January 04, 2007

Harry Shearer on Indian gaming

Harry Shearer

The comedian and media expert on Indian gaming, the Jerry Lewis telethon, and why New Orleans isn’t funnyDid you research the casinos and their culture for this book?

Yeah. I talked to people knowledgeable on both sides of the issue, including a lawyer in Louisiana who is the leading anti-Indian-gaming attorney in the country, apparently, C.B. Forgotston--unforgettable name and a remarkable guy--and I got connected to a resource that’s operated by one of the members of the Pechanga tribe that sort of aggregates an awful lot of information about Indian gaming--I’m sorry, gambling! Who are we kidding? The Vegas stuff had come to me earlier when I was working on a [1986] television show I did with Paul Shaffer for HBO called Viva Shaf Vegas.

The town of Gammage votes itself to become the Filaquonsett tribe. That’s probably been going on all over the country.

As I tour the country, I hear the most amazing stories about, “Gee, that’s sorta like what’s happened here.” My inspiration was the Mashantucket Pequot, which was the tribe that opened the first really big Native American casino, Foxwoods. When they opened, The New York Times ran a piece saying that the number of full-blooded Mashantucket Pequots living on tribal land at that point was one. So, I just went: “One take away one is a funny idea for a book.”
Comment:  There are probably lots of tribes with no full-blooded members anymore. That's a pretty flimsy basis on which to build a book. Sounds like Shearer didn't do enough research before writing Not Enough Indians.

And yes, I know the Pequots have a questionable history. I'm just going by what Shearer said. Given our history of decimating Indians, it's not unusual to find tribes without full-blooded members.

Note:  The "resource" Shearer refers to is PECHANGA.net, where I work.


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
What Harry Shearer said is true, especially if he knows the same things about the Mashantucket Pequot as does writerfella. writerfella opines that Shearer meant "of any blood" rather than "full-blooded" because the ostensible Pequot 'tribe' is made up of Blacks, just as his Pechanga research led him to believe he was dealing with another tribe. That one is easy to see if the site is as knowledgeable as he seems to think it is.
That the Pequots were able to garner Federal recognition of their 'tribe' must have been the inspiration for his satirical novel. And that would be for a non-Native town to seek an ersatz tribal identity, get it recognized, thence begin to build their own gambling casinos, and there still not be a single Native of any blood among them.
writerfella performed one skit for Saturday Night Live about the BIA, which was purchased but never performed.
It opens on the buffalo seal of the Agency, playing the theme of THE FBI TV series. Stern announcer VOICE-OVER: "The B.I.A. A Quinn Martin Production!"
And in a conference room with the BIA seal on one wall, we see a long table with 8 seated Caucasian men and women looking at a man in braids and leathern clothes standing before them. The man is saying, "...and so that is the list of requests for the coming year that I need for myself and my clan, from you, the Great White Fathers. May your wisdom grant these boons to myself and my people."
A man near the head of the table stands and thanks him, saying, "We know you came a long way, Mr. Hunting Wolf. Please step outside and allow us to discuss your requests." The man nods, briefly raises one hand, and goes out.
They all look at each other for a long moment. Finally, a woman says, "They'll never learn self-sufficiency if we help them out every time." A second man says, "Yes, and if we did help him, we'd have to ask Congress for a bigger budget." They all look at each other and nod, and the man near the head of the table says, "Then we're all agreed? They nod avidly. "Fine." He leans to an intercom and says, "Please tell Mr. Hunting Wolf to come in, Carol."
Hunting Wolf returns and stands before them, saying, "And what have you, the Great White fathers, decided?"
One by one, going around the table, they say:
"Putting your land in trust, DENIED!"
"Education funds, DENIED!"
"Surplus food for your people, DENIED!"
"Job training funds, DENIED!"
"Tribal housing funds, DENIED!"
"Flood prevention for your lands, DENIED!"
"Tribal police funding, DENIED!"
"Community health programs, DENIED!"
The man near the head of the table says, "That's about the size of it, Mr. Hunting Wolf. Is there anything else?"
Hunting Wolf looks stricken for a beat, then he throws his hands in the air, turns around in a fast circle, then rips off his wig and braids, and throws it on the table, shouting, "Okay, okay! I shoulda known I couldn't fool you! Go ahead, call the cops! I'm not American Indian, I'm Labinot Hedassian and.... I'm Armenian!"
The others look shocked and the man before them hangs his head. They all look at each other, and the man near the head of the table says, "You're not...American Indian? Well, then, this is very serious." A woman says, "Yes, that means quite a lot, under our laws." The second man says, "Agreed. It's now a whole different matter."
And then they say, "Land trust, APPROVED!"
"Education funds, APPROVED!"
"Surplus food, APPROVED!"
As the next person speaks and Hedassian looks astounded, we fade to the buffalo seal of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and play THE FBI TV series theme...

But then again, satires are analogies and, by the policies of this website, they usually are not meant to be taken literally...
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

Shearer didn't say anything about researching the Pechanga tribe. All he said was "I got connected to a resource that’s operated by one of the members of the Pechanga tribe."

Your BIA skit sounds stereotypical rather than funny. It's probably a good thing they didn't produce it.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Which doesn't mean they NEVER will perform it, as its core statements are as true now as they were when written. Stereotypical, perhaps, of the white man and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and to someone wearing red-tinted 'X-Ray Specs'. 'Hunting Wolf' only appears to be Native to the BIA, but isn't. The BIA reacts the way they always do, but then upon finding the man isn't Native, again quickly react the way they always do toward non-Natives. Notice that, like the Pequots, Hedassian gets his land put into trust. And that's enough for you, Rob, to consider him Native...
All Best
Russ Bates

chrisrowlandfineart said...

Once again, Writerfella
has stumbled and fallen.
And can't get up! Face down, he reaches for the phone to call his physician, but will only see one who "plays" a doctor on TV...

I can see where you are trying to go with your skit but because you have not grown up on the Reservation you truly have no parameter with which to work from.
I feel you are simply mimicking your self-hatred as a Native American with your plausable self identity. Perhaps, when you saw those people passed out and intoxicated at Crow Fair,(as a young boy) you felt
To avoid these painful feelings, one will often "split," escaping into their own safe world, as it were.
And, who would want to identify themselves with this embarrassing kind of behavior anyway? I escaped in to the world of art, just as you have, but you didn't have the advantage of living on the reservation so as to feel the true consensus of these dispossessed people living in this oppressive atmosphere, day in and day out. Perhaps your father wanted to shield you from this pain, and chose to opt out, leaving the reservation. To me this is perfectly understandable.
Your knowledge and understanding of the "industry," mixed with your intellectualization and humanistic references to cultural ideals, only lead me to believe that you have overcompensated for a lack of, or percieved lack of, some basic elements in your life...
Safe Jouney, I say, as you find
your way inward to where your
heart is waiting patiently for you.

Rob said...

Re "Notice that, like the Pequots, Hedassian gets his land put into trust. And that's enough for you, Rob, to consider him Native...." In reality, the BIA recognizes a tribe (not an individual) and then takes land into trust for it. What does this have to do with the BIA's not recognizing someone as an Indian and then taking land into trust for him?

Once again, you've basically claimed that I said the opposite of what I said. If you keep making mistakes like that, I'll keep pointing them out. That's pretty much guaranteed.

Re "The BIA reacts the way they always do, but then upon finding the man isn't Native, again quickly react the way they always do toward non-Natives." Which way is that, pray tell? By treating them as if they were Natives? How does that square with the fact that the BIA has rejected most of the recognition petitions it's received since the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act passed in 1988?

Your scenario doesn't make sense unless someone knows the controversy surrounding the Pequots, which isn't common knowledge. It isn't particularly funny even if someone does know the controversy surrounding the Pequots. The BIA isn't recognizing "ersatz" tribes in great numbers, so the satire misses the mark.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
1. Never end a sentence in a preposition or a dangling adjectival. Not growing up on a reservation seemingly becomes the reason writerfella so easily can spot that remiss. However, such an accusative does little to codify the "advantage" one gains from growing up on a reservation, if any.
2. writerfella appallingly and fiercely is proud of his Kiowan ancestry and always has stated, especially in this venue, that he could not be the writer fella that he is, were he not a Kiowan. Oh, too bad for writerfella that The Dawes Act removed his people from their lands and opened 68% per cent of those to American settlers. He really should have picked his parentors better, as Chris Rowland surely must have done. In any case, writerfella's people were dispossessed thrice, once from the freedom of the Plains, once from the land now called Palo Duro Canyon in Texas, and finally from the Wichita-Kiowa-Comanche- and Apache reservation in southwest Indian Territory. Thus, we did not leave the reservation; the reservation left us. That you still have a reservation is your problem, not writerfella's.
3. Self-hatred, more appropriately called self-loathing, is the least of writerfella's sins as he can't recall the last time any vestige of such an aspect weighed on his consciousness. And the word you so relevantly and revealingly missed is spelled, 'plausible'.
4. writerfella was 19 when he and his family witnessed that scenario in Billings, MT. Even today, that hardly qualifies one as being a 'young boy.' Indeed, writerfella was ashamed for those people but happy that he was not one of them, as was the rest of his family.
5. And writerfella willingly confesses to being a humanist, as EuroMan's god is as much an invader on these continents as is EuroMan. Thus, writerfella's heart always is on display in his many works, be they articles, short stories, teleplays, or screenplays. Else, he would have little about which to write, with squatting in the dirt and ashes of wasted potentials and feeling sorry for himself as the only basic elements in his life. Happily, that is not so, never has been so, nor will it ever be so.
6. And writerfella wishes you many courageous dawns and grateful sunsets but only if you realize what that means.
All Best
Russ Bates

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Ah, yes, Rob, you hit it. The Pequots and the Kickapoos ARE NOT NATIVES but the BIA recognizes them and treats them as though they were. And several times on this website, you yourself have said that such a status was good enough for you. Check the archives; it's there.
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

I know what I said, Russ, even if you don't. I said federal recognition is enough for me to recognize a tribal member as being Indian. I didn't say not being Indian is enough for me to recognize a tribal member as being Indian.

We've noted that there are few full-blooded Indians these days--that many Indians have only a quarter or less of "Indian blood." I've asked you what your standard for Indianness is and you either couldn't or wouldn't answer.

At least the federal government offers a standard, one backed by a lengthy examination process. That's more than you've done.

Instead of a definition or standard, you've invented something called a "genetic racial memory" or an "awareness granted by heredity." Conveniently, you've applied this fiction to Indians you approve of but not to Indians you don't approve of, such as the Chickasaws or Chickahominies.

So I'm waiting for you to tell us what an Indian is, Russ. Can you do it, or is this yet another subject you're unable to debate?

I see you have no answer to my critique of your skit, so I'll simply repeat it: The BIA isn't recognizing "ersatz" tribes in great numbers, so the satire misses the mark. Oops.