Indian Gaming: an empowering economic tool or a destructive culture force?

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Indian Gaming Bane
To BE or to HAVE: a life consists not in the abundance of the things which a man possesses.

living words of native wisdom
to pray - needs no dogma

According to Dan Morain, only 9% of the native Americans in California even benefit from the state's multi-billion dollar gaming industry.

The Thinker: Let's Not Be Hasty

A Modern "Small-pox" for Native Culture

A modern "small-pox" for native culture

Clay Akiwenzie

Clay Akiwenzie Gaming will give tribes more money which will enable them to diversify and realize the long sought after goal of individual tribal sovereignty. At least, that is the succession of events that proponents of Indian gaming would like us to believe. While the allure of more money in communities that generally have precious little industry, nearly no liquid assets, and extremely high unemployment is fairly easy to see, what is often missing from a thorough discussion of gaming is a clear understanding of basic issues like what sovereignty actually means, how best to achieve it, and who exactly "counts" as Indian? These sort of basic questions about the terminology used in this debate are often sid-stepped altogether when more pressing questions come up like; where is all of this money actually going? Who decides where it goes? And of course, most importantly; when do I get mine? Among other things, the rising tide of crime on Indian reservations that have already instituted gaming, from the Mashantucket Pequot in Connecticut to the Fort Regis Mohawk in New York to the Clear Lake Pomo Indian Colony in California, would seem to indicate that perhaps, Indian gaming does not represent the panacea for Indian country that we have been lead to believe.

The problems are practically uniform throughout Indian country. Disorganized, factionalized, and historically poor communities with limited infrastructure and little-to-no experience managing large sums of money are now being confronted with the daunting task of effectively managing a multi-million dollar corporation. Given the obvious enticements of Indian gaming, it should come as no surprise that many of the actual members from these reserves have accepted gaming with a less than perfect understanding of what they were getting into and, perhaps have made some less than ideal management decisions. This poor understanding of what gaming and sovereignty actually mean portends disaster for a disturbingly large number of tribes.

However, vague concepts and ideals aside, former proponents of Indian gaming have been echoing each other with warning calls to tribes pondering the plunge into the business of high stakes gambling. Beverley Louis, a registered band member of the Sault St. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians, noted in her letter to the editor in the July 6, 1995 edition of Indian Country Today that while her "tribe has grossed billions of dollars since the conception of casinos,...our people - our true Native Americans - remain indigent, disgracefully poor. We have no idea where the money is going, and diligent inquiry into this matter is met by silence - or in the alternative - misrepresentations." Ms. Louis repeated references to the disparity of wealth and subsequent friction between what she describes as the "true Native American," or full-blooded Indians, and the increasingly large numbers of migrating mixed breeds is a massive problem for nearly every single reservation in North America.

While the membership issue may seem like a completely separate issue from gaming , this power to decide who does and does not belong to the group becomes an absolutely crucial and potentially divisive issue when you start talking about gaming and the distribution of profits. Although, there are federal guidelines for membership criteria, each reserve implements their own membership criteria as an exercise of tribal sovereignty and self-government which the feds in turn refer to when allotting federal funding. The point being that membership roles, federal funding, and the distribution of wealth are all intimately connected and whoever controls membership, also controls the future of the Nation. Often, the irony of the situation is that the people who justify the continued existence of Indian Nations as distinct Nations(i.e. the people who keep the traditions alive), are often left out in the cold when the profits are divvied up.

One issue that always comes up with gaming is the issue of sovereignty and its relation to Indian gaming. Proponents of gaming invariably point to gaming as a means to the ultimate end, real, not just quasi-sovereignty, but real sovereignty for Native peoples. Few, however have a clear understanding of what sovereignty would actually mean to Indian tribes. For example, does sovereignty mean an end to the federal fiduciary relationship between Indians and the Federal government? What will sovereignty mean to the trust status of Indian lands? Will sovereignty legitimate us as Nations, states, or municipalities? Are we, as a collective group of Native peoples, ready for tribal sovereignty and all of its implications? If we aren't, and if gaming moves already unstable Nations towards some uncertain and undetermined fate, then all of this talk about sovereignty and economic independence may turn out to be another classic example of counting your chickens before the eggs are hatched.

Another similarly discussed, but never resolved issue in Indian country is to how best balance traditional cultural practices and moral belief systems with economic development. This idea of balance has been central to the debate over gaming on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona as well as on the Navajo Reservation which surrounds them. Both nations have chosen to reject gaming as a source of revenue because for them, the question takes on an either/or sensibility. Either you value your culture and moral values above all else, or you support economic development with the knowledge that culture will be inevitably compromised to one degree or another. While this may seem rigid and anti-progressive to some people, it is a very real concern to may of the traditional people whose reality exists outside the world of profit margins and economic theory.

So does gaming on reservations represent a new hope for an economic resurgence in Indian country? Maybe, but at best, it's still an unsure bet, and tribes should know the risks before entering into any agreement with any outside corporation, investors, or government. I want to be clear that I'm not saying that Indians have to be poor in order to be "real" Indians, or that casinos are "bad"; so we shouldn't have them. However, it is my fear that many tribes have rushed into these ventures without a clear understanding of what they wanted to gain from their involvement with gaming, aside from the vague assumption that more money means less problems.

Finally, without the right leadership, discussion, and understanding of gaming and all its implications, the ubiquitous construction of casinos on Indian lands across the continent could prove the most destructive and divisive element introduced to Native culture since Christopher Columbus brought the small-pox.


Clay Akiwenzie, Junior in North American Indian Studies
Saugeen Ojibway, Cape Croker Reserve, Ont.
(Jerry Twain was Ojibway, otherwise `Chippewa` -- see Shania Twain)
The Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe (ND)
Ojibway Culture, History by Kevin L. Callahan
Famous Ojibway include Gerald Vizenor, poet, author, philosopher

Louise Erdrich
~ Louise Erdrich ~
~ Love Medicine ~

round house

Love Medicine

grey eagle
from a painting by Marie Klement
Ascension Mastery Intl

Love Medicine

Dennis Banks - American Indian activist and a prophet for our times (an Ojibway)

The American Indian Heritage Foundation Providing relief services to native peoples

John Stewart "Man of Color" - actually "adopted" into the Wyandotte people; he let his light shine

John Marrant, black apostle to the Cherokee - having credibility with Native folk, God used him greatly

Residential Schools' forced "civilization" - devastating child lives - If this is Christianity, would you want it?

Who were the real savages? White man's sorry record - 'The Indians of early America never raped their captives'

The Jesus Way Psalm 121 - First Nations, Aboriginal, Native Canadian and Native American

Former Spirit Walk Ministry - erstwhile site is, so to speak, a "reading room for magical thinkers"

Gambling Addiction and Problem Gambling - research show that poor are hurt most

Know your limits - or else get help (problem gambling and addictive behavior)

Who were the real savages? - early America, a glimpse at "primitives"

William Warren - perhaps the earliest Ojibway author and historian

Never Give Up. The native American saga of hope and triumph.

Indians and Ancient Israel - finding a plethora of amazing similarities

George Washington - when your worst enemy turns out to be a best friend.
Iroquois Constitution (The Great Law of Peace) influenced the U.S. Constitution, historians say

The soreness of the land - the prophecy of Kate Luckie, Wintu Spirit Woman

Redding rancheria - Wintu show responsibility in stewardship of economic resources

Recognizing our all-American roots - a rainbow story that our schools must hear

NARF : Native American Rights Fund - 38 years of standing firm for justice.

Eagle Wings Ministries First nations peoples (The Jesus Way)

Soul Wound - the Legacy of Native American schools

Broken Walls (Navajo) - Jonathan Maracle breaking walls of separation

Native Links - online resources First Nations peoples of North America

Hanksville - index of Native American resources on the internet.

Native American Roots - reasearching your heritage. Resources and helps.

Baptism of Desire & holy fire - Native American & otro 'tribal medicine' & Spirituality.

Look inside - and find God there

Living Sacrifice

This page created: January 1996
Mirrored from The Thinker, Copyright 1996, All rights reserved.

Luther Standing Bear wrote [1933] -- "True, the white man brought great change. But the varied fruits of his civilization, though highly colored and inviting, are sickening and deadening. And if it be the part of civilization to maim, and rob, and thwart, then what is progress? True civilization lies in the dominance of self, and not in the dominance of other man."


Bob Shepherd
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