Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Gaming and Sovereignty: Indian Rights

Indian gambling—er, “gaming”—is a hot topic. The conservatives don’t like it and the liberals are spinning around trying to be politically correct and seeing gambling as an addictive process at the same time.

Of course, Indians are entitled to do what they want to do, if you believe they are sovereign nations within the commonwealth. A lot of people don’t like that. They see Indian lands as having values the Indians are “wasting.” They don’t like being subject to Indian rules and regulations within the reservations. And they think the Indians should Just Get Over It And Let Bygones Be Bygones.

And, to be truthful, I think Indians deserve every dime and dollar they can get out of white America.

Native Currents
© Indian Country Today January 27, 2006. All Rights Reserved
Posted: January 27, 2006
by: Editors Report / Indian Country Today
Editors' note: We are always glad to see leaders in Indian country respond to media misinformation. The recent rash of anti-Indian opinion pieces requires the serious attention of all tribal columnists, journalists, researchers and letter-writers. The following was submitted by John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, as a response to a column by Jan Golab, ''Indian Gaming Woes,'' published in the Los Angeles Daily News.

Campaign finance system, not tribes, to blame for scandal

John McCarthy


Guest columnist

Those of us who live in the real world frequently marvel that many of your guest columnists seem to live in another galaxy. Today's column by Jan Golab [''Indian gaming woes,'' Jan. 22] is a stellar example. Golab, a former Playboy editor, has published numerous other attacks on tribes and sovereignty, which he says is ''a festering problem.'' This column, like his other work, is crammed with outright factual errors, incorrect conclusions and undisguised racial hatred. It is surprising and disappointing that the Los Angeles Daily News chose to publish it.

First, the factual errors. Golab is wrong about tribal sovereignty and [the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act]. Tribal sovereignty was not ''codified'' by [IGRA]. It was established as a fundamental principle under the U.S. Constitution, which recognizes tribes in the same way it recognizes the states. More than a century of legal precedents from the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts has confirmed that tribes are, indeed, self-governing nations within the United States. They exist in this fashion because their existence as governments pre-dates the establishment of the U.S. government itself. When tribes ceded lands to the United States, they did so in exchange for a promise that they would have the right to govern themselves in perpetuity. Even Mr. Golab presumably understands that ''in perpetuity'' means forever, not just until it becomes inconvenient for others.

Golab was also 100 percent wrong in his review of IGRA's origin and impact. The passage of IGRA in 1988 followed the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 1987 California v. Cabazon [Band of Mission Indians] case. That decision did not give tribes the right to gamble in ''states that do not otherwise allow gambling.'' In fact, it held the opposite - that sovereign Indian tribes could conduct gaming operations on tribal lands without state interference as long as gaming was otherwise legal in the state. Many states had authorized lotteries, pari-mutuel wagering, and/or some forms of casino gambling for charity purposes. The court held that tribes could not be denied the right to gamble on tribal lands if others in the state were allowed to gamble under existing state law.

Then came IGRA. Congress was not, as Golab claims, ''eager to show 'simpatico''' (that's so Hollywood) with Indian tribes. In fact, IGRA was the result of pressure on Congress from state governors and attorneys general who, concerned about the Supreme Court decision, demanded that Congress give them some measure of control over tribal gaming activities. So Congress passed IGRA, which actually limited tribal sovereignty by requiring that tribes negotiate agreements with states in order to conduct Class III casino-style gaming. Many tribes opposed IGRA because they believed it gave states too much power over them.

Golab's fourth egregious error was in characterizing Indian gaming as ''our nation's largest special-interest group.'' Tribal contributions to congressional campaigns are small compared with those from other groups. In 2004, tribal contributions to congressional campaigns comprised one-third of one percent of the total contributions made, about $7.2 million out of a total $2.05 billion. During the same 2004 election cycle, the defense industry spent $15.6 million, the commercial banking industry $31 million, the health care industry $73.9 million, and the retirement industry $184 million. Where is the outcry about these big spenders?

Back to the factual errors. Golab declares that ''reservation shopping'' has resulted in ''many new gambling resorts'' and is ''truly scandalous.'' Again, he is wrong. For the record, only three off-reservation land-into-trust transactions have been approved since IGRA was passed in 1988. Only 15 tribes have received federal recognition since 1978, and only one of those tribes has gaming. Most of those recognition claims had been pending for years, having been initiated long before Indian gaming was a glimmer in anyone's eye. Sixteen petitions for recognition have been denied since 1978. These facts can be verified by the National Indian Gaming Association, which keeps such records.

If one examines today's headlines, it becomes clear that there is not so much ''reservation shopping'' as ''Indian shopping.'' Many of the high-profile proposals for off-reservation gaming expansion have been initiated not by tribes but by non-Indian communities, state governments or private companies that would partner with tribes to solve their own economic problems.

The ''litany of woes'' attributed to tribal gaming is stunningly off the mark, and again presented without a shred of evidence. The actual facts show that where tribal gaming operates, property values have substantially increased, business start-ups have increased, average wages have improved, the tax base has expanded, and welfare costs have dropped. Since most casino workers make substantially more than the minimum wage, they are a positive economic force in their local communities.

Especially disturbing is Golab's comment about ''flooding local schools with the children of low-income casino workers.'' The racist overtones of such a statement cannot be ignored. Does he object to the schools serving the children of other low-income workers? Or is it just that some of these children might be Indian? Since the federal government pays school districts to serve Indian children, not a nickel of their education comes out of the pocket of local taxpayers. In most cases, school districts receive more in federal Indian education aids than they actually spend on the children.

Only about six of the 224 gaming tribes in the United States dealt with [Jack] Abramoff. The tribes that hired him committed no crime, other than trusting someone who shouldn't have been trusted. No court has suggested that the tribes are in any way culpable for Abramoff's appallingly unethical conduct. By ordering Abramoff to pay restitution to his tribal clients, the courts have recognized these governments as the victims, not the villains.

Even so, because of the Abramoff scandal, Indian tribes have become the scapegoats in a cynical game of political spin. Congress did create a mess, but not by passing IGRA. It made a mess by creating a campaign finance system that promotes the kind of large-scale abuse we're seeing now. Indians didn't create the rules, they just play by them.

It isn't Indian gaming that's at fault here, nor is it individual Indian tribes. It's the failed campaign finance system. To fault Indian tribes for that failure is nothing but racist demagoguery. But that is apparently Mr. Golab's specialty. Shame on the Los Angeles Daily News for giving him a forum to air his ignorance and bigotry.

John McCarthy is executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, which represents nine of the 11 gaming tribes in Minnesota.

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