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Indian Reservations, Gambling and Repair


Indeed there appears to not be a more intractable pair of problems in America than how to repair the damage done to Blacks through slavery and discrimination and Native Americans through genocide and broken promises. Most are familiar with some of the nuances of the first problem while many are oblivious to what has happened in the case of the latter.

While a more thorough examination of what has happened to the Native Americans will be forthcoming, today we thought it might be good to work our way back in time by looking at one of the most serious dilemmas facing Indians today – casino gambling. In numerous parts of the country the issue is being raised in very tense and emotional debates that ultimately always work their way back to the original relationship between the "Red" and White inhabitants in the Western Hemisphere.

As an example, here is a brief excerpt of a recent story in The Washington Post:

"Nearly a third of the 544 federally recognized tribes run some sort of gambling operation, earning $10 billion a year in the process. Although instant riches have not come to all of them, many tribes have used casino revenue to kick-start economic development projects that have pulled reservations out of abject poverty and reversed abysmal social conditions.

Supporters of Native American rights contend that leveraging land claims for casino rights is fair recompense for the nearly 100 million acres that tribes have given up since the Indian wars ended in the late 19th century. Most of that tribal land was lost to policies designed to dissolve reservations and force tribal members to assimilate."


The above excerpt contains the crux of the matter and raises the important issues of repair and justice where Native Americans are considered.

In order to move forward in our deeper look at the condition of the Native American we want to hone in on the issues involved in the Indian casino gambling controversy. We do so by looking at a recent article about the controversy in one part of the country followed by recent statements on the issue and the relationship between Native Americans and the United States government from Rep. Frank Wolf (R) from Virginia.

Cedric Muhammad
August 8, 2001

Here are the articles:

Indian-Owned Casino Creates Conflict
Aug. 5
DETROIT (AP) - Many members of one of the nation's wealthiest Indian tribes say their leaders are trying to expel them to avoid sharing casino profits.
Leaders of the Saginaw Chippewa Indians are trying to remove up to 270 of the tribe's 2,700 members because they don't meet membership requirements, The Detroit News reported.

But the members say the tribe is trying to eject them to avoid giving them their share of the casino money, including the $52,000 provided annually to adult members out of revenue from the tribe's casino.
``They're just trying to get rid of us so that they can have more money for themselves,'' said Don Otto, 65, one member of the tribe facing expulsion. ``It's that simple.''

Tribal leaders say their rules limit membership to people who are at least one quarter Indian and whose ancestors are listed in government records from 1883, 1885, 1891 or 1982. They say those they are trying to remove were first listed as tribal members because of mistakes, or in some cases fraud.
``We are a sovereign nation,'' said tribal spokesman Frank Coultier. ``We run our nation as we see fit.''

But critics say the government records are far from exhaustive, and many members are only listed in records that the tribe does not recognize. For example, the tribe does not recognize government lists from 1855, 1864, 1867 and the 1870s.

In the eight years since the Chippewa casino opened, gambling revenues have turned the impoverished tribe into one of the nation's wealthiest. Now the fifth largest Indian casino in the United States, Soaring Eagle provides more than 5,000 jobs.

As equal shareholders in the tribe's $1.2 billion business portfolio, each member of the tribe has a net worth of more than $400,000. Tribal members 18 years and older get $52,000 a year, and children get $13,000 from casino profits.
The tribe's first attempt at mass expulsions came in 1996, two years after the first plan to share casino profits was introduced.

The federal government identifies Otto as Chippewa, and he said two of his great-grandfathers were among the chiefs who signed the 1864 treaty that led to the creation of the 216-square-mile Isabella reservation, where the Saginaw Chippewas now live.

Otto said the rules calling for his expulsion were created by the tribal council trying to kick him out, and that he must argue his case before committees and people appointed or controlled by the council.

The final decision on Otto's membership will be made by the council's four-member executive committee. If he is expelled, his only legal appeal will be in tribal court before judges who are hired and fired by the council.
``I don't expect a fair hearing because there hasn't been a fair hearing yet,'' Otto said.




June 19, 2001

WOLF MEASURE WOULD ALLOW STATE LEGISLATURES TO HAVE VOICE IN CREATION OF GAMBLING OPERATIONS ON INDIAN RESERVATIONS

Bill Also Would Set Minimum Standards for Regulating Indian-run Casinos; Establish Commission to Examine U.S. Policy Toward Native Americans

ENTIRE STATEMENT FOLLOWS

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Representative Frank Wolf (R-Virginia) today introduced
legislation that would give state legislatures a voice in the establishment of future gambling operations on Indian reservations. The bill also would create a commission to examine U.S. government policy toward Native Americans and require minimum standards to be developed for regulating tribal gambling operations.

Wolf was joined at a press conference introducing the legislation by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT), Rep. Bob Riley (R-AL) and representatives from organizations such as the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, Michigan Citizens Exposing Truth About Casinos, West Michigan Gambling Opposition, Stand Up for Kansas Stand, Up for California, Alabama Citizen Action Program, NOCasinoNO Maryland, Missouri Casino Watch and the Wisconsin Coalition Against Gambling.

"State legislatures should be able to have a say whether or not casinos are allowed to open in their state," Wolf said. "Presently, only governors have a voice, and under current law, gubernatorial consent may not always be necessary. This legislation goes a long way in giving local communities a voice on whether or not large scale tribal gambling should be allowed in their communities."

In addressing the federal government's general policy toward this nation's first citizens — Native Americans — the bill would set up a federal commission to make a comprehensive assessment of Native American policy and report its findings to Congress.

"Nearly 80 percent of Native Americans don’t receive anything from gambling revenues," Wolf said. "Most tribes, living in areas that are not economically viable for a casino, continue to live in awful poverty, plagued by disease, infant mortality, unemployment and a lack of educational opportunities. We need to develop policy recommendations to improve the welfare of tribes in the areas of health, education, economic development, housing and transportation infrastructure."

In 1988 Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) allowing federally recognized tribes to open gambling facilities with gubernatorial consent. There are several loopholes and exceptions in the law, and it has led to significant discord between tribal entities and local and state governments, Wolf said.

Wolf’s legislation would require gubernatorial and state legislature consent, thereby allowing the people of the state a voice in the decision-making process. The measure would not affect current gambling operations.
The bill also calls for the creation of an "Advisory Committee on Minimum Regulatory Requirements and Licensing Standards for Indian Gambling." This eight-member advisory committee will be charged with formulating recommendations for "minimum federal standards" in Native America gambling facilities.

"The advisory committee will provide baseline recommendations for effective regulations." Wolf said. "The level of regulations that currently exist in Indian gambling facilities is inadequate. It leaves tribes susceptible to organized crime and other outside pressures. This will ensure minimum regulatory standards are met."
The Commission on Federal Native American Policy established under the bill would be a 13-member panel of representatives from the National Governors Association, the National Association of Attorneys General and the offices of the Attorney General, Treasury, Interior, Commerce, and the National Indian Gaming Commission. In addition, there would be representatives from local or municipal government, the small business community, non-gambling Indian tribes and tribes operating gambling facilities.

The commission will study living standards, including health care, education and housing, in Native American communities and the effectiveness of current federal programs designed to improve such conditions. It also will study the influence of non-Native American private investors on the establishment and operation of the Indian gambling facilities. The fluence of organized crime on Indian gaming and the economic, environmental and social impact of Indian gaming facilities also will be examined. The commission’s report to Congress would be accompanied by legislative recommendations.

Wolf said that the commission was necessary to address this complex issue and the many facets of the problem.
"The intent behind IGRA was that it would allow Native Americans to lift themselves out of poverty through self reliance, but the law has not worked as it was intended," Wolf said.

Citing the undue influence of the gambling industry both at the Department of the Interior and in Congress, Wolf pointed out that tribes which are not located in potentially lucrative gambling areas are marginalized at the expense of other tribes, which are able to afford high-priced anthropologists to help them meet the criteria for federal recognition.

"The vast majority of Native Americans have not been well served by the gambling industry," Wolf said. "If we continue to rely on gambling for the future welfare of Native Americans then most will continue to live in serious poverty. At the same time, the victims of the gambling industry will continue to mount."

"I am hopeful that this legislation will prevent our nation’s first citizens from being treated like second class citizens, while also protecting the integrity of the political process and slowing the steady encroachment of gambling into America’s communities," Wolf continued.
Wolf’s interest in this issue stems from his concern about the rapid expansion of legalized gambling in America, and the corrupting influence that gambling special interests have had on the political process.

"Gambling has ruined countless lives and increasing its prevalence will only increase the number of victims," Wolf said. "The level of crime, suicide and bankruptcy in a community invariably rises when a casino opens its doors."
-30-
Editor’s Note: Last September, Wolf asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to investigate the Bureau of Indian Affairs tribal recognition process after learning that an Indian tribe in Connecticut allegedly received substantial amounts of land without ever having provided a genealogical record to prove its ancestry. GAO is expected to complete its investigation by the end of the summer.

In 1996, Congress approved legislation introduced by Wolf creating the "National Gambling Impact and Study Commission." The commission, instructed with "conducting a comprehensive legal and factual study of the social and economic impacts of gambling in the United States," released its report in June 1999. It is widely accepted as the most comprehensive summary of the "size, scope, and nature of the gambling industry as well as gambling’s most problematic issues."


Press Statement - Congressman Frank Wolf
Press Conference on Introduction of
Tribal and Local Communities Relationship Improvement Act
Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Thank you all for attending today.
I would particularly like to thank Congressman Shays who has worked with me on this issue and has been instrumental in bringing attention to the issues surrounding tribal gambling.
I also would to thank Congressman Riley for being here today, and Congressmen Tiahrt and Ehlers for signing on as original co-sponsors.

Finally, I would like to thank the many citizen activists that have flown in from all over in support of our legislation.

Today we are introducing the Tribal and Local Communities Relationship Improvement Act. This legislation addresses the issue of tribal gambling and the federal government's general policy toward this nation's first citizens -- Native Americans.

This bill will allow state governments to exercise more control on future expansion of tribal gambling. It also will require that minimum standards be developed for regulating tribal gambling operations.

In addition, the bill will establish a commission to examine U.S. policy toward Native Americans and make recommendations to improve the welfare of tribes in the areas of health, education, economic development, housing and transportation infrastructure.

The vast majority of Native Americans have not been well served by the gambling industry. If we continue to rely on gambling for the future welfare of Native Americans, then most will continue to live in serious poverty. Our bill will provide a top to bottom review of federal policy on Native Americans with the goal to provide assistance that does not rely on gambling revenue generated by the tribes. We owe it to this country’s Native American population, most of whom live in areas where casinos are not economically viable, to find ways to improve their standard of living.

Last fall, Congressman Shays and I, along with several other members, called for a thorough GAO investigation into the federal tribal recognition process. We did so because we were concerned that the integrity of the process was being threatened.

In December, following a series of articles published in the Boston Globe that illustrated the unforseen inequities of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) which has resulted in a tainted recognition process, massive revenue windfalls for the gambling industry and a few well connected individuals, and worst of all, continuing poverty for most Native Americans, we asked that the study be expanded to investigate any criminal wrongdoing surrounding the process.

The GAO study should be completed by August. We hope it will provide a framework for legislatively or administratively addressing the problems of the recognition process. Also, I am aware that several Senators may be interested in examining all of the issues surrounding recognitions and gambling.

Today, though, we are introducing legislation to address a major portion of the recognition problem -- tribal gambling. The driving force behind the pressure for certain recognitions derives from the potential to open a casino or other gambling facility.

The gambling industry has poured millions of dollars into efforts to get a few tribes recognized that are located in potentially lucrative markets. Potential gambling revenues have caused numerous outsiders with no affiliation with the tribes to have a financially lucrative interest in the result.
In essence, tribes have become pawns for the powerful gaming interests. In the high stakes race to close in on lucrative gambling markets, certain tribes already operating casinos will make efforts to de-legitimize other tribes. What was once the territory of academic researchers has become a billion dollar battleground.

According to the Globe’s report, "throughout the early 1990s, casino backers arrived dangling checks, offering to hire dream teams of genealogists and anthropologists to speed the recognition process."

Researchers at the Bureau of Indian Affairs office report actually being threatened by outside interests. Legitimate tribes not lucky enough to be located in lucrative gambling markets are relegated to second-tier status as they are not privy to these financial resources.

Our legislation takes the gambling industry out of the equation by requiring that a state -- both the governor and legislature -- approve of any new gambling facility. States and localities should have a say on whether to open large scale casinos.

Only through the state legislatures are the interests of specific localities accounted for. One only needs to look at the many cases proceeding through the federal court system between tribes and localities to appreciate the unintended consequences of the current law. This legislation will remove the incentive that exists for the gambling industry to use the tribes as a conduit to expand their business and give states a full opportunity to decide if they want casino gambling.

Our legislation also sets up a framework for the development of minimum federal standards for tribal casinos. The bill calls for the creation of an "Advisory Committee on Minimum Regulatory Requirements and Licensing Standards for Indian Gambling."

This eight-member advisory committee, made up of members of tribal governments, state governments and the Justice Department, will be charged with formulating recommendations for "minimum federal standards" in Native America gambling facilities.

The level of regulations that currently exist in Indian gambling facilities is inadequate. For instance, in New Jersey, more than 100 regulators maintain a presence in the state’s 12 casinos. Conversely, there are only a few dozen regulators with the Federal Indian Gambling Board Commission who oversee approximately 250 Indian gambling operations across the country.
Experts agree that unregulated gambling is a potential haven for organized crime, and the series in the Globe talks specifically about how many Native Americans are the victims of fraud and theft due to criminal activity at gambling operations.

Finally, our bill would establish a Commission on Federal Native American Policy. The 13-member commission would be comprised of representatives from the National Governors’ Association, the National Association of Attorneys General and the offices of the Attorney General, Treasury, Interior, Commerce and the National Indian Gaming Commission. In addition, there will be representatives from local or municipal government, the small business community, non-gambling Indian tribes and tribes operating gambling facilities.

The commission will study living standards, including health care, education and housing, in Native American communities and the effectiveness of current federal programs designed to improve such conditions. It also will study crime control on Indian reservations, the influence of non-Native American private investors on the establishment and operation of the Indian federal recognition process and the establishment of gaming facilities. The influence of organized crime in Indian gaming and the economic, environmental and social impact of Indian gaming facilities also will be examined. Its report to Congress would be accompanied by legislative recommendations.

Finally, one closing thought. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act has failed to broadly improve the living conditions of most Native Americans. Just 2 percent of the country's Native Americans earn 50 percent of the country's $10 billion in Indian gaming revenues, and two-thirds of tribes get nothing at all. Nearly 80 percent of Indians don’t receive anything from gambling.

As gambling has become the staple of our Native American policy, our investment in federal programs intended to improve the health and welfare of tribes has declined significantly. Quite simply, gambling has been an excuse to reduce our commitment to this nation’s first citizens. Twelve years after the federal government made gambling a staple of its Indian policy, the overall portrait of America’s most impoverished racial group continues to be dominated by disease, unemployment, infant mortality, and school drop-out rates that are among the highest in the nation. The overall picture is one of untold riches for a very few smaller tribes and continued poverty for the vast majority of Native Americans spread across rural America. This policy needs to change.
Thank you.


Wednesday, August 8, 2001

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