tribe’s origin and why it mattered for them to regain their federal recognition in 2009 after it was lost for 50 years. They emphasized their tribe’s work in achieving “economic self-determination.”

Brown said there are 900 Wilton Rancheria members in the greater Sacramento area.  He spoke about their challenges with high unemployment, the lack of health insurance, and their limited access to ancestors’ history. Franklin said their tribe wants to expand education services to their members, and they are also considering a rehab facility and a community center for them.

In his speech on the history of the Wilton Rancheria as well as the Sacramento Valley’s indigenous people, Brown detailed the tragedies that impacted them and he warned the audience of the “challenging history” they would hear.

He spoke of Indian enslavement by Spanish missionaries at Mission San Jose, broken U.S. government treaties, Indian children being forced into boarding schools, and California pioneer leader John Sutter’s mistreatment of Indians.

Brown read a witness account of Sutter forcing hundreds of Indian slaves to eat from a trough.

“This was the reality for the communities that have been through so much in this area,” Brown said about the oppression.

In his presentation on the Wilton Rancheria, he said that the federal government set aside a 38-acre lot for their tribe in Wilton back in the late 1920s. However, they were among 41 rancherias in California that lost their federal recognition when Congress passed the Rancheria Act in 1958.

“And then there’s kind of a blank space where the communities moved around the area – some folks stayed on the rancheria, others moved to work wherever they could,” Brown said about life after the Rancheria Act.

He noted that during the 1980s through the 2000s, the Wilton Rancheria’s elders sold fry bread at pow wows and other events to raise funding for lawsuits against the federal government in order to restore the Wilton Rancheria’s federal recognition.

Chamber members applauded when Brown said they regained that recognition in 2009. The Wilton Rancheria is now Sacramento County’s only federally recognized tribe. Franklin said they can form their own government and enact their own laws through a tribal court system.

“We are here, we are thriving, and we’re getting stronger,” he said.

As for the casino project, Brown showed a brief video that featured aerial shots of the construction site. He noticed there will be entrances on all four sides of the casino and said that the parking lots have been striped.

“The balloon in the back of my head is swelling with pressure,” Brown joked about the pressures to complete the casino project.

After their presentation, he told the Chamber members about opportunities for vendor partnerships at the Sky River Casino, and to visit the casino’s website for contact information.