Many people believe Indians have become too powerful. They think Indians dominate the political process. Never mind that the Bureau of Indian Affairs is grossly underfunded, the Indian trust fund scandal has gone on for a century, Indians are significantly poorer and less healthy than other Americans, tribes keep losing cases in the Supreme Court, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act has no enforcement provisions, terminated tribes must wait decades to have their cases heard, etc. Indians are so powerful they can do whatever they want. Uh-huh, sure they can.
As the saying goes, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. For Indians—unlike, say, rich white men—power is a bad thing. When we say they're powerful, we're really saying they're corrupt or immoral or un-American. They're using their gaming income to buy politicians and bypass the process.
Ironically, the same critics who say Indians are too rich and powerful in one breath are likely to say they're welfare recipients who mooch off the system in the next. Too bad these beliefs are contradictory. They reveal how devoid of substance the stereotypes really are.
What we're really saying
At the core, we believe Indians are too powerful and greedy because they're uncivilized or savage. In other words, we think there's something basically wrong or bad about them. Whether they're sneaking up on us physically, economically, or politically, they don't fight fair or play by the rules. They're trying to take something that isn't theirs—the wealth (the land and its resources) we stole from them.
In other words, they're (still) trying to beat us and defeat us and conquer us—despite everything we've done for them. And we, the noble white Euro-Christians, can't allow that. We can't allow them to subvert all that's good and right.
According to our founding myth, we came here to bring our enlightenment to the world. We made America the land of freedom and opportunity so people could pursue their dreams. Whether they wanted to import slaves, slaughter buffalo, or run saloons and brothels, we gave them that chance. But no one said anything about casinos.
Obviously, these Indians aren't grateful enough for the opportunities we've given them. Like other minorities before them, they've become too uppity. They don't know their place. Next thing you know, they'll be moving into our neighborhoods, joining our country clubs, and dating our daughters. Oh my!
That's how this stereotype goes, anyway. It's often a subtle form of racism. You'll rarely hear these critics say the automobile, energy, home construction, agricultural, medical, and financial industries are too big and powerful (although they may complain about lawyers and unions). Only gaming is a problem, according to them. Only Indians control the system.
Indians own California?
This "too-powerful" notion is particularly strong in California. Newspapers and websites routinely claim that California's Indians "control" or "own" the state. The claim is easy to dismiss. As I wrote in a letter to the LA Times, 10/9/03:
California's gaming tribes contributed $12 million in the recent election, most of it to elect Cruz Bustamante governor. Two gaming tribes spent $1.5 million on TV commercials to pass Proposition 53. Both efforts failed miserably. So much for the prevailing fiction that Indians control the state and can get whatever they want.
Too-powerful Indians in the Stereotype of the Month contest
Quechan Pres. Jackson: "[R]ich, greedy tribes" block pacts
Schwarzenegger: "[T]he big tribes...control the legislators"
Press Enterprise: Casino tribes blocked gaming compacts
Willman: Tribes batter communities like an abusive spouse
County commissioner compares Ore. tribe to Nazi regime
Gaming tribes operate as monarchies and buy legislators
Benedict: "[Indian] casinos are teaching people to kneel"
Casino tribes claim "there is nothing you can do to stop us"
"Many Sacramento politicians are knee deep in casino cash"
Golab: Sovereignty is a "concept, not a reality. It's hooey"
Fromson: Tribes are "fronts"; casinos will be "everywhere"
Natives can "build a casino on virtually any...property"
California's leaders grovel before tribes' "unchecked power"
Casinos are "lightly regulated," attract "organized crime"
Indian gaming offers little benefit but enriches tribal leaders
WSJ's Murray: Indians are the "villain...behind the tree"
Casinos become "part of a foreign country"...an "empire"
Perkins: Tribes prefer growing casinos to uplifting Indians
Natives "exempt themselves from the law of the land"
Leno implies tribal donations to Bustamante are "bribes"
Fund: California casino tribes "aim to run the whole state"
Recall candidates "dance to the tune of the gaming tribes"
Alm: Kansas casino isn't legal because it's "self-regulated"
Schwarzenegger claims Indian tribes are "special interests"
Limbaugh: "Tribes Lavish Cruz With Bustawampum"
Sonoma County fable: "The little city and the big casino"
Columnist: Off-reservation casinos threaten Constitution
Indians will "say and do anything to get what they want"
Editorial: Force tribes to use sovereignty responsibly
Editorial: "Reservation Indians enjoy super citizenship"
S. Lait cartoon shows teepee atop California state capitol
Ramirez cartoon: "Chief" Gray Davis sells Calif. for $24
Indian lobbying called "one of the most corrupting forces"
Casino foe: Tribes spend "taxpayer money" on votes
Have gaming tribes bought California for $120 million? No
. . .
All material © copyright its original owners, except where noted.
Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.
Copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act,
which allows copying for nonprofit educational uses including criticism and commentary.
Comments sent to the publisher become the property of Blue Corn Comics
and may be used in other postings without permission.