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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Chippewa Strife Argues for Limiting Indian Casinos

By The Detroit News

The nasty situation that has developed within the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe is the clearest possible argument against approving more tribal compacts to expand Indian casino gambling in the state.

The Detroit News documented this week how a small group of individuals have gained control of the Saginaw Chippewa tribal council and have tried to expel from the tribe anyone who disagrees with their policies.

Ordinarily, this would be a matter that concerned only tribal members. But in this case, the stakes are enormous.

The Saginaw Chippewa own and operate the lavish Soaring Eagle Casino near Mt. Pleasant, an operation worth $1.2 billion. Tribal members share in the take equally and rake in $52,000 a year. But the fewer members there are, the bigger the pot for those whose tribal identity remains.

Several tribal bands in the western part of the state, fully aware of these numbers, have been pressuring Gov. John Engler to negotiate gambling compacts with them.

But the governor has stated that he will not approve any more Indian compacts. By its actions, the Saginaw Chippewa leadership has shown the validity of his position.

The tribal council operates under chillingly Orwellian rules. It deals with opponents not only by silencing them but by stripping them of their identities. They are denied their Chippewa heritage, even in the face of strong genealogical documentation.

The council's meetings are held in secret. No legal representation is allowed. There is no appeal, and the council has the power to fire any tribal judge whose decisions it doesn't like.

It sounds more like Moscow 1936 than Michigan 2001.

But because the Saginaw Chippewa are recognized as a sovereign nation, there is nothing any other government can do for those denied what other Americans would regard as fundamental legal rights.

When the federal government approved recognition of the Saginaw Chippewa in 1986, it exacted a promise that the tribe would not pursue the same sort of expulsion proceedings that are going on now.

But the appeal of slot machine welfare — which is exactly what the situation at Soaring Eagle is all about — proved irresistible. The tribe is now fully dependent on casino revenues, and all its actions flow from that fact.

The situation also exposes the dark side of Indian sovereignty. The rush of big money has been a corrosive force.

Native Americans have been subjected to enough indignities and cultural obliteration by outsiders. It is a sorry spectacle to see them inflict such damage upon themselves.

Rob's comment
First, a response from Indianz.com:

The paper says the tribe's "Orwellian rules" stem from "slot machine welfare." Greed over casino profits has corrupted tribal leadership, and since the tribe is a sovereign government, there is nothing anyone can do about it, the paper claims.

Except, of course, to punish other tribes for the Saginaw Chippewa situation. The paper calls on Governor John Engler not to approve any Class III gaming compacts with tribes.

The "dark side of Indian sovereignty"...hmm. Do we ever hear about the dark side of American sovereignty? The dark side of Michigan's sovereignty? There's something very paternalistic about this editorial's tone.

No legal representation before the council...no appeal...is that any different from the US Congress? You don't get to debate Congress's decisions with a lawyer by your side. Or appeal them to a higher body. There isn't any higher body. That's what we mean by a "sovereign" entity. Somebody—in this case, the tribal council—makes unassailable decisions for the whole nation.

"Slot machine welfare"...as opposed to tax-dollar welfare? It's how the tribe earns most of its revenue. Deal with it.

Incidentally, I don't know if the editorial's charges are true. Whether they are or not, it's beside the point here. But if they're true, the tribe should shape up.

Related links
The facts about tribal sovereignty
The facts about Indian gaming
Indians as welfare recipients

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