December 15, 2002
New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY  10036
Re:  Safire December 12, 2002 Opinion, “Tribes of Gamblers”
Dear Editor:
On December 12th, William Safire attacked Native people, joining writers of a recent TIME magazine cover story in a concerted effort to diminish respect for American Indian Tribes. Like the TIME article, Safire’s piece was directed at Indian gaming, but it also criticizes Native governments, Native organizations and Native people in what can only be described as an outrageous assault on Native American rights. The only thing new about this “news,” other than the big-time attention by big-time media, was the recitation of the names of outside investors.
Where to begin? Are Indian casinos unregulated? Are Indians being taken advantage of by unscrupulous investors?  Safire thinks so.  Unfortunately, the 18th and 19th century wars to steal Indian lands have been replaced by jealousy and wars of misinformation.  As in all wars, truth is the first casualty.
Safire’s derivative claim that Indian gaming is not well regulated is patently false.  Indian tribes spend $212 million annually: $8 million for federal regulation; $40 million to pay for state regulation through tribal-state compacts, and $164 million for tribal government regulation.  Tribal regulators are experienced law enforcement officers and professionals, such as former FBI agents, state SWAT team members, tribal police, and Nevada, New Jersey, and even New York regulators.  It’s disappointing that Safire did not take the time to learn that there are 2,800 hardworking tribal regulators.
Contrary to Safire’s rhetoric, Indian gaming works.  By law, Indian Tribes must receive the lion’s share of Indian gaming revenue, and Indian gaming provides roughly 300,000 jobs nationwide.  In North and South Dakota, for example, the Sioux, Chippewa, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara have been plagued by 60% unemployment and poverty for generations and Indian gaming now provides 7,000 jobs for our people there.
In New Mexico, where the teen suicide rate among our American Indian youth is three times greater than the national rate, Indian gaming is funding education, after school programs and college scholarships that give our kids hope and prepare them for their future responsibilities.  In Arizona, where nearly 50% of Pima Indians have diabetes (the highest rate in the world), Indian gaming funds dialysis and wellness centers. The Oneida of Wisconsin built a health clinic, the Mille Lacs Ojibwe of Minnesota built two schools, the Colville of Washington fund elderly dental care, and in California, the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians bought fire trucks and police cars.  These are not "warm and cozy stories" – they are often the difference between life and death. 
Overcoming 200 years of assault, such as smallpox blankets, Sand Creek, Wounded Knee and many other acts of genocide compounded by neglect, will take more than a few years and we must also plan for future generations.  Indian tribes are working to create viable, long-term economies so we can live by to our own traditions on our own lands.  Indian gaming is the economic catalyst for more than 200 of the roughly 340 Indian tribes in the lower 48 states.
Safire’s sarcastic reference to "First of the Mohegans" is little more than name-calling. It's derogatory as well as hypocritical.   Safire says that when we build our four-star restaurants, resorts and Indian gaming facilities it “degrades” the nation's moral fabric, yet his paper touts Las Vegas as a “family vacation” spot in its travel pages.  The real question that needs to be answered is who is degrading whom? 
With regard to the title, “Tribes of Gamblers,” remember that tribes are not the only governments using gaming to generate revenue: 38 states use gaming, including "video and instant lotteries" and taxes on casinos, horse-racing, and riverboats, to raise state revenue.
Such attacks and misinformation will not discourage Indian tribes from working for our people, but it is a sad commentary that in the 21st Century Safire and TIME devote their efforts to attacking the right of American Indian tribes to exist as Native communities.  Now, as the United States is poised to go to war, young Indian men and women will be right up front, again, as they always have been.  With the highest per capita rate of military service in the nation, American Indians do not have to justify their contributions to American government or culture.
Ernest L. Stevens, Chairman
National Indian Gaming Association