Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
by Bruce Jackson
Barry Snyder and his Seneca gambling operation made two huge PR moves in Buffalo last week, both of them designed to shore up the Seneca Gaming Corporation's claim that a Buffalo casino is a done deal and that all opposition is, therefore, pointless.
One of the moves, aided and abetted by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, was based on in-your-face bullying; the other, aided and abetted by the Buffalo News, on not-very-subtle extortion.
1. The scene at the site.
Drive south out of downtown Buffalo along the I-190. Near the Louisiana Street exit, you will see on the right the mutilated cadaver of the H-O Oats grain elevator, which is being knocked down by a huge wrecking crane wielding a 1,500-pound, U-shaped chunk of cast iron.
If you are driving northward along that same section of I-190, all you will see right now is the elevator with its familiar block letters saying "H-O OAT"—the silo with the final "S" is gone—and the tall crane rising above and beyond it. That is because all the destroyed silos are on the north side of the elevator. In a week or so, the letters you see from the northbound lanes of the I-190 will be gone and everyone will be able to see wrecked silos from either direction, and a few weeks further on you'll see nothing at all, unless the Senecas decide for some reason to abandon the destruction project.
Only a few workers are on the site. A medium-sized bulldozer moves rubble near where Fulton Street reaches the Michigan Avenue side. A Seneca police car sits just inside where Fulton Street is blocked off on the Marvin Street side. Every time I've gone there there have been more signs saying
PROPERTY OF THE
Except for cleaning up rubble that falls into Perry Street, all the demolition work is done by one man. He sits in the crane's cab and raises the iron U maybe 20 feet above the rim of one of the silos. He lets it drop. Concrete and asbestos dust bursts into the air and chunks of rubble fall to the ground below. He raises the iron U again and again lets it drop, and again there is a burst of concrete and asbestos dust and a shower of rubble.
After a while, he has cut a deep notch into the side of the silo maybe 30 feet long. He moves the iron U away, raises it a bit, then begins moving the crane back and forth. Almost in slow-motion, the iron U at the end of the long steel cable swings in a wider and wider arc until it smashes into the column it had, by the repeated chopping, isolated from the silo wall.
Sometimes it takes two hits to collapse the section, sometimes just one. The isolated section tilts, breaks up and falls, sending huge billows of concrete and asbestos straight up and off to the sides. Where the section had been is now just air, save for the curling and bent strands of one-inch steel reinforcement bars, sheared by the U-shaped device as if they had been tired strands of frayed cotton on an old shirt, and the high dust, glowing and dissipating in the afternoon light.
The wrecking crane was at work all through the Memorial Day weekend and all through this past weekend. Each time I was there, within minutes, my car, my camera, my lenses and I were covered with that dust that drifted over the neighborhood all day, every day, while the destruction workers did their work, probably being paid double- or triple-time for the Sundays and Memorial Day holiday. Money to pay people to work on holidays or do work they might otherwise not wish to do is not a problem for the Seneca Gaming Corporation.
Whenever the wrecking crane is working a single water-misting device sprays the air between the crane and the silos. At first I thought the misting device was there to keep the dust off the Perry Street projects just a block away, but then I realized it was there to clear the air in front of the crane operator so he could see where he was dropping and swinging the huge iron U. Nothing kept the dust from the street and the streets beyond.
When I visited the site last Sunday there was something new: signs warning of asbestos in the air. I don't know what prompted the Seneca Gaming Corporation to post the signs so late in the process. The signs are only on the fence of the site itself. There are no signs to the east, where even the slightest breeze constantly blows the fine concrete and asbestos dust. There are no signs anywhere downwind, where the Perry Street projects are, where there are streets on which people walk and children play.
2. Why is Barry Snyder taking down the H-O Oats elevator and why is Byron Brown helping him do it?
There's no pressing need for the Seneca Gaming Corporation to be tearing down the H-O Oats grain elevators right now. If they get to build a casino on that site they may have to, but that would depend on the design, and at this point they don't have a design. All they've got is a preliminary design concept, which is just a piece of paper.
So far as I can tell, the single reason for this destruction project that is it is a dramatic way of telling anyone traveling into or out of Buffalo on I-190, "This is a done deal. You can't stop us. The county executive tried to stop us and he couldn't do it. There are environmental laws that apply to anyone doing this sort of thing, but they don't apply to us. It's a done deal. You can't do anything about the toxic dust coming off our property and blowing into a densely populated area. It's a done deal. You can't do anything here we don't want you to do, and all we want you to do is come and gamble and give us your money. You got a problem with that, you can kiss our ass. It's a done deal. Fuck you."
None of that is true, but that's what they're saying with that wrecking crane and the 1,500-pound, U-shaped slab of cast iron.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who has pretended to be giving thought to all this foolishness, turns out to be complicit in it: Without any public hearings, he had two city streets blocked off and wired in so the Seneca Gaming Corporation could carry on this demolition work and he has helped the Senecas avoid the kind of environmental impact studies any other organization would have to do before engaging in huge demolition projects and releasing all kinds of garbage into the air adjacent to populated areas. I asked Brown's staff if they knew of any environmental studies that had been done prior to this demolition and thus far they have come up with nothing at all.
It may very well true be that nobody can do anything about anything done on Indian land. But nobody argues Byron Brown's authority to interdict an action pouring vile stuff into the city's air supply. He can have those trucks coming into and leaving the Seneca property blocked; he can block off the city streets one block away from the Seneca land; he can ask the new Secretary of the Interior to force the Seneca Gaming Corporation to obey the law.
But he has done and is doing none of that. The question is why. Why would he betray his trust as mayor? Why would he betray the East Side community that was for so long his political base?
For one thing, Byron Brown needs the casino, not just for what the casino developers may be handing him or his campaign in the way of support funds, or promising him for a possible future run for Louise Slaughter's seat in Congress, but also for the budget with which he hopes to get the city's control board off his back. He's projected $5 million a year in city income from the casino to offset other losses in city income in his budgets three and four years out.
That means that the Brown administration isn't a government agency dealing with a group that wants to put a gambling joint in the heart of town. It means the Brown administration is partnering with a group they hope will help them deal with an intractable problem, only they haven't yet had the decency to tell the rest of us about the intimate relationship.
How many members of the Byron Brown administration and the Buffalo Common Council live downwind from that wrecking operation? Do you think Brown and the Council would have turned a blind eye while the Senecas dumped all that noxious dust into the air without any serious environmental studies if it were their children living in those projects, playing on those streets?
3. Fantasy futures.
The destruction of the H-O Oats silos was an in-your-face gambit by Seneca Gaming Corporation: It wasn't necessary, it was outside the law, they got away with it, nobody said boo and it continues in full view day after day. Barry Snyder doesn't want you to forget that he owns City Hall.
Bold stuff. The second part of the PR assault is more subtle and it took the full collaboration of the Buffalo News, which ran over six days three articles and an editorial which, if they weren't planted by SGC's flacks, may just as well have been.
Each of the articles was grounded in things that were not true or in which key true things were left out; each of them was one-sided; each of them made the Seneca Gaming Corporation's case and not one of them made even a Fox News level "fair-and-balanced" bow to the other side.
And worst of all: The articles weren't written by the News's editorial writers, who frequently perform at some other person's or agency's bidding, but were rather done by two of the News's good reporters, Sharon Linstedt and Michael Beebe.
It began with Linstedt's page-one article on June 1 headlined "Cutting-edge design for casino: Senecas' vision proposes creek, parklike setting." Reporters don't write headlines, editors do that, but nothing in that head or subhead was dissonant with Linstedt's sales-pitch prose. Her lead goes, "The Seneca Nation of Indians' vision for its Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino will take the form of contemporary glass and steel on a parklike setting with a symbolic creek running through it."
Keep in mind what this is really about: not a park, not an urban habitat, but a gambling joint designed solely to suck money out of the city of Buffalo and its environs—one that, because of a quirk in the law, will have restaurants, bars, shows and shops operating at a huge economic advantage over any other operator in Buffalo.
"The site plan," writes Linstedt, "turns what is now a mishmash of industrial properties along Michigan Avenue in Buffalo's Cobblestone District into a nine-acre gambling campus."
Campus? Like a college or a research institution? Like the medical campus on High Street? Mishmash? That's a word for a front-page newspaper article? Are the recently restored lofts across the street from the H-O Oats silos mishmash? Are the Perry Street projects one block away? Is the developing waterfront in the other direction?
"Plans," Linstedt writes, "call for substantial landscaping, lagoons and a creek to form parkland along Michigan Avenue from Perry Street to South Park Avenue. The swath of green also would run along the Perry Street boundary of the site. 'We want this to be a neighborhood park, a place where people who live or work in the Cobblestone District could take a walk and enjoy the green space,' [the Seneca spokesman] said. 'We want to be part of the neighborhood. We don't want to put up barriers.' The green space also would be home to historical elements marking Seneca history in the former Buffalo Creek territory."
This is like saying the prison will have well-manicured grounds and sweet music to play while the convicts work like dogs and the guards whip for pleasure. The amenities are irrelevant. It's function that matters. This is still a gambling joint, designed to suck the life out of Buffalo's economy. Who cares if a symbolic creek runs through it?
Next, Linstedt and the Buffalo News become instruments in the Seneca Gaming Corporation's extortion.
"The design," Linstedt writes, "assumes the city will abandon the two-block stretch of Fulton Street, which runs through the Seneca territory and dead ends at Marvin Street. Talks with the city to permanently close the street are under way."
"The design assumes..." What's with the intransitive? Who assumes? Designs don't "assume"; designs just are. People assume. Who is assuming that the city of Buffalo will just give up two blocks of public land that do not, as Linstedt has it, run "through the Seneca territory." The Senecas bought small parcels of land bounded by city streets, and they're acting as if the city should therefore give them one of the streets in the middle of their parcels. And the Buffalo News is acting as if the street were on their territory.
This is nuts. This is the world upside down. And then it gets worse.
What happens if the city doesn't give up the land? Then, says the Seneca spokesman, no lagoon, no park, no creek. We'll just build ugly because the gamblers don't care what's outside, right? You give us what we want or we'll build an eyesore.
Where were the city representatives responding in anger to the way the city was being extorted into complicity? Where were the citizens' representatives commenting on the cynical ploy?
Not in Linstedt's article. No voice of contradiction or even interrogation appears anywhere in Linstedt's page one article about the Seneca Gaming Corporation's preliminary proposal for what it might do in downtown Buffalo if everything doesn't go exactly as it wants.
4. Playing hooky.
The following day, Linstedt had a second article on the presentation of the preliminary site plan, this one on the front page of the City & Region section. The headline was "Brown skips ceremony for unveiling of casino plan," and had a subhead reading, "Unresolved site issues with Senecas blamed." The gist of this was that former Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello had always appeared at Seneca Gaming Corporation PR events but Byron Brown and the Buffalo Common Council hadn't appeared at the presentation of the preliminary design plan. In Linstedt's words, "Conspicuously absent was Mayor Byron W. Brown."
But why should he have been there? This was, save for the Buffalo News giving it page one status, a non-event. It was a PR, nothing more. At most it should have been back in the Business section in the area reserved for "things people are talking about doing sometime."
Brown's own PR man, Peter Cutler, told Linstedt that the mayor's absence wasn't a snub but it was rather because the city and the Senecas still had issues to work out. Linstedt said that one of the issues was whether or not the city would shut down a two-block section of Fulton Street. In fact, Fulton Street had been shut down long before the Seneca's presentation of their drawing.
Common Council President David A. Franczyk told Linstedt that he had been invited, but "Probably the main reason I didn't go was I met with Seneca representatives on Wednesday and got a preview of the designs. I didn't need to show up to find out what it will look like." He also told her that he didn't want to "seem too easy" because "we're in the middle of discussions with them on some key items and have to maintain a tough stance."
Franczyk offered to go to Albany with Brown to meet with the governor about economic development funds that might be available to pay for the work the Senecas want done. He said he would like to see the Senecas "buy" Fulton Street if it is necessary to their project. "If this casino is a fait accompli and they are counting on us to give up Fulton Street, then that land has some value," Franczyk said. "It's the Yellow Brick Road to their casino. It might be worth millions, maybe thousands, I don't know, but I intend to get a valuation."
What's with the "probably"? Doesn't he remember? Does he think he's a character in a novel about someone else? What's with not wanting to "seem to easy"? You say that, it means you've decided you're going to do it, you just haven't gotten your price yet.
So Common Council President David Franczyk, generally regarded as developer Carl Paladino's man-in-city-hall, ponders not whether the city's virtue is for sale, but only how much he can get for it.
There remains, writes Linstedt, the matter of infrastructure improvements that will cost a good bit of money. The city is balking at paying for street construction the only function of which would be to make it easier for gamblers to drop money at the proposed casino. Snyder said that the Seneca Nation could lend the city of Buffalo "a couple million" so the city could undertake the infrastructure improvements the Senecas want. "I know they don't have any extra money, so we could help them out by fronting the money and they could pay us back later," Snyder said.
I take that to mean that the city would pay for the improvements that wouldn't be necessary without the Seneca gambling joint. The Seneca gambling joint will lend the city the money to make the improvements with funds area residents have lost in the Niagara Falls casino so city residents can lose a great deal more in the Buffalo casino.
Which proves you don't have to be Jewish to have chutzpah.
6. Fantasy pasts.
There would be one more article in this week's Buffalo News casino triptych: Michael Beebe's June 4, "For Senecas, return to Buffalo Creek helps right an old wrong," the point of which seemed to be that since the Buffalo Creek area of Buffalo was Seneca ancestral land, it was only appropriate that they should come here and put up a casino with which they could screw the non-Indians who had screwed them and so many other Indian tribes in so many places over so many years.
But the article is grounded in a fallacy. Buffalo Creek land wasn't originally Seneca territory. It belonged to two other tribes, the Erielhonans and the Neutrals, which the Iroquois wiped out. Buffalo Creek was never Seneca territory until they got it from General George Washington as part of their payoff for having sided with the settlers against other Indians who had sided with the British. Whatever the rights or wrongs of that, aboriginal ownership has no part in it. Beebe starts his discussion of Seneca Creek history as if it began after George Washington became president. That subtracts too much from the real story. (All of that is summarized in Judge Richard Arcara's decision denying the Senecas' claim to Grand Island, which was upheld by the US Court of Appeals in 2003 and by the US Supreme Court on Monday of this week.)
And, more important, why do wrongs that may or may not have happened 200 years ago justify wrongs about to happen here now? I'd think the goal would be to stop wronging anybody, not to perpetuate the cycle.
At issue here are not historical rights to run a gambling joint in land that various Indian tribes may or may not have owned at various times in the past. Rather, at issue is a gambling operation set up in three New York locations by a governor on the ropes after New York's economy took a huge hit on September 11. George Pataki's solution wasn't to create new wealth or to import wealth from elsewhere, but to shift wealth from one place in New York (the general economy) to another place in New York (the casino economy) from which the state government could skim a few bucks to help balance its troubled books. It was totally cynical then and remains so now.
The question is, why is the Buffalo News doing this PR work for the Seneca Gaming Corporation? Its editorial page has long been doing questionable service for questionable masters, but the news department has been, on this issue, mostly reliable. Why did it now run a page-one story about a non-event grounded in a Disneyland-wannabe fairytale, with a backup the next day? Why did it run a history story that favored one side and ignored the others? Why, after so much good journalism on these issues by Jerry Zremski, Mike Beebe and others, are the Buffalo News reporters now doing stenography for the Seneca Gaming Corporation?
Finally, on June 6, the 52nd anniversary of the allied invasion of Europe, it all came back to the Buffalo News editorial page. An editorial titled "Energetic Seneca casino design" that featured a photo of Barry Snyder and former mayor Anthony Masiello at last year's groundbreaking, said the design was wonderful, just wonderful. The News, said the editorial four paragraphs in, "still believes that a casino is not good for Buffalo," but as long as it seems to be coming, well, the design is wonderful, just wonderful.
This is like the person who is in the hotel room with somebody else's spouse who says, "Oh, what a lovely, lovely room. I really shouldn't be here at all, but as long as I am I might as well get fucked." Which is exactly what happens next.
And on it goes. The 1,500-pound, U-shaped chunk of cast iron keeps chopping at the silos, smashing long irregular slits in the cylinders and thereby creating isolated columns which it then knocks down, leaving wiry pieces of steel reinforcing rods bent in the dust like horizontal strands of pubic hair. Every day, the huge chunks plunge to join the debris below. They hit bottom and send up plumes of fine concrete and asbestos dust that drifts eastward, coating cars, streets, trees and houses, coating walkers in the city and children playing outside in the fine early summer afternoon.
Letters to Artvoice
Time to Move Beyond the Myth
American popular culture, as Bruce Jackson, the SUNY's distinguished professor at the University at Buffalo, surely knows, has always been fascinated with American Indians.
So it's no surprise that Artvoice, the alternative newsweekly, would devote a dozen pages to the Seneca Nation.
For baby boomers, and those of us trailing behind them, our grade-school educations filled our minds with the Indians of history, who could pass into myth because they were long dead. Literature gave us the noble Savage while three decades of movies have given us the ultra cool Indian guy, as Cayuga actor Gary Farmer, who grew up in Buffalo, played against Johnny Depp in the 1995 cult classic Dead Man.
But the challenge for many of us occurs when those same peoples step off the pages of our collective subconscious and into our civic, social and political lives.
Just ask California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was surprised to find modern-day tribal nations to be a savvy political force. If the Terminator has to shift his metaphor for Native American peoples today, how much more confusing must it be for people who get their ideas secondhand from media reports and driveby sightings of tribal developments.
Here's where we run into Artvoice's headline from its June 8 cover story, "Greed."
While the story for pages describes what would appear to be business as usual at any demolition site, a subtext accusing the Seneca Nation of wrongdoing runs counter to the reality that a court decision cleared the way for this demolition and that the Seneca own this land.
If this site was being developed as, say, a Wal-Mart, would Jackson consider that to be less "greedy"? But even if a retail center were in the offing, demolition would be underway.
Still he proceeds with gratuitous arguments that I suspect wouldn't be tolerated by either Artvoice editors or SUNY if they were lodged against African American- or Polish American-owned businesses.
Or, next week can we expect to read in Artvoice similar scrutiny of an Italian American developer because of his or her supposed Mafia ties?
Yet if a developer of almost any other racial, ethnic or religious background posted a "No Trespassing" sign on that site and began demolition, Jackson's article would probably have been presented in less racial terms.
Only the most devout preservationist would question the likelihood that this site would be redeveloped. The long abandoned, apparently asbestos-filled grain elevator wasn't a downtown church building that could be gentrified into a performing arts center by Ani DiFranco.
Still, at one point, Jackson indicates that he might want to write about environmental problems that could arise from this demolition. That might be a story worth reporting, and a situation that federal regulators, who have some stake in the matter along with the tribes, should look into. But Jackson drives right past.
Instead, he wants to accuse the Seneca Nation of "extortion" for practices common to any developer anywhere.
The tone of this article isn't simply burdened by the issue of race. It's overlaid with the programming that most of us received in elementary school about Indians being poor, uneducated and characters in history books. It's founded in the shock, which has clearly and understandably startled many residents in the Buffalo area in recent years, that tribal nations have legal claims to land. And just like any other landowner, they will develop some of them for economic gain if they can.
Many localities around the US have benefited from tribal casinos, which bring jobs by the hundreds to what are often depressed local economies.
Some tribes have built casinos that display art or used revenues to open museums. Maybe Artvoice could use its journalistic resources to raise a discussion about how the Seneca development could enhance downtown Buffalo with new art, architecture and landscaping. Perhaps the city, though it may not and should not have jurisdiction over the Seneca, could encourage the Nation to build on the civic-minded tradition of DiFranco's the Church.
Kara Briggs is senior fellow and editor of the American Indian Policy and Media Initiative at Buffalo State College.
Artvoice has dedicated dozens of pages not to the Seneca nation but rather to a Seneca casino in downtown Buffalo. They are not the same thing. Nor does criticism of the Seneca Gaming Commission amount to criticism of an entire nation.
The demolition of the H-O Oats grain elevators is not "business as usual." There is an insufficiently mediated asbestos hazard on site—an issue that Bruce Jackson does not "drive right past." He begins and ends with it, and notes the city's failure to produce the environmental studies that should be done before a demolition like this one is allowed to proceed. Briggs is right, however, to suggest that this matter deserves more attention. In the wake of our reporting on it, it has—turn to page 10.
Extortionist behavior on the part of developers is commonplace in Buffalo, as those who live here well know. This newspaper calls lots of developers extortionists. Politicians, too. We do it all the time, indifferent to ethnicity, gender and national origin. Shouldn't we? Isn't that our job?
According to every scholarly study, the only casinos that benefit their host communities are those located on the reservation of the nation which owns and operates them. In every other case, except Las Vegas, casinos, no matter who owns them, have been a terrible burden to the host community. Buffalo can ill afford such a burden.
Our opposition to a casino in downtown Buffalo is based on that economic and social reality.
Getting a Grip
Anti-Casino or Anti-Indian?
by Michael I. Niman
Those of us in Western New York who oppose war need to start paying attention to our own backyard. where community activists and developers are fanning the flames in the US and Canada's ceaselessly rekindling war against the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Six Nations) Confederacy. Flareups are now occurring throughout Haudenosaunee territory. In the north, armed Ontario government forces are engaged in a standoff with residents and supporters of the Six Nations Grand River Reserve on contested land where a local developer is attempting to build a subdivision in the municipality of Caledonia. The three-month-old standoff is moving toward a violent climax as Ontario officials, responding to complaints from non-native residents, are threatening force to remove native protestors.
In the US, Central New York's Upstate Citizens for Equality (UCE) is using US courts to challenge Haudenosaunee sovereignty in Central New York—including that of the Oneida land where the Turning Stone Casino is located.
With things heating up, US federal officers mysteriously appeared in Caledonia, where native protestors blew their cover by commandeering their unmarked car. Canadian media reported that officials from the US Border Patrol were ostensibly in Canada to "observe" how Canadian police dealt with native protestors.
On both sides of the border, officials from the powerful settler states impose their laws and courts upon their Haudenosaunee neighbors when settling territorial disputes. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, however, was never defeated by the US or Canada. Their territorial sovereignty is guaranteed by peace treaties signed in good faith with both nations and with Canada's British former landlords. This simple fact really isn't difficult to understand.
Sovereignty is the legal basis that allows the Seneca Nation, part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, to build a casino on its Buffalo Creek territory. For US citizens, the emergence of sovereign foreign territory in the middle of Buffalo is a difficult concept to swallow. This retaking of lost territory was made possible by a rather recent piece of congressional legislation articulating a deal with the Senecas allowing the US city of Salamanca to remain on their Cattaraugus reservation.
This deal poses a real challenge for anti-casino forces. How do you oppose casino plans by neighbors without opposing the right of those neighbors to exist? Or put simply, can you be anti-casino without being anti-Indian? Can you oppose casinos without supporting the centuries-old war against the Haudenosaunee?
The answer, of course, is yes. People oppose bingo without opposing the Catholic Church. They organize against the lottery and the building of OTB parlors without opposing the existence of New York State. Ultimately, with creativity, anti-casino forces can oppose casinos, but not native sovereignty.
An ugly courtship
In Western New York, however, we're witnessing an ugly courtship between anti-casino and anti-Indian political forces. As someone who sees casinos as being destructive, I subscribed to the Coalition Against Gaming in New York's (CAGNY) listserv. As someone who actively supports the Cayuga Nation's struggle to regain a tiny portion of the land base they lost during the genocidal Sullivan Campaign of the 1790s, I was disheartened to see CAGNY Chair Joel Rose email a "good news" piece about a UCE court victory against Cayuga and Oneida land claims. UCE is not an anti-gambling organization. It's an anti-sovereignty organization. Hiding behind words like "equality," UCE fights against native land claims and the treatment of native nations as equals instead of as captive nations without sovereign rights.
UCE's court victory does not stand up to the muster of international law. As I've written before, it is a case of a powerful nation insisting that it has the unilateral right to adjudicate its disputes with neighbors without any outside, third-party arbitration. It's might makes right—the Bush doctrine.
Rose was excited because the case could eventually lead to the closing of the Oneida Turning Stone Casino. If so, it would also lead to some form of armed takeover of Oneida land—what we call war.
Rose is a well-intentioned activist with a commendable history of social activism. By cheering UCE's court victory, he's cheering the unilateral imposition of US law on a sovereign nation—much like the invasion of Iraq. While this imposition may lead to the closure of a casino, it's like nuking a city to kill one fugitive. The casino will be closed—but only after the Oneida's land is invaded and eradicated. That's nothing that any well intentioned person should celebrate.
I wrote to Rose, asking him why he reveled in the possible closure of one nation's casino 150 miles from here, while giving a pass to nearby Canadian casinos. Rose responded, writing that his group tries to "focus on what we can reasonably hope to have some influence over, and that does not include the actions of the government of Ontario."
Perhaps American forces will, as they have before, with a legal writ in hand, drive the Oneida from their land. It's less likely that anti-casino activists can lobby the American government to invade Canada and shut down their casinos. Hence, I guess, anti-casino forces focus on, as Rose puts it, what they "can reasonably hope to have some influence over."
Not truly sovereign?
Rose went on to explain that I "misunderstood the legal status of the Indian nations. They are sovereign," he argued, "but the meaning of sovereign is something different than the sovereignty of truly foreign nations such as Canada." He based his argument on the fact that there are Indians who are also US citizens, who pay US taxes and who vote in US elections. More Canadian and Mexican transplants fit into that category then Haudenosaunee, but I've never heard that argument used to negate Canadian or Mexican sovereignty. There are also Haudenosaunee who have refused dual-citizenship, travel on their own passports, never vote in US elections and don't pay taxes.
Among the Seneca, both pro- and anti-casino forces are united in celebrating the return of a small portion of the Buffalo Creek reservation to Seneca control. Writing for The Buffalo News, Mike Beebe captured this sentiment in his June 4, page-one story, entitled, "For Senecas, return to Buffalo Creek helps right an old wrong." Beebe quotes UB anthropology doctoral candidate Sidney Horton, who places the original Seneca loss of Buffalo Creek in an era of "ethnic cleansing." He explains that, "It is incredible to me that what happened in Buffalo during its early years is not known to its residents today." Horton goes on to explain that it was a "dark chapter in United States history" involving "racism and avarice."
Four days after Beebe's piece was published, UB English professor and Artvoice columnist Bruce Jackson attacked it in these pages on June 8, claiming it was "grounded in a fallacy," that Buffalo Creek wasn't originally Seneca territory. While Jackson is attacking Beebe for presenting a simplistic history, his own interpretation of history is equally simplistic and politically charged.
Under the incendiary subhead, "Fantasy pasts," Jackson writes that Buffalo Creek wasn't originally Seneca land—it belonged to the "Erielhonans [Eries] and the Neutrals," which, according to Jackson, "the Iroquois [Haudenosaunee] wiped out." He also argues that Buffalo Creek was never Seneca territory until George Washington gave it to them. If this story is correct, then, given the machinations of history, wouldn't the Seneca/Haudenosaunee own this territory twice over, having both stolen it from the Eries and the Neutrals, then having received it again from George Washington? And if the Seneca have no claim on the land, based solely on the fact that they aren't the aboriginal occupants, then how is it ours?
Deputy Erie County Executive Bruce Fisher made the same argument as Jackson four days earlier on Jackson's blog (www.buffaloreport.com). Both cite Federal Judge Richard Arcara's decision against a previous Seneca land claim on Grand Island as their source, with Jackson adding that the US Supreme Court upheld that decision on Monday, June 5. The problem is that, first off, under international law, Arcara's court doesn't have the right to unilaterally adjudicate a case between itself and another nation. Secondly, Arcara isn't a historian. And the new Supreme Court—we know what they are.
This is essentially the problem—Euro-American arrogance. We ignore sovereignty. We impose our laws. We dictate solutions to problems we are party to. And we even insist on our own interpretations of history when they suit us.
Different interpretations of history serve different political ends. Haudenosaunee oral historians and scholars tell a story of Eries and Neutrals ravaged by European diseases and asking to be adopted into the Seneca Nation. According to this version, their customs and traditions blended with those of the Seneca, whose people now share the values and mores of the Erie and the Neutrals. The same historians and scholars argue that the Grand Council of the Haudenosaunee, and not George Washington, moved the seat of Seneca government to Buffalo Creek so Haudenosaunee could move further from white settlers who were colonizing their territories to the east.
There's also the fact that the genocide—the "wiping out" described by Jackson—doesn't jibe with historic Haudenosaunee patterns observed by both native and non-native historians. Rather then practice the European tradition of genocide, Haudenosaunee assimilated enemies in somewhat the same way Americans are trying to assimilate the Haudenosaunee today. Written accounts by Euro-American historians offer strong evidence to support this assertion. Even accounts that claim the Haudenosaunee went to war with the Erie, Huron and Neutrals over the beaver trade also claim they incorporated the people of defeated nations into their own. Hence, Jesuit missionaries reported in the 1650s that almost two thirds of one Haudenosaunee Mohawk community were ethnic Hurons and Algonquians.
Whether the Seneca conquered or rescued the Erie and Neutral nations, it is unlikely that they "wiped them out." Hence, today's Seneca are also the Erie and Neutrals that Jackson claims are the aboriginal residents of Buffalo Creek.
Crossing the line to racism
The uncomfortable question is, when do well-intentioned anti-casino activists unwittingly cross the line to racism? Is it when we lose the ability to see Indians as having the same rights to keep and interpret their own history as we do? Is it when we assume that our government has a paternal right to arrange Indian affairs as we see fit? Is it when we negate the existence of native legal systems because their ways are alien to us? Is it when we never question our own assumed right to impose our legal structures over Indian territory? Is it when we assume words like "equality" don't quite apply to native governments? Is it when we interpret native rights to sovereignty as an unconquered people to be somehow less than those of Canadians or Mexicans? Is it when we brand Indians as criminals for following their laws instead of ours? Or is it when we as journalists use our columns to fan the flames of war without even knowing it?
Mohawk: Defending the Seneca Nation
Posted: May 05, 2006
by: John Mohawk / Indian Country Today
When Indian rights and state gaming intersect
Gaming and Indians is the subject of a battle being waged in the western New York media by activist groups opposed to gaming, Indian rights, Indian sovereignty and related issues, and who seek to halt construction of the proposed Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in an impoverished area of the city of Buffalo.
The struggle, which has turned bitter at times, involves the intersection of two strains of history: U.S. Indian policy and government involvement with gaming as a revenue substitute for taxes.
Euro-American governments and gaming are not new. There are at least four eras in the history of colony and state-owned lotteries and gaming. The first was from 1607 to the 1840s, which obviously began almost with the first settlements and involved lotteries. They ended when scandals erupted beginning in 1823 in the District of Columbia.
The next wave erupted primarily in the South after the Civil War and lasted into the 1890s, when lottery proponents were caught bribing public officials. It was revived in 1920 with pari-mutuel gaming involving horse racing. That era ended with state-sponsored lotteries, 1964 to 1993.
State-sponsored gaming is an ancient tradition in the United States, pre-dating the republic and existing during most of it. Casino gaming came next. State revenues from casino operations exceeded lottery revenues in Massachusetts in 1995, and New York officials hope one day to raise up to 10 percent of the state's budget through gaming.
Tribes began gaming as enterprise in the mid-1970s in Florida, Wisconsin, California and Connecticut with low-stakes bingo halls.
They then began raising the stakes above limits set by state laws. State officials moved to halt the operations, but the Indians claimed that their sovereignty meant state laws do not apply; and in 1987 the Supreme Court, in the California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians decision, created a compacting process between tribes and states intended to bring about compromise agreements, which would permit the Indian nations to have casinos at the cost of some erosion of sovereignty. The law provided for negotiations between states and Indian nations to be conducted in "good faith," but numerous states vigorously opposed Indian casinos, as have successive smaller jurisdictions.
Lawsuits have been in the courts for years, and will be for many more years, and in some cases have postponed or deflected casino development; but for the most part when a state and an Indian nation have signed a compact, the casinos have gone forward despite spirited local opposition. The fact that there are about 360 Indian gaming establishments indicates that opposition to them hasn't been very successful.
The Seneca have bought nine acres in Buffalo, about 30 miles from the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation, in a "brown field" section of the city. The anti-casino movement has had an anti-Indian slant to it. One would hardly know, listening to the debate, that the casino was primarily desired by New York's officials, and that the state will enjoy a 25 percent "take" of slot machine (or slot like machine) revenues, which is very high for state — Indian compacts. That money goes to the people of New York state.
Research on the impact of casinos supports the argument that privately owned commercial gaming casinos of the variety that invaded Atlantic City do not benefit local existing economies. Indian casinos, usually situated on reservations, do not do harm because there are usually no established businesses as competition.
Researchers urge that bankruptcies around newly built casinos increase by about 10 percent in the early years, meaning if there were 10 bankruptcies the year before, there will be 11 the year after. That kind of information needs to be associated with the fact that about 80 percent of all start-up restaurants close within five years.
Proponents of the casino claim it will create a thousand new well-paying jobs with a payroll of some $35 million per year. Many, if not most, of the people likely to work in the casino will come from the suburbs, but some of them could be enticed to live and shop and be entertained in the city if the city had things to offer. That $35 million payroll could be a boon, if the city can find ways to become more attractive as a place to live and raise families.
The attack on the casino in the media has become an attack on the Seneca, and the casino has emerged as the object of fear as though it were the only gaming venue. Missing from all this is a discussion about the fact that gaming, including horse racing, off-track betting, racetrack slots and lotteries have long been a mainstay of New York state public policy designed to create revenue streams while shielding people from taxes. People complain that a casino in Buffalo will bring increased gaming addiction but it can only be a marginal increase because there are so many ways to gamble. The government of Ontario, five minutes across the bridge, also has an aggressive gaming program, which includes high-stakes bingo and the huge, glamorous Casino Niagara at Niagara Falls, and other casinos as well. Some people say that Buffalo-area residents are spending $100 million annually in Canada and that perhaps $60 million of that would stay in New York if there was a casino in Buffalo. Eliminating the Buffalo Creek casino will do little to address gaming addiction, and no one is talking about New York state's addiction to gaming revenues. This new casino could be called the New York State — Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino to set the paternity straight.
There is a small percentage of the population who can't make choices among negatives. They want a perfect world, so they oppose things that are imperfect. They are jokingly called NIMBYs, Not In My Back Yarders, or CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) people, and they are evident in this discourse. Any development, from a giant sporting goods store to a Wal-Mart, will have some negative impact on someone, and responsible citizens need to weigh the costs against the benefits.
In the SBCC case, some of the money will go to the Senecas, most of whom live nearby and will spend in the region; some to Albany in lieu of tax dollars; and some to the employees of the casino, who hopefully live in the community. Some will repay the people who loaned the Seneca Nation the money to build.
I hope the NIMBYs and the CAVErs can learn to make lemonade. The heated rhetoric about how the casino will "devastate" Buffalo is in the American tradition of politically motivated moral panic and belongs alongside the expected invasion of black U.N. helicopters and liberal home invaders out to seize Bibles.
If it were as dire as portrayed, there would be nightly reports of victims from Niagara Falls, where a world-class Seneca Niagara Casino provides a lot of jobs and entices a lot of tourists. Niagara Falls had a bit of a tendency to sit back and wait for the benefits, but that's not how it works for a city.
I hope that Buffalo will view the creation of a thousand new jobs in the city limits as an opportunity and will try to make the downtown area a people- and pedestrian-friendly place where a well-educated work force can find good housing.
Recently a Buffalo public school was named one of the five best public schools in the nation, and the city can build on that. Attracting people with jobs to work, play, be entertained and live in the city is what urban development is all about. It could become an opportunity to make Buffalo a place where people matter, and Buffalo is not going to get many such opportunities.
I hope the Seneca Nation understands the casino era to be temporary, an opportunity to prepare the people for future economic realities by focusing on education and wealth-creating institutions and assets. Economic landscapes change, and technology enables people to do things in their homes like virtual gaming; and the gaming casino era will not last forever. The early rush of casino dollars can be intoxicating, but this, too, shall pass. I know it's a lot to hope for but, given all the negative rhetoric lately, someone has to be an optimist!
John Mohawk, Ph.D., columnist for Indian Country Today, is a noted author and historian. He is an associate professor of American studies and director of Indigenous studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Funny to hear Jackson complain about the casino proponents' terminology:
when he uses terminology that's just as biased:
Bullying...extortion...gambling joint...suck money...quirk in the law...chutzpah...
I guess it takes a propagandist to recognize a propagandist. Luckily we have critics to point out Jackson's prejudices.
In fact, it's interesting that he compared the Seneca's actions to Jewish chutzpah. Apparently this is his way of saying the Seneca are even more greedy than stereotypically greedy Jews.
Where exactly is the "greed" referred to in Jackson's title? All I see are the actions of a normal business involved in a normal development project.
If this is greed, every business in America is equally greedy. As Kara Briggs noted, that makes it wrong to single out the Seneca. If any other group was pursuing this project, we wouldn't be talking about its "greed" or "chutzpah."
The demolition of the H-O Oats elevator seems to be the main thing upsetting Jackson. But he admits the Seneca don't have plans to replace the elevator with a building yet. So where's the greed? The demolition may have been insensitive, premature, or poorly planned, but none of these are synonymous with "greedy." ArtVoice seems to have used the word "greed" solely to malign the Seneca.
Speaking of chutzpah....
You also have to admire Jackson's, er, chutzpah in dismissing historical facts:
Buffalo Creek was never Seneca territory until they got it from General George Washington as part of their payoff for having sided with the settlers against other Indians who had sided with the British. Whatever the rights or wrongs of that, aboriginal ownership has no part in it.
What, so Washington's actions weren't legal? What else did Washington do that wasn't legal? Was his acceptance of the British surrender at Yorktown legal? Perhaps we're still a British colony at war with the mother country and just haven't realized it yet.
I presume Washington granted the land to the Seneca as part of a treaty or other legally binding agreement. That makes it an established and inviolable part of our history. Inviolable, that is, except to people like Jackson who pick and choose which parts of US history they accept. To them, some parts of history are respected and honored and while others are outdated and unimportant.
"United States of America founded in 1776? Okay, I'll buy that one. Slaves emancipated in 1863? Naw, that one isn't so convenient for me. Let's put that one into the category of 'it happened so long ago that it's no longer relevant today.' Why? Because I feel like it."
Is Jackson claiming that none of the Haudenosaunee tribes occupied Buffalo Creek before the Seneca? That it was truly empty land ripe for the taking? Unless this is his position, "aboriginal ownership" certainly does have a part in it. Either the Seneca or another Haudenosaunee tribe has legal and moral title to the land.
Whichever tribe it is, it doesn't belong to white interlopers like Jackson. New Yorkers have no claim to this land unless they 1) invalidate Washington's donation of it to the Seneca and 2) prove there were no previous owners. Needless to say, Jackson hasn't made this case.
You also have to love some of the other rationalizations offered by casino opponents. Take Joel Rose, who finds it more convenient to oppose an Indian casino 150 miles away than a non-Indian casino next door. Or the editors of ArtVoice, who publish anti-Indian propaganda while claiming they care only about the economics of the situation.
When people call a time-tested business like a casino a "gambling joint," they're no longer offering unbiased arguments. They're regurgitating propaganda for its shock value, not debating calmly and rationally.
More on Niman's claims
Letters to Artvoice
We are not racists
In "Anti-Casino or Anti-Indian?" (Artvoice, v5n19) Mike Niman posed the question: "When do well-intentioned anti-casino activists unwittingly cross the line to racism?"
Here's the answer: never. We are not racists. I have never uttered a racist word or expression. I cannot imagine a more hurtful accusation. Nobody who is a member either of Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County (CACGEC), or of the Coalition Against Gambling in New York (CAGNY), as far as I am aware, has uttered a racist word or expression. To Niman, failure to support Indian sovereignty, no matter where claimed, is evidence of racism. In addition to me, Niman attacks Bruce Jackson and Upstate Citizens for Equality (UCE). I happen to know these people fairly well, and while we don't always agree, I know them to be decent people and most assuredly not racist.
Niman attacks Jackson for observing, correctly, that the Buffalo Creek area was not Seneca aboriginal land. It is difficult to arrive at a racist interpretation of Jackson's remarks, but Niman somehow manages it. Ironically, Jackson has used his BuffaloReport.com to defend Seneca sovereignty with regard to collection of state and local taxes on Indian land. He has been critical of bad behavior by Barry Snyder. Does Niman expect him to refrain from criticism of Indians?
Niman writes, "Hiding behind words like 'equality,' UCE fights against native land claims…" UCE is not hiding anything. While indeed an anti-sovereignty organization, UCE has based its position on the distinctly non-racist notion that we should all be playing by the same rules. It is not an anti-gambling organization, but UCE's position has led it to oppose Indian gambling in a number of contexts, and so our interests have overlapped considerably, and we value that collaboration. While UCE has not affiliated with CAGNY as an organization, some of its members are CAGNY members as well.
In my case, Niman took offense at an email that I sent out to CAGNY. Here's the background:
In Central New York, the Oneida Indian Nation had negotiated a compact with then-Governor Cuomo to open Turning Stone Casino on land that the Nation had purchased. The Nation asserted sovereignty over all lands that it owned in areas of its former aboriginal territory, including the casino parcel. Using funds from the casino, the Oneidas eventually acquired 18,000 acres scattered throughout two counties and refused to pay local taxes on any of it. This situation was addressed by City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York et al., in which the US Supreme Court invalidated the Oneida claim of sovereignty over all these lands that it owned. Sherrill knocked over one prop of Turning Stone's claim to legality.
The Turning Stone compact was never ratified by the New York State Legislature. In a case brought by UCE, Peterman v. Pataki, the New York State Court of Appeals held that such compacts are inherently a legislative function, so that a compact without such authorization was in violation of the State Constitution. That knocked over a second prop.
When UCE won its case, I posted a message to CAGNY, which began: "We have had some good news on the fight against casinos in New York: The compact authorizing Turning Stone Casino, never ratified by the State Legislature, has been found to be in violation of the New York State Constitution by the New York State Court of Appeals..."
In his article, Niman wrote of this message: "Rose was excited because the case could eventually lead to the closing of the Oneida Turning Stone Casino." Privately, he wrote to me: "Interesting Joel how you revel in the possible closing of one foreign nation's casino 150 miles from here but seem sooo silent on another foreign nation's casinos just miles from Buffalo (Ft. Erie Slots) and Niagara Falls (Casino Niagara). Can I take this to mean you don't harbor any ethnic hadred [sic] against Canadians?"
Now, I was gratified, not excited, and I certainly wasn't reveling, but let me not quibble over Niman's loaded terms. The point here is the geographic domain of our efforts. As chairperson of a statewide group opposing gambling, I must be every bit as much concerned with Turning Stone as I am with Buffalo Creek. That never occurred to Niman. He was looking for racism and he thought he had the smoking gun.
At the core of Niman's criticisms of UCE, Jackson and me is the belief that Indian sovereignty is sacrosanct, and any rulings to the contrary from the American legal system are just "Euro-American arrogance." The Indian nations can rely on services and infrastructure provided by the larger society, but if the larger society imposes its legal system on them, that is somehow racism. Such a construction is, in my opinion, condescending. One could even call it racist, if one were to use that term as loosely as Niman. I just view it as politically correct nonsense. Neither CACGEC nor CAGNY takes a position on the general question of sovereignty. We have individuals from both sides of that issue within CACGEC and CAGNY, and they treat one another with grace and civility.
Sovereignty is not a trivial issue. Islands of sovereignty in the middle of a modern nation pose serious practical problems. It is a good topic for rational discussion, one from which I could benefit, but Niman does not advance that effort with his diatribe.
Our direct targets have never been the Indian nations themselves. Rather, our quarrel is with our own governments, at the national, state and local levels, who have either participated or acquiesced in a cynical attempt to use the Indians to enable them to avoid compliance with the State's Constitutional ban on casino gambling.
Certainly Indians are affected by what we are doing. They are central to this fight because their sovereignty, for good or ill, gives them some immunity to the laws and regulations that govern everybody else. Indian casinos are the only casinos in New York, so of course we are fighting the Indian casinos. But we are doing it by focusing on the unwise, unethical and often illegal behavior of our own public officials in making special deals with selected Indians to advance their own interests.
There are, as Niman points out, other forms of gambling in New York besides Indian casinos. He doesn't mention all of them, but we have charity bingo, the lottery, pari-mutuel betting, off-track betting, video lottery terminals (VLTs) at the tracks, Internet gambling and casinos in Canada. A number of people, including Niman, have asked why we don't oppose these other forms of gambling.
In some cases, we do in fact oppose them and people may not be aware of our opposition because it has not been our central focus. In particular:
The lottery began as a modest enterprise, in which you bought a ticket and filled in your favorite numbers. It has evolved into a monster, with absurd publicly funded advertising, 24-7 availability, an ever-faster betting pace and an ever-increasing number of victims.
VLTs at the racetracks are effectively low-end casinos designed to save the horse-racing industry.
Both CACGEC and CAGNY opposed the state's participation in the Mega Millions Lottery and sought to have the VLTs shut down, through our support of Dalton v. Pataki. We lost that case, and no further appeal is possible. The political climate is clearly not ripe for a legislative solution. But we hope that the educational work we are doing is helping to lay the groundwork for an eventual review of these forms of gambling.
Internet gambling is illegal in the United States but permitted through the total lack of an effective enforcement mechanism. It has the potential to be even more harmful than casinos, because of its universal availability. It is a national and international problem and it is being addressed very actively by the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion (NCAGE), with which both CACGEC and CAGNY are affiliated.
In other cases, we just don't feel the problems posed rise to the level warranting opposition. Bingo generally involves low stakes and has low potential for addiction. Pari-mutuel and off-track betting are a dying industry. We have made a political decision not to oppose those forms of gambling that are significantly less harmful than casino gambling. Individual members may oppose these as well, but as organizations we feel we garner broader support by focusing on the most egregious forms of gambling.
Finally, there is gambling beyond our geographic area of concern. CACGEC is concerned with Erie County, CAGNY with New York State. Other areas—notably adjacent states and provinces—affect us, and we are certainly concerned about them. These states and provinces each have their own anti-gambling groups, and we must trust them to fight the good fight in their respective areas. We cooperate with them through NCAGE.
Once Niman thinks he has found racism, anything at all may be taken as further evidence. In our private correspondence, I mentioned that I had some friends among the Iroquois by way of suggesting what their views on casino gambling were. Niman's reply: "This is the classic rhetoric of a racist." At that point, I gave up trying to have a discussion with him.
Most Indian people do not want to see their future built on a foundation of gambling any more than the rest of us do. Traditionals do not believe in gambling. Of course, they don't believe in voting either, so their views are not reflected in referenda. Among the Senecas, approximately half of the non-Traditionals oppose gambling as well, for all the same practical reasons that CACGEC and CAGNY do.
A number of the regimes of Indian nations with whom New York State has attempted to make gambling deals are not recognized by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. These include the Mohawk, Oneida and Seneca regimes. The Haudenosaunee do recognize the Tonawanda Band of Senecas, a Traditional regime that opposes gambling. Niman takes us to task for favoring the imposition of American laws over sovereign Indian nations. But the very regimes whose actions he wishes to protect from our meddling are themselves the product of a legal structure imposed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Traditionals have nothing but contempt for the gambling industry.
Without knowing anything about CACGEC's or CAGNY's history or mission, Niman has decided that our failure to have adhered to his peculiar notion of consistency is evidence of racism. Such casual usage cheapens the term, depriving it of meaning. When applied without justification, as Niman has done, allegations of racism tarnish the reputations of decent people.
Joel Rose, Chairman
On Racism: Will Our Indian Wars Ever End?
Written by Michael Niman
Tuesday, 25 July 2006
Buffalo, NY — Racism is not cut and dry. It's not as if only those who don hoods and burn crosses or raise nazi salutes are racists. "Enlightened" or "modern" racism is much more complicated. Today's typical racist rhetorically abhors racism. And they usually believe themselves to be anti-racist because of this. Racism, in today's American society, is, quite frankly, out of vogue. Modern racism divides oppressed peoples into "good ones" and "bad ones."
The good ones are the ones who, against the odds of a gamed system, have prospered. For the enlightened racist, their success serves as further proof that the bad ones have only failed due to their own shortcomings. Absent in this simplistic analysis is any reference to systemic racism that condemns historically disadvantaged peoples to poor schools, poor housing and poor health. And of course there is no recognition of the fact that so many members of the dominant culture were born into privilege. This privilege includes being born into a family with college educated parents, going to well funded schools, being networked with people who can help you find jobs, or even living in a community where there are jobs to be had.
Race, it turns out, is not biological. It's a political construct. Hence, racism is about power. It constructs and supports privilege – and of course, where there is privilege there is oppression since nobody can enjoy privilege without someone else suffering a lack of privilege. With racism, one group gains and maintains power over another group.
The United States was built on a foundation of racism. This is an ugly reality we need to face up to. Across the Americas, European invaders slaughtered or assimilated native peoples based on the racist notion of the supposed superiority of European culture and religions over what we now know were more sustainable native cultures. Employing words like "savage" and "primitive," so called "modern" and "civilized" cultures unleashed a historically unprecedented holocaust upon the hemisphere. This racism was continued as modern America was built with enslaved African labor and indentured workers, primarily from China and Ireland.
Cayuga: Just a Name
Locally, the map of Central and Western New York was drawn by racists who, after the American Revolution, sent the U.S. Army into Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) territory to annihilate native populations. Cayuga Lake, for example, is circled by historic markers denoting Cayuga villages and orchids burned during the Sullivan Campaign of 1779. Then there are the markers commemorating the first homes built by "White" men, right in the wake of that campaign. This racism was about power and political advantage. In short, it was a land grab – with mass murder as its tool.
This status quo lasted for over 200 years, with New York State's native population kept mostly in poverty, and with enlightened racists blaming Indians for that poverty. But then something happened. It turns out that while the Haudenosaunee were driven from much of their land, they were never actually defeated, and their government was never crushed. And their expulsion from much of their land was never up to legal muster. Hence, over the past two decades, the disempowered have begun to regain lost power, struggling to exercise their rights as sovereign nations, living on a radically decimated land base surrounded by the United States and Canada.
By regaining control over small tracts of their land, Haudenosaunee people are regaining political power. For some people, call them what you will, this is unacceptable. Indians can live under U.S. domination, but not as sovereign equals maintaining their own culture and laws. Hence, in the villages of Union Springs and Cayuga, New York, on the shores of Cayuga Lake, in Cayuga County, we now have an all-white group of people, the "Upstate Citizens for Equality," who have formed to oppose a sovereign Cayuga presence. In essence, what UCE is doing, is struggling to maintain their own political advantage over the people who historically controlled the land UCE members now claim as their own.
Recently, UCE branched out to form a Western New York (Buffalo) chapter to join forces with anti-casino activists – in effect attempting to co-opt the anti-gaming forces into the anti-sovereignty movement. A month ago I wrote a column for Buffalo's weekly ArtVoice, "Anti-Casino or Anti-Indian," to ask the question, "when do well intentioned activists cross the line to racism?" Last week, Joel Rose, a leader of Buffalo's anti-casino movement, responded to that column, writing a letter arguing, "We are not racists: I have never uttered a racist word or expression." Rose went on to defend UCE, arguing, "UCE has based its position on the distinctly non-racist notion that we should all be playing by the same rules."
The problem with this argument is that the rules UCE argues we all have to play by aren't mutually agreed upon – they are the rules that White society imposed on the Haudenosaunee during the Sullivan Campaign. In his letter, Rose goes on to describe Haudenosaunee territory as "islands of sovereignty in the middle of a modern nation." Now, while Rose isn't donning a hood or shouting epithets, he is arguing the notion that Indians who live in the here and now are somehow not part of the modern world, and that hence, they have to play by rules that a so-called modern nation imposes upon them. This is the same rhetorical argument white society used to justify genocide and ethnocide against supposed "savage," "primitive" or "uncivilized" Indian nations in the 17 th and 18 th centuries.
What UCE and Rose are arguing for is not equality – it's the maintenance of a power dynamic that privileges non-natives at the cost of disempowering native nations. And of course, Rose's statement begs the question, if Indians are not a modern nation, then what exactly is Rose saying they are? And if this assumption justifies their disempowerment, then is it racist?
In his letter, Rose also stated that UCE is not affiliated with the anti-casino Coalition Against Gaming in New York (CAGNY). While this might be semantically accurate, the two groups tie together though their leadership, with Daniel Warren serving as Chair of the WNY Chapter of UCE and as a Director of CAGNY. In a letter to ArtVoice (published online), Warren also identifies UCE as a member organization of CAGNY.
The Final [Re]Solution
What is interesting here is that while UCE is anti-sovereignty, and hence, one could argue, anti-Indian, since native identity and political power are entwined with sovereignty, UCE is not against gaming. And interestingly enough neither is CAGNY chair Daniel Warren. He's just against Indians controlling casinos. In a letter to ArtVoice, Warren wrote that he supports "either the rescission or full legalization of gambling, but not the granting of a monopoly [to Indians]."
Hmmm? So if Warren, a director of the anti-casino group CAGNY, is not against casinos, then what exactly is he against? According to Warren, UCE supports "an expeditious and final resolution of all Indian land claims." Now, call me sensitive if you will, but I get queasy over people calling for "final resolutions" over any ethnic conflict, since history has shown that such final solutions are, and this is a gross understatement, never mutually equitable. UCE's idea of a final solution is the ultimate negation of native sovereignty – a sovereignty that has until now survived hundreds of years of oppression. Without sovereignty, Indian nations would cease to exist.
It's also interesting to point out that Indian nations don't have a monopoly on gambling in this region of the world as Warren argues. New York is now replete with racinos, OTB parlors, Keno, lotto and lotteries, Bingo etc., not to mention casinos in neighboring states and provinces. In his letter, Rose answered my question as to why his group focuses just on Indian-run casinos, writing, for example, "Bingo generally involves low stakes and has low potential for addiction." Bingo also, however, often involves low-income gamblers, for whom losing low stakes can be as economically disastrous as a middle-class person losing high stakes at a casino. By focusing on Indian gaming and not gambling in general, by joining forces with UCE, and by admitting leadership that is not opposed to gambling, CAGNY may be crossing the line from being an anti-gaming group to an anti-Indian group.
Finally, Rose echoes an argument made by many anti-casino activists, suggesting that "most Indian people" are opposed to gambling. I've never seen any study or survey that backs this claim up, nor have I seen one that negates it. What I do know, however, is that most Haudenosaunee people I've spoken with who were anti-gaming have since become silent on the issue or have become pro-gaming after realizing, as they put it, that the anti-casino movement was becoming racist. Traditional Haudenosaunee oppose gambling, but they would never compromise sovereignty, hence they too have gone silent on the gaming issue when anti-gaming forces started challenging sovereignty. If the anti-gaming movement is to survive with any credibility, it needs to bath itself of its racist aura and return to focusing on gambling – and divorce itself from UCE's fight against native rights and political power.
Dr. Michael I. Niman's previous columns are archived at www.mediastudy.com.
Round 2 on Niman's claims
UCE Replies to Niman Article
Written by Richard E. Tallcot
Sunday, 30 July 2006
Buffalo, NY — Michael categorizes racists as good ones and bad ones. The "good ones", by his definition, are college educated and born into this class. But many New York tribal Indians get free college tuition and are born into this class. He MUST be referring to the tribes, for no others in New York are born into this privilege.
He claims that race is not biological, but political. This is another of his racist building blocks that don't hold water. Race is biological. Tribalism, of which most Indians aren't a part of, is political. Therefore, tribalism, is about power and constructs and supports privilege — and of course, where there is privilege there is oppression since nobody can enjoy privilege without someone else suffering a lack of privilege. With tribalism, one group gains and maintains power over another group.
Niman's ranting about century old racism is an ugly reality that has been dealt with in part with civil rights acts. He relates to an age when slavery was legal and women were considered property, let alone be able to own property or have the right to vote.
As for insinuating words — those such as "First" or "Native" American implying a right or privilege should increasingly come under scrutiny. First, because the implication is bogus and secondly because evidence has shown that Indians weren't necessarily "First" or "Native". In New York State the Iroquois merely assimilated and exterminated the tribes that were here before them. Niman's relationship of politics to racism would, therefore, make them racist. I don't mean to imply they are.
Michael assumes all surveyors were racist because he assumes they weren't Indians. His rewriting the history of the Sullivan Clinton campaign wouldn't hold water in a court of law. That was a retaliation of the Cherry Valley and Wyoming Valley massacres in which hundreds of Americans died at the hands of British soldiers and Iroquois warriors. The Cayuga fought on the losing side in the American Revolution. The campaign burned some crops and dwellings and there may have been as many as two Cayuga Indians killed, hardly the "mass murder" Dr. Michael portrays.
Four of the six Iroquois, or Haudenosaunee, tribes fought on the losing side in the American Revolution and some again in the War of 1812. I'd call that being defeated. His rewriting of history, both past and present, also claims the Cayuga-Seneca UCE chapter of 7,000 members is all white and opposes a Cayuga presence. Neither is correct. We have always welcomed them as equals to live with us but not on us.
Niman infers that all opposition to his views is White society oppression, that all Indians are tribal, and implies that all anti gambling forces are anti-Indian. That sure sounds racist to me. Michael may not be, but he appears to agree with those that have such tendancies. Rather than accepting statements of explanation at face value, he rewrites them like he rewrites history.
Indeed, Niman promotes privileges through tribalism at the cost of oppressing others. Then he claims those opposed to these politics of privilege are oppressing those privileged.
Upstate Citizens for EQUALITY promotes equality under the law for all races, including Indians. Indian identity is not entwined with sovereignty, no more so than Irish, Italian, German, or African-American. Tribalism is also not "entwined", but exists at the discretion of the U.S. Congress.
He states that UCE branched out to form a Buffalo chapter to join anti-casino activists. However, the Niagara Frontier Chapter was active before this activity started. Then he attacks the notion that we should all play by the same rules because the tribes don't want to.
Dan Warren's quote that he supports "either the rescission or full legalized gambling, but not the granting of a monopoly" is UCE's position, period. Niman's insertion of the words in brackets "to Indians" is racist. Neither Dan, nor I, nor is UCE opposed to Indians running casinos. Then Niman attacks the monopoly idea in reference to gambling. However it's not gambling that's against the law, it's Class 3 casinos, as banned by the New York State Constitution.
Niman also attacks UCE's position supporting an expeditious and final resolution of all Indian land claims. Niman's queasiness over settling land claims in finality implies a growing secessionist view because tribes invariably apply for additional lands to be placed in trust surrounding any land base settlement they may acquire. This is done with no time limits to file, years to prepare, and 30 days notice to the state for a response.
He states that "Without sovereignty, Indian nations would cease to exist", and implies there aren't strong enough relationships within the tribes to hold them together." However, the Amish and Mennonites hold their cultures together as a unit quite well.
Running a corporation that has been granted a monopoly hardly warrants the additional granting of sovereign immunity to exist. Where most employees are non-Indian and most of the customers are non-Indian, it can hardly even be called a tribal enterprise except in name.
Michael wrote a piece in Jan. 2005 titled "Media whores and propaganda". He starts by saying "One of the basic rules of propaganda states the propagandist must maintain invisibility." "Ideas crafted to resonate with the target audience, and presented by third party proxies such as journalists, are far more effective then partisan pronouncements." Well, his propaganda has been exposed and it hardly resonates as much as it vibrates.
Perhaps someday Niman's inference of American political tribalism being a race will be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court and dealt with as other subjugations of civil rights oppressions have been dealt with. May he continue with his rhetoric to further that end.
Richard E. Tallcot
Chairman Cayuga-Seneca UCE Chapter
Rob weighs in
Since Niman didn't write a rebuttal, as far as I know, I'll have to address some of Tallcot's spurious claims.
>> He claims that race is not biological, but political. This is another of his racist building blocks that don't hold water. Race is biological.<<
Wrong. There's no such thing as a race, biologically speaking. See Why Spawn Isn't Black for details.
>> Tribalism, of which most Indians aren't a part of, is political.<<
Well, a tribe is a political entity, not a racial one, as many court cases have determined. I don't where Tallcot gets his claim that most Indians aren't members of tribes, but it's irrelevant. Only federally recognized tribes have a government-to-government relationship with the US and only they can open casinos. Indians who aren't enrolled members of tribes have no standing to claim sovereign rights.
>> With tribalism, one group gains and maintains power over another group.<<
"Tribalism" here appears to be a synonym for government. One state uses water that your state wants to use. Another state allows abortion and your state doesn't. Another state taxes income or property at a much lower rate than yours. All these other states are exerting power over your state by interfering with its governance.
The same applies to a tribes, which exert their sovereignty much like a state. They "maintain power" over a nearby community the same way a state maintains power over a community just across its border. For instance, Nebraska permits the town of Whiteclay to operate liquor stores near the Pine Ridge reservation, which lets it "maintain power" over the Lakotas' struggle against alcoholism.
>> As for insinuating words — those such as "First" or "Native" American implying a right or privilege should increasingly come under scrutiny.<<
The words "First" and "Native" aren't "insinuating" anything they haven't insinuated for decades.
>> First, because the implication is bogus<<
Which implication is that? That tribes don't have sovereign rights? Sure they do, as the Supreme Court has ruled since the 1820s.
>> secondly because evidence has shown that Indians weren't necessarily "First" or "Native".<<
Talk about bogus. See Kennewick Man, Captain Picard, and Political Correctness for a demolition of this claim.
>> In New York State the Iroquois merely assimilated and exterminated the tribes that were here before them.<<
If the Iroquois assimilated the previous tribes, they also assimilated their land-ownership and other rights.
>> Four of the six Iroquois, or Haudenosaunee, tribes fought on the losing side in the American Revolution and some again in the War of 1812. I'd call that being defeated.<<
I wouldn't. Being defeated is when you surrender and lay down your arms at the point of a bayonet. If you retreat while your allies are defeated, you may have lost a battle, but you haven't lost the war. Your side may be defeated even though you haven't been.
>> Niman ... implies that all anti gambling forces are anti-Indian. That sure sounds racist to me.<<
Tallcot may need to get his hearing checked, because there's no racism in this claim The claim may not be correct, but it doesn't say anything about the racial makeup of the anti-gambling forces.
More important, Niman's claim appears to be true, judging by Tallcot's statements. Tallcot is criticizing "tribalism," sovereignty, and the well-established primacy of Indians. None of this has anything to do with being anti-casino; it's all anti-Indian.
UCE for equality of races, not governments
>> Upstate Citizens for EQUALITY promotes equality under the law for all races, including Indians.<<
That's nice, but it's already the status quo. All US citizens have equal rights regardless of their race. But some Indians have "extra" rights because of their political, not racial, affiliation with a federally recognized tribe. Again, these rights are political, not racial, so they're not affected by laws pertaining to race.
>> Indian identity is not entwined with sovereignty, no more so than Irish, Italian, German, or African-American.<<
The identity of Indians who are enrolled in recognized tribes certainly is entwined with sovereignty. Not all Indians have sovereign rights but many do.
>> Dan Warren's quote that he supports "either the rescission or full legalized gambling, but not the granting of a monopoly" is UCE's position, period.<<
So it isn't UCE's position that sovereign Indian rights are "bogus"? Is Tallcot speaking without permission from UCE? Falsifying its position? Because he just asserted a lot more than opposition to an Indian monopoly on casinos.
In fact, Tallcot mostly dodged the claim that opposing tribal sovereignty is the same as opposing Indians. So let's repeat it: Tallcot and UCE are anti-Indian because they oppose tribal sovereignty.
>> Neither Dan, nor I, nor is UCE opposed to Indians running casinos.<<
But you are opposed to Indians having sovereign rights, which makes you anti-Indian.
If you don't like the status quo, with Indians having a monopoly on Class III gaming, change the law so everyone can operate Class III games. Quit singling out Indians for exercising the opportunity given to them by US lawmakers.
>> He states that "Without sovereignty, Indian nations would cease to exist", and implies there aren't strong enough relationships within the tribes to hold them together." However, the Amish and Mennonites hold their cultures together as a unit quite well.<<
Meanwhile, hundreds of subcultures have been assimilated into the US and largely disappeared. Indians are right to do as much as they can to preserve their cultures.
>> Running a corporation that has been granted a monopoly hardly warrants the additional granting of sovereign immunity to exist.<<
Indian casinos aren't corporations. They're government-run enterprises similar to state lotteries.
The facts about Indian gaming
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