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Africa And Aboriginal Tuesdays: E-Letter To Time Magazine Re: "Indian Casinos: Wheel of Misfortune" by Ernest L. Stevens Jr.


On behalf of the 184 Tribes of the National Indian Gaming Association, I would like to express my disgust with your December 16, 2002 special report, "Indian Casinos: Wheel of Misfortune." The story begins with the word "imagine..." That is the appropriate beginning for a story twisted to the point of a fairy tale. Your reporters use isolated circumstances to write what amounts to a gossip column.

Your story is based on the false and offensive premise that "Washington" created Indian gaming as a "cheap way to wean tribes from government handouts." Indian gaming is not a federal program. Instead, it is a one tool that Tribes use to generate revenue for their communities. The Federal programs that you refer to as handouts represent an attempt by the federal government to live up to thousands of treaty obligations incurred when establishing the land base for this Nation. American Indians have been victimized by federal policies supporting genocide and assimilation, which took millions of lives and millions of acres of Indian land, and caused economic and cultural destruction. Our grandfathers, Pontiac, Tecumseh, Crazy Horse, Chief Joseph, Geronimo, and so many others, fought for our rights - especially our right to self government on our own land. The U.S. Constitution, the President, Congress, and the United States Supreme Court all recognize Indian Tribes as governments.

Indian gaming is self-reliance. Through Indian gaming, Tribes have created over 300,000 jobs nationwide. Jobs in Indian Country are precious - whether its 80 jobs on the Pine Ridge reservation, located in the poorest county in the United States, or 3,000 jobs at the Oneida Nation of New York, outside Syracuse. Many Indian casinos are the largest employers in their areas, yet your report completely discounts the value of jobs to our people who have historically suffered shocking unemployment rates, high levels of poverty and lack of economic opportunities on Indian homelands.

More than 200 of the roughly 340 Indian Tribes in the lower 48 states use Indian gaming to generate tribal government revenue. That is about 60% of Indian Tribes. So yes, Indian gaming is broadly benefiting Indian Country. Naturally, Indian Tribes that are closer to large markets are generating more revenue. That is no surprise in a market economy. But TIME advocates for Tribal communism. That being the case, the State of New York should subsidize the government of the State of Arkansas. On the same note, we can hardly believe that an organization led by Ted Turner can, without blushing, publish stories suggesting that others should not pursue economic ventures in America.

Indian Tribes use gaming first and foremost for tribal government programs, community infrastructure, charity, and aid to local governments. Where Indian Tribes have suffered the highest teen suicide rates in the country, Indian gaming has built schools, funded colleges scholarships, and given our children hope for a brighter future. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, for example, built two schools and their high school graduates are now fluent in both Ojibwe and English. Where our people suffer epidemic problems of diabetes, heart, and liver disease, Indian gaming is building health clinics, dialysis centers, and fitness centers.

Indian gaming not only works for Indian Country, it works for America. Tribes are diversifying tribal economies, aiding local governments, and promoting charitable causes. Contrary to your story, Tribes are not running roughshod over our neighboring communities. Non-Indians hold 75% of the 300,000 jobs Indian gaming has created nationwide. Tribes have brought economic development to historically rural and undeveloped areas. In addition, Tribes have numerous service agreements with state and local governments to share revenues, contribute emergency service equipment, build roads and other infrastructure, and provide other government services to non-Indian community members. For example, the Mohegan Tribe's restaurants serve buffalo meat purchased from Plains Indian Tribes while the Agua Caliente Band purchased fire trucks for Palm Springs. Forest County Potawatomi funds Milwaukee Indian School and aids the Red Cliff and Mole Lake Bands of Chippewa. Additionally, Tribes donate $68 million annually to charitable organizations.

American Indians are American taxpayers. Indian gaming revenue is 100% taxed - the vast majority goes directly for tribal government purposes serving as tribal tax revenue, and any remainder that is paid to tribal members is subject to Federal income taxation. In fact, through employee income, payroll, vendor taxes, and revenue sharing agreements, Indian gaming generates over $4 billion in annual revenue for the Federal Government, over $1 billion for the states, and $50 million for local governments. American Indians pay another $4 billion in personal Federal income taxes.

That the NIGC has yet to discover any major cases of corruption is a testament to the upstanding job done by our regulatory personnel. Your article continues to perpetuate a popular myth the Indian gaming is not regulated. That is simply wrong. President Bush has just appointed a former U.S. Attorney, former FBI agent, and former state deputy attorney general to staff the National Indian Gaming Commission. In addition to the $164 million that Indian Tribes dedicate to tribal government regulation and the $40 plus million that tribal governments pay to states for state regulation, the NIGC has an $8 million budget. In total, that's over $212 million that Indian Tribes spend annually on regulation. This figure includes the employment of over 2,800 gaming commissioners and regulatory staff. In addition, Tribes work with the FBI within the Department of Justice, FinCEN and the IRS within Treasury, and the BIA within the Interior Department. Your suggestion that this regulatory system is less than comprehensive is just plain wrong - as a number of DOJ investigations have found.

Furthermore, your discussion of management contracts is faulty at best. Whether a Tribe chooses to employ a management company or developer is an exercise a tribe's individual sovereignty. Each chooses its own form of benefiting its own membership or other communities. Whether or not a tribe chooses a management firm is a tribal decision but the fact remains that Tribes are governments with the right to determine their own future as they see fit within the context of the law. Many Tribes have never had a management agreement and have operated gaming enterprises pursuant to their own gaming ordinances, long before the IGRA was passed.

In conclusion, as American Indians, we find it highly offensive that TIME published an article belittling tribal self-government and the very positive attempts of tribal governments to overcome dispossession, poverty, and social wrongs for hundreds of years. You do not belittle Israeli or Palestinian efforts toward self-determination, but you cannot fathom that within the United States, Indian Tribes continue to be vital, self-governing nations working to build a life for our people. Indian gaming has positively impacted local communities, and has transformed Tribal communities that were once forgotten. It provides jobs to many who never worked before, provides care for our elders, and brings hope and opportunity to our children. Manufacturing scandal to sell magazines at the cost of these advances is most dishonorable.

Sincerely,
Ernest L. Stevens, Jr., Chairman
National Indian Gaming Association

Ernest L. Stevens, Jr. is chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA). He can be reached via e-mail at: cjnicholas@indiangaming.org
and by telephone at (202)-546-7711. The NIGA's website is www.indiangaming.org


Ernest L. Stevens, Jr.

Tuesday, January 7, 2003

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