Palermo: We can sway perception and policy
There is a nagging fear the "myth of the rich Indian" is prompting Congress, federal policy makers and bureaucrats with the U.S. Department of Interior and BIA to ignore the nation's trust responsibility for the more than 2.4 million citizens of more than 560 federally recognized tribes and Alaska Native villages; promises etched in treaties made in exchange for Native lives and lands.
American Indians still lag far behind non-Indians in every socio-economic category, from income to health care to housing to education. The impact of government gaming has been limited, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission, with 63 of 387 tribal gaming operations generating 71.5 percent of the revenues in 2006. Most tribal casinos are marginal enterprises providing jobs, but nowhere near the rivers of cash flowing from Foxwoods Resort, Mystic Lakes and other more lucrative operations.
Let me reiterate the point: There's a constant drumbeat of media linking Indians to casinos...implying they're rich, greedy, and corrupt...and suggesting they no longer need or deserve the treaty benefits owed them by the federal government. These perceptions lead government officials to ignore Indians.
What about all the media products, commercial products, and sports mascots that portray Indians as chiefs and warriors of the distant past? Don't these counteract the perceptions of Indians as rich casino owners? Not really. In fact, one could argue that these stereotypes contribute to the "rich Indian" myth.
How so? The prevailing view is that Indians flourished on the Plains in the 19th century, then tragically vanished. I.e., that Indians no longer exist today--or that they exist in a debased and degenerate form without ties to their traditional cultures. Hence today's Indians are little more than frauds and hucksters playing on America's guilt to get rich at the public's expense. They're not decent and honorable people with millennia of historical and cultural continuity who are struggling to survive in the modern world.