- 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
- 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steal Indian lands have been replaced by jealousy and wars of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
- 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
- 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