April 06, 2008

20th anniversary of IGRA

Celebrate and protect Indian gamingIGRA requires Indian gaming revenues to be invested among five critical areas for socio-economic development: tribal government operations, promotion of the welfare of the tribe and its citizens, economic development, support of charitable organizations, and compensation to local and non-Indian governments for support of services provided by those governments. By no accident, the Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award, presented each year at NIGA, is given to Indian leaders who demonstrate a commitment to peace and fair governance, and are dedicated to intercultural understanding and easing social injustice. The people celebrate in their leaders what IGRA has required of the gaming tribes.

Tribes have and continue to set high standards for the ways gaming revenues are distributed, often exemplifying the generosity of spirit for which Native peoples are known. Just a few examples of the wealth experienced by beneficiaries of Indian gaming revenues: A grateful collective of 28 schools and education programs on and around the Coeur d'Alene reservation in Idaho have received $6 million over a five-year period from the tribe. The Kalispel Tribe in Washington recently opened the doors of a grand, state-of-the-art wellness center. The Camas Center, financed by tribal gaming profits, overlooks spiritually enriching grounds on the Kalispel territory. In Oklahoma, where gaming revenues rank third in the country, gaming tribes are among the top employers in the state. There tribes have had a sure hand in reinventing the state's economy, including boosts to the construction, tourism and real estate industries. Successful gaming tribes in the East are among the top donors to the National Museum of the American Indian, a place striving to become the premiere Native educational center and home-away-from-community in the U.S. capital.

After two decades of increasing bottom lines of some tribal governments and, thus, their influence on and off Indian territories, Indian gaming is now woven within the fabric of American culture. A little under half of all federally recognized tribes operate gaming enterprises. Of those tribes, a relatively small group accounts for most of the wealth derived from gaming. But gaming profits--because of a few tribes' trailblazing financial success--has been about the only topic of interest for mainstream media for most of IGRA's 20 years. The myth perpetuated by mainstream media of the "rich Indian" belies the complexity of Indian life. Despite its reputation as an economic engine, gaming has proved not to be a panacea. If anything, the media's emphasis on profits has led countless local, state and federal lawmakers to complain that Indian gaming is out of control, or that tribal governments do not pay a so-called "fair share," leading dangerously to policy based on perception.
Comment:  This passage sums up why Indian gaming has been a godsend. But let's not ignore the negative side. Tribes are giving away their sovereignty to open casinos. They're (allegedly) disenrolling members to stifle criticism and enrich themselves. Too often they ignore the concerns of their neighbors re traffic, crime, and addiction.

Moreover, they need to diversify out of gaming before they milk the cash cow dry. Someday Americans may shut down Indian casinos (unlikely) or open up gaming to everyone (likely). Any tribe that enriches its present members at the expense of its future members is arguably making a mistake. It isn't thinking seven generations ahead.

These concerns are well-known in Indian country. Smart tribal leaders are taking them into account. But they bear repeating. If there's any case where one can be too careful, this isn't it.

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