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August, 2003

Guilt, Greed And Racism
By Jeanette Pontacq

Do we all agree that Native Americans have been long-suffering victims of ill-conceived government policies and corruption over the last centuries? I assume many of you are vigorously nodding your agreement. And did we all vote to allow California's Native American sovereign tribes to enter into the gaming industry to help improve their lot? I again assume many of you are nodding your agreement.

Guilt is a real bummer, isn't it? Even though my long-suffering, French-peasant family immigrated way after the Anglo "white man" stole the Indians' lands in the 1900's, I felt historic guilt for Indian difficulties and voted accordingly. I knew that the Indians had been lied to, cheated and massacred by the United States Government as a specific policy in order to open those same lands to European settlers. I also had been somehow convinced that those same Indians (albeit "all" Indians) were somehow purer and closer to the land, reality and the spiritual that the rest of us "Anglo s." Kind of like Disney versions of the real thing: a version of racism.

Racism is always there, not necessarily in the background. Perhaps we should have a conversation with ourselves as to why we (i.e. Anglo s) believe ONLY gaming can improve the lot of "some" Native Americans, never subsidized education, or specific financial inputs to improve the possibilities of their success (as they define it). In other words, we believe the "Indians" are so backward and dumb that they cannot make it in any other way than shilling for Las Vegas gaming interests. This form of racism has been so pervasive in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) throughout the years, along with inept administration and corruption, that even the tribes seem to believe the only possibility they have of being self-sufficient is in partnership with Las Vegas.

A lucky few tribes reap the rewards of all this guilt and racism. Total federal aid for Native American programs hit $9.4 billion in 2001, with the majority of the dollars going to already-rich tribes and nothing going to the tribes that really need it. Navajo and Hopi, for example, get very, very little. They have no casinos. But the Mashantucket Pequot or the Santa Ynez tribes, with successful casinos on the east coast, get lots and lots of taxpayer dollars ($2,304.00 for each Mashantucket, on top of their casino revenue per person of $1,624.815....and $8.360.00 for each Santa Ynez, on top of their casino revenue per person of $1,257.862).

Some California tribes have so much political power from the huge sums of money from their Las Vegas backers and the US government, that they can flout the rights of neighboring communities, poorer tribes and even some of their own members as they set the stage for Las Vegas-style gaming in California in the backyard of frightened communities.

The tribes pay no state or local taxes. They are so-called sovereign states (and yet receive funds from the government) ....Grey Davis, our beloved, cash-desiring governor, negotiated pacts with the California Indian tribes that provide for tribal contributions to a special impact fund as they built their casinos here and there. That fund money goes to local communities overburdened by booming casinos to help defray the increased costs of local government services. Unfortunately, that amounts to only about $1 Million a year for California communities (count the dozens of areas impacted by the casinos and then divide that sum....result: peanuts)... whereas Connecticut collected $332 Million from just two tribes operating within its borders. If California tribes were paying at the same rate as Connecticut, (25% of slot revenue), the state would collect not $1 Million, but $1 Billion. That's with a B, not an M. Let's all count the state budget deficit and how it hurts working families. And wonder how much money went into Davis' pocket.

The local communities impacted by these government-subsidized casinos are hurting, with the yells of pain increasing exponentially. The biggest exacerbating factor: because of tribal sovereignty, if a casino overwhelms local emergency services, draws down the local water supply or pollutes the environment, local authorities have no recourse. The money which has flowed into the pockets of our politicians has taken away local control from our communities in the North Bay and elsewhere. Look north to where the Miwok Tribe intends to build their mega-casino complex. And know that they could just as well have chosen someplace in West Marin... and there would have been nothing you could have done about it.

Local communities need to have a say in what happens within their areas. And an environmental impact report is a necessity, especially in the wetlands being targeted by the Miwok. No "sovereign" group should be allowed to trump the community interests of local areas. Instead, the law should require negotiations and consideration of environmental aspects. No development should be a slam-dunk because of 1) large cash bribes to politicians, 2) guilt and 3) racism. And we need to get over our naive beliefs that allowing California to be turned into a casino will somehow bring "justice" to individual tribal members. Follow the money and see where it really goes. This is not Disneyland.

 

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