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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

From the LA Times, 11/13/02:

Indian Casinos Open Way for Black Reparations

However you cut it, gambling monopolies are compensation.

By Fred Dickey

Fred Dickey is a journalist who writes on social and governmental issues that affect California, including tribal gaming.

There has been so much dust kicked up by arguments over reparations in recent months that most people can't see that it's already an accomplished fact. Not for African Americans, who have been the ones most insistent — and most rebuffed — in seeking redress of historical wrongs, but for American Indians.

Don't start surfing the Net looking for recent laws that authorize checks for Indian reparations. These payments came through the back door, accompanied by slot machines, blackjack tables and cheap buffets.

In March 2000, California voters passed Proposition 1-A, which gave the state's registered Indian tribes the right to a virtually unrestricted and thinly regulated monopoly on casino gambling (similar provisions are in place in many other states).

The tribes and their supporters use historical injustice as the centerpiece of their pleas for public approval of their gambling privileges. They cite a litany of grievances, and most have merit. But the point is that the Indians themselves consider their gambling monopoly to be their due, though they don't use the R word.

The reparation reward to tribes is grand indeed. To own a casino is to be backed up to the loading dock of the federal mint. The 50 casinos operating in California — and more are on the way — overflow the pockets of the 49 tribes that operate them. The gambling haul for the tribes in California this year alone should be about $5 billion — all of it free of federal and state taxes.

Tribal advocates also maintain that their right to have casinos is justified by their status as "sovereign nations," and therefore they should be able to operate free of regulations by "other" governments, i.e., the state of California and the United States. They base that idea on the original 19th century federal description of the tribes as "domestic, dependent, sovereign nations."

However, the meaning of that definition is that the tribes and their reservations are subject to the whim of Congress. So it's fair to say that if your status is at the mercy of someone else's say-so, you might be domestic and you might be dependent, but you're definitely not sovereign.

Sovereignty in its governmental sense is New Zealand or Norway, not a small reservation reliant on local government for public services.

Pretending that tiny Indian tribes with a handful of members are sovereign nations is a logic-stretching legal artifice to justify letting those tribes operate casinos and reap other lucrative tax-free privileges.

Call it by its real name — reparations. The reservation system was instituted to give tribes a haven from exploitation by non-Indians. No one then envisioned creating enclaves where visiting gamblers would be left naked of protection from civil law.

An additional benefit of the casino monopoly is the generation of mounds of cash to invest in "friendly" legislators such as Sen. Jim Battin (R-La Quinta), who, as the tribes grew in wealth, suddenly had his eyes opened to the justice of the tribes' legislative agenda. Campaign contributions of $700,000 since 1998 may have also helped him see the light.

Battin is not alone. Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee said the tribes couldn't get the time of day in state government a few years ago. Now they own the place.

Is this an argument against what Proposition 1-A gave the tribes? No, they won it fair and square by convincing voters of the justness of their cause. But the unprecedented generosity with which the public responded certainly shouts what it was — reparations.

The history of the United States is of a nation that was a blessing to many but a curse to others. Those who bear scars of injustice form a long line, with Native Americans at the front. But no scar is uglier or deeper than the one that runs from the memory to the soul of those who carry the devil's DNA of bondage and Jim Crow.

Advocates for African American reparations have a stronger claim now that opponents have to explain the multibillion-dollar reparation given to 36,500 tribal members in California alone.

To cast the issue in gambling terms, the chance of African Americans achieving reparations faces very long political odds. But they are at least entitled to an answer to this question: If you open the door for Native Americans, why do you slam it on us?

Rob's reply
I wrote the following letter to the editor, 11/14/02:

Fred Dickey bungled the most basic fact of Native American sovereignty. Sovereignty isn't based only on a 19th-century federal description of tribes as "domestic, dependent, sovereign nations." It's based on the fact that tribes were sovereign. They were recognized as such in the US Constitution, which the Founding Fathers adopted a decade before the 19th century began.

As a document by the United Effort Trust explains:

Tribal governments were recognized as nations by the earliest Europeans that dealt with them—the Dutch, the Spanish, the French and the English. Yet, in spite of that inherent sovereignty, and in spite of its repeated affirmation in old and recent United States law, many Americans believe that tribal governments were created by treaties and conferred upon Indians as a benevolent dispensation of federal law. The reverse is true: the tribal government entered into treaties and conferred certain rights to the colonials, and later to the United States.


More replies to Dickey
From the letters to the editor in the LA Times, 11/18/02:

Flawed Argument on Indian Casinos as 'Reparations'

Fred Dickey's Nov. 13 commentary, "Indian Casinos Open Way for Black Reparations," had an interesting premise but distorts history and the law in order to attack Indian gaming. As a professor of law, I have taught that Indian law is a complex and fluid area of law, but to claim that reservations and the right to have casinos are some kind of gift from the non-Indian governments is incorrect.

Reservations were what remained after Europeans stole the other 99% of the land. They were used to attempt to force sedentary and agricultural lifestyles upon people who fished and hunted and traded over large geographic areas. And most land on reservations today is owned by non-Indians.

Regulation of Indian affairs by local, state and federal governmental entities varies according to such factors as the type of commerce, the tribal status of the parties and the location of the commerce. Indian sovereignty may be limited by conquest, but it is alive and well, as it should be. I'd rather have casinos providing free education, health care, housing and economic-development aid to Indian people than have them on welfare.

Los Angeles

Dickey draws a false analogy between granting Indian tribes the right to run casinos and paying reparations to African Americans. Casinos are businesses, however socially harmful, not mere handouts. A valid analogy would exist if the federal government had written every American Indian a check for, say, $100,000.

Los Angeles

Dickey had better revisit history if he thinks that "the reservation system was instituted to give tribes a haven from exploitation by non-Indians." Is the ghetto a haven? If he wishes to receive empathy for his cause he will not get it via lack of research and insulting those who have endured.


Dickey's column is flawed. Only a small part of the Native American population benefits from casino money. One only needs to drive through Plains reservations to see widespread poverty, alcoholism, etc., and the real truth. Native Americans have never asked for reparations; they only want us to honor the treaties we signed.

Spotted Elk Foundation
San Diego


National Indian Gaming Association responds to Dickey

NIGA Letter to the Los Angeles Times

November 21, 2002

Los Angeles Times
Letters to the Editor
202 West First St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Dear Editor:

Fred Dickey's article entitled "Indian casinos open way for Black reparations," while interesting was based on a fundamental error. I am pleased to see Mr. Dickey write in support of reparations for African Americans because the Black community certainly has suffered generational damage from slavery, and there is a precedent for reparations: Japanese Americans, who were interned during World War II, received reparations and Congress recently enacted a statute authorizing war claims by Guam residents who were injured by the United States during World War II.

The right of Indian Tribes to self-government, including the right to conduct Indian gaming to fund tribal government, is however not "reparations." Historically, the United States – from President Washington forward – has acknowledged the facts that Indian Tribes predate the American Republic, that Indian Tribes have always been self-governing political communities, and that Indian Tribes retained their original and inherent rights to self-government through solemn treaties and agreements, where they ceded the hundreds of millions of acres of land now occupied by others in the United States. Justice Black once said, "Great Nations, like Great men, should keep their word," and unless the United States wants to return the lands that were ceded, we will always demand that the Federal Government honor its treaties.

Indian gaming is an aspect of tribal self-government, used to fund education, health care, community infrastructure, and essential government services – just as state lotteries fund state government programs. The status of Indian Tribes as sovereigns is acknowledged in the U.S. Constitution, where treaties already made (mostly Indian treaties) as well as those to be made, were made part of the supreme law of the land. Indian Tribes are also acknowledged as governments in the Commerce Clause, and the unique status of American Indians as citizens of distinct tribal political communities is recognized in the Apportionment Clause and the 14th Amendment.

Contrary to Dickey's opinion, there is nothing "19th Century" or "back door" about tribal government or the Indian gaming, which funds tribal government. Those terms are derogatory. We respectfully request that the Los Angeles Times stop using such derogatory language about tribal self-government in the future – even in the "independent" opinion pieces you choose to print. Study United States history and the Constitution, and one can understand that today our Indian Tribes retain inherent rights to self-government. Those are rights that our grandfathers fought and died to protect. We honor our grandfathers as true heroes who had a vision of our Indian Tribes as Native communities with respect for tradition and self-government building a better life for our children and the generations to come.

As to the unsupported allegation that Indian gaming is under regulated, consider this: Indian Tribes devote over $212 million of our resources each year for Federal, tribal and state regulation of Indian gaming. Tribes regulate Indian gaming through Tribal gaming commissions, Compliance officers, Tribal law enforcement officers, and Tribal courts. States also regulate Tribal gaming through Tribal-State compacts negotiated under IGRA. Federally, along with the National Indian Gaming Commission, the U.S. Department of Treasury, the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI also have responsibility for protecting Indian gaming from crime. At the tribal level alone, we employ 2,800 top-highly qualified gaming commissioners, investigators, attorneys, auditors and other regulatory staff. They are former FBI employees, state police officers and many other world class professionals. Once again, Dickey's hyperbolic rhetoric is just contrary to fact.

In closing, we would say to Mr. Dickey, that you do not have to slur American Indians or our right to self-government to promote justice for African Americans. We, American Indians, fully support justice for all people in the United States and throughout the World.

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

Related links
The critics of Indian gaming—and why they're wrong
Indians as welfare recipients

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