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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Wall Street Journal
Bureau of Casino Affairs

If your summer vacation included a spot of gambling, chances are you found yourself in Indian country. Chances also are that you didn't encounter many Indians, which is just one of the embarrassments about U.S. Indian affairs that Congress is finally noticing.

Take the $16 million casino that opened this summer on the Augustine Indian Reservation, 130 miles east of Los Angeles. The Augustine Band of Mission Indians has all of eight members. But its new casino, run by a Las Vegas company, has 349 slot machines and 10 card tables.

The Augustine "tribe," if that's the right word, is only one of many to take advantage of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to cash in on casino riches. That law made it easier for federal authorities to recognize tribes, which now means any group with the right combination of Indian blood and political connections to convince the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. Congress is finally figuring out that this process has become a recipe for political abuse, and the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs will hold hearings on tribal recognition this month.

The immediate spur is several controversial BIA decisions this summer. In one case, the bureaucracy upheld a Clinton-era decision granting recognition to the Eastern Pequot and Paucatuck of Connecticut, even though BIA historians had shown they didn't qualify. This no doubt pleases one Paucatuck backer, that noted defender of Native American values Donald Trump, who is waiting to build another gambling palace. Also glowing is GOP lobbyist Ronald Kaufman, who was paid $500,000 to lobby for the Eastern Pequot.

The BIA showed more backbone in a second case, stripping the Chinook and Duwamish Indians in Washington state of "tribal" status they'd been granted in Bill Clinton's final days (the Indian version of Presidential pardons). The Chinook Indians own less than an acre of land today, and only a few hundred people now claim to be Duwamish.

Both the Connecticut and Washington decisions were issued by top Clinton officials who now work as lawyers for firms representing Indian casino interests. Earlier this year the Interior Department's Inspector General called the circumstances surrounding those decisions "highly unusual," which is putting it mildly.

But the problem is much bigger than tribal recognition. Federal handling of Indian affairs has been a disgrace for generations, and casinos have been a perhaps understandable response. A group of Indian leaders recently explained to us that casinos have brought a degree of pride and economic self-sufficiency to some tribes, contributing to the building of roads, schools, museums and health-care clinics.

On the other hand, the benefits aren't all that widespread. The latest Census figures show that most Native Americans remain mired in poverty, and other studies suggest little progress in raising education and health standards. The impact of gambling on the social fabric, including the dangers posed by organized crime, is another concern. Our own reporting has shown the powerful influence of politics and non-Indian developers on tribal recognition and casino deals. These concerns are shared by many Indian leaders, such as those in the Navajo Nation, the largest American Indian tribe, which has resisted the lure of gambling on its lands.

The irony is that the stronger casino interests become politically, spreading their dollars around Congress and statehouses, the more they're able to stop any serious look at these broader Indian issues. Virginia Representative Frank Wolf recently proposed a study on the state of the American Indian in the 21st century, casinos included. His idea was killed by pro-casino Members who feared an anti-gambling motive. But gambling and tribal recognition were only part of a much larger inspection that Mr. Wolf wants undertaken, including health, economic and education standards in Indian country.

Federal policy toward the Indian community has long been a failed exercise in social engineering. Indian casinos don't strike us a miracle solution, except for the gambling interests who'll get rich. Mr. Wolf's proposed survey would provide the basis for an informed national debate.

Updated September 3, 2002

The National Indian Gaming Association's rebuttal

Ernest Stevens, Jr., Chairman -- National Indian Gaming Association

Once again, the Nation's leading economic newspaper has chosen to attack American Indian Tribes and our most successful tool for economic development with misinformation and personal opinion. The Wall Street Journal's editorial piece -- "Bureau of Casino Affairs" -- troubles me personally, because last May -- I, along with National Congress of American Indians' President Tex Hall, and other Tribal leaders, met face-to-face with the Journal's Editorial staff to discuss its recent series of attacks on Indian Tribes. Despite these attacks, we came to the table with mind to educate and inform. We provided facts, federal reports and studies -- all recognizing the benefits of Indian gaming, the strength of its regulation, and the economic self-sufficiency that it provides to Tribes. Today, the Journal's Editorial staff belittles this meeting, ignores the facts presented, and instead states, "the benefits [of Indian gaming] aren't all that widespread." This disrespect for Tribal leadership and the facts presented is a direct insult to Indian country. The tabloid writers at the Journal provide personal opinion and nothing more.

Today, the WSJ Editorial continues to recycle its unfounded opinion statement to bolster their argument for Rep. Frank Wolf's proposed federal Commission on Native American Policy -- which would include a study of tribal recognition, Indian gaming, and the social and economic status of Indian country. The U.S. House of Representatives rejected this proposal by a vote of 272-151 on the House floor for a good reason: it's a waste of federal money and a waste of Indian country's time. WSJ claims that this proposal was killed by "casino interests." Wrong: Indian Tribes opposed this study, because we have repeatedly spent time and money answering the allegations posed by Mr. Wolf. He refuses to accept the answers he receives.

As recognized in the House floor debate -- the federal government has conducted over 73 studies of Indian tribes over the past 15 years -- 6 of these studies are linked to Frank Wolf himself. Rep. Wolf's own studies refute the Journal's opinion on the lack of benefits of Indian gaming, and it's "dangers." The multi-million dollar National Gambling Impact Study Commission found that "with revenues from gambling operations, many tribes have begun to take unprecedented steps to begin to address the economic as well as social problems on their own." The Department of Justice -- in a July 3, 2001 letter to Frank Wolf -- recognizes "that none of their Indian country investigations of isolated allegations of organized crime has been substantiated. The Director of the Office of Tribal Justice concurred." These continued allegations of criminal involvement were best summarized on the House floor by Rep. George Miller:

"I have listened to this ruse argument about organized crime from the day we wrote the first statute to the Supreme Court, and nobody has been able to prove it. Nobody has been able to show it. [Indian] people operate their casinos under more restrictions than any other operators in the country. This is just disingenuous."

The bottom line is this -- Indian country has come a long way despite the negative articles that attempt to hold us back. Tribal leaders prioritize tribal government spending on community infrastructure and funding for gaming regulation. The benefits and regulation of Indian gaming are well-substantiated -- and we can prove it. These are the facts. So why does a paper that promotes economic development through a smaller federal government, continue to argue by opinion and without fact for greater government when it comes to Indian tribes? Answer: It's a simple case of truth versus tabloid.

SOURCE: National Indian Gaming Association

Another Native response

The Wall Street Journal's drumbeat: Is this the way termination started?

Posted: September 20, 2002 -- 9:53am EST
by: Suzan Shown Harjo / Columnist / Indian Country Today

The Wall Street Journal, once again, has used its editorial pages to decree who the Indians are and are not, and what Congress should do about that.

In the year since 9/11, the newspaper has made a practice of attacking Indians. Forget about terrorists and global threats or healing old wounds and not opening new ones. The chickenhawks at the Journal want to start the Indian wars all over again.

The Journal's Sept. 3 screed says if their readers took gambling vacations in Indian country, chances are they "didn't encounter many Indians." The paper says this is "just one of the embarrassments about U.S. Indian affairs that Congress is finally noticing."

Just because the Journal finally snapped to the fact that we are a small population — less than one percent of the U.S. total — doesn't mean that Congress is as slow on the pick-up.

In 1900, there were only 250,000 American Indians. Even though we were the fastest growing segment of American society last century, we started this one with fewer than 2.5 million people. A handful of Native nations have populations between 100,000 and 400,000, but the rest of the 550 federally-recognized tribes have considerably fewer people.

The Journal derides the Augustine Band of Mission Indians near Los Angeles because it has a casino, but only eight citizens.

Perhaps I missed it, but I don't recall the Journal calling for Monaco to be turned out of the United Nations because it is a small country. That tiny principality bordered by France and the Mediterranean Sea has no natural resources and makes its fortune from its Monte Carlo casino.

For the sake of comparison, more than a dozen American Indian nations have more people than Monaco's 31,000 and more land — it has 482 acres and the average sized American Indian reservation is around 300,000 acres. To use a domestic example, the two largest Indian reservations — Navajo and Tohono O'odham — are the size of West Virginia and Connecticut.

The Journal editorial doesn't mention — if it even knows what the world knows — that none of the Indian nations have the population or territory we once had or should have now, and many have not yet recovered from the onslaught of foreign diseases and foreigners.

The miracle is that there are any Native Peoples alive today. This is especially true for Indians in California. There, the miners murdered countless Indian people and ran the rest off their own homelands.

When federal commissioners sent negotiated Indian treaties to Washington, the California legislature encouraged the miners in their bloody business and demanded that the Senate renege on the treaty promises. The Senate hid the treaties and never ratified them.

It should be no surprise to anyone that there are Native Peoples in California and elsewhere in the U.S. who are in recognition limbo and who are just beginning to rebuild populations and recover lands.

The Journal sees the matter from the vantage point of privilege and with a mean and envious attitude — all noblesse and no oblige: "The Augustine ‘tribe,' if that's the right word, is only one of many to take advantage of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to cash in on casino riches."

The Journal falsely claims that the gaming law "made it easier for federal authorities to recognize tribes, which now means any group with the right combination of Indian blood and political connections to convince the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs."

It continues on to a false conclusion: "Congress is finally figuring out that this process has become a recipe for political abuse."

The editorial points to two items that, taken separately or together, do not a congressional realization or action make — the Senate Indian committee's Sept. 17 federal recognition hearing, which is a hearing, not a conclusion; and a proposed Indian study that was rejected in July by nearly two-thirds of the House, 273 representatives the Journal dismisses as "pro-casino Members who feared an anti-gambling motive."

The Journal declares that federal Indian policy "has long been a failed exercise in social engineering," without offering any insight into what it means by that.

The failures in federal Indian policy came about when miners got state and federal legislators to knock down any Indians they left standing.

Policy failures result from the Indian-haters and the do-gooders who think they have the answer for what constitutes an Indian nation or an Indian. What does the Journal think is too small of a population to be considered a tribe? One or 1,000 or 100,000 more than the citizens of the Augustine Band?

The only tribe the newspaper seems to endorse is the largest one, Navajo Nation, and only because it has not approved gambling. Nowhere does the Journal mention that this disapproval is linked to the Navajo cultural figure, Gambler, whose return is considered neither positive nor desirable. If the Navajos were to vote for gambling and could no longer be pitted against smaller tribes with casinos, it is unlikely that Navajo Nation would be touted in the Journal.

Connecticut officials led by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal are marching to the same drumbeat. They don't want any more tribes in their state recognized by the federal government. Given the history of Indian gaming revenues having retired Connecticut's debt, this seems ungrateful and improvident, but may be only a competition control mechanism for the existing tribes. The state's U.S. senators are trying to get a nationwide moratorium on recognition in order to appear even-handed.

A slightly different drummer in Oklahoma, Rep. Wayne Pettigrew (R-Edmond), wants to set tribal citizenship criteria by forcing Indian nations to adopt a 50-percent Indian blood quantum requirement, irrespective of longstanding law that Indian and tribal determinations are political, not racial, and that citizenship is decided by nations, not by outsiders.

Pettigrew says he will drop the whole thing, if Indian nations in Oklahoma agree to give tobacco profits to the state.

Is this what happened in the years leading up to the first congressional acts in the 1950s that severed federal ties with certain tribes and Indians?

During the WWII years, there was a clamor for Indian resources — Indian forests in Oregon and Wisconsin for logging and development; Indian land and water in New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah and Washington for building and testing atomic and nuclear weapons, and for storing the poison wastes. Indians who didn't sell or give up their property were viewed as un-American.

Members of Congress and the Interior secretary from the key states came up with plans to terminate federal services and cash out tribal resources. In 1947, the BIA gave Congress hit lists of tribes that could be terminated immediately, in the foreseeable future or not for a long time.

In the first category were small tribes and those whose traditional religions and languages were extinct or nearly so, and whose majority populations were largely intermarried with non-Indians and acculturated.

Tribes in the second category had medium-sized populations or those who were predominantly English-speaking and Christian. They were characterized as a boarding-school generation away from being ready for freedom from federal services.

The tribes in the third category were those with large land bases or populations, or those whose people were considered incorrigibly Indian and needed more time under the ward-guardian relationship to be weaned away from their traditional ways and places, extended families and nations.

In a fit of social engineering, Congress began terminating tribes from the first and second categories, along with all individual Ute people who were less than one-half Ute. It was a federal policy that failed miserably.

Did termination begin with greed for Indian resources and a drumbeat from opinion-makers and policy-makers that sounds like the one we are hearing today? You bet it did.

Rob's comment
A few of the WSJ's comments are particularly misleading:

Related links
The Wall Street Journal's hatchet job on Indians
Greedy Indians
The facts about Indian gaming
The essential facts about Indians today

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