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Stereotype of the Month Entry
(10/22/07)


Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Opinion
Guest Opinion

Indian-gaming official disputes Star's report on tribal difficulties

Opinion by Sheila Morago

Tucson, Arizona | Published: 10.22.2007

As one of many Native Americans in this state working to promote tribal self-sufficiency, I was appalled by the recent articles printed in the Arizona Daily Star about the impacts of Indian gaming in Southern Arizona.

Nationally, Arizona is consistently held up as a model for Indian gaming in terms of our compacts, our regulatory structure and how gaming is fostering economic development among tribes in this state.

While I understand that Indian gaming is a complex topic, in the past reporters and editors have grasped the fundamental facts about our industry. This was not the case for the Star's reporters and editors.

I could correct numerous problems, but I will address just three.

Contrary to what the Star's reporters stated, Indian gaming was never intended to eliminate the tribes' need or eligibility for federal and state funding.

Prior to gaming, the level of funding, particularly federal funding, was inadequate to meet the needs of tribes. Indian gaming allows tribes to generate funds to supplement the inadequate funding that has been available through the federal government.

As any government will attest, many state and federal funds are tied to the ability to provide matching funds. Had the Star understood this, it would have known that tribes today are not more reliant on federal funds. Rather, because of gaming, they are better able to capture some of the funding they are eligible for.

The Star also noted that more tribal people are enrolled in federal programs such as food stamps and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. But it missed why this is the case.

The federal government has made a big effort in recent years to sign up more people for these programs. Consequently, statewide the number of individuals on food stamps has increased 78 percent from 2001 to 2007. In the Tohono O'odham Nation during this same period, the number of people on food stamps has increased 21 percent while the number of people on food stamps in the Pascua Yaqui Tribe is up by just 17 percent.

The story is the same for AHCCCS. Statewide the number of individuals on AHCCCS increased by 106 percent from 2001 to 2007. It is up just 59 percent for the Tohono O'odham Nation and 46 percent for Pascua Yaqui during the same period.

The Star did not mention that the increases are the result of the state actively encouraging more families to enroll in this program because people with insurance are more likely to use preventive health care rather than depend upon more costly emergency room services.

Additionally, AHCCCS is able to use federal funding for Native American members, which eliminates any impact on state funds.

Finally, the Star misrepresented the facts about unemployment. Before gaming, tribes faced extraordinarily high rates of unemployment.

The article noted that the overall unemployment rates have not changed in 18 years. Yet that same story pointed out that the Tohono O'odham Nation cut its unemployment rate from 60 percent before gaming to 18 percent now, a dramatic drop that any government would be proud to claim.

I can only conclude that either the Star did not understand the subject or deliberately misrepresented the facts. Either way, this newspaper has done a disservice to the public, tribal governments and tribal people.

Some problems take more than money to fix a fact that also escaped the Star. Tribes know that gaming is delivering what it promised, but they also understand that building strong economies and healthy societies takes expertise, experience and, most of all, time.

*****

Opinion
Guest Opinion

Benefits of gaming not reported

Opinion by Ned Norris Jr.

Tucson, Arizona | Published: 10.24.2007

Journalists play a key role in our country. In return for the constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press, the public has a right to expect journalists to robustly pursue the truth and to report the news completely, accurately and without bias.

The Star recently had the opportunity to fully explore and report on the impacts of Indian gaming. It was described as a three-day piece on gaming's widespread impacts, and I was certain that our countless positive improvements would be included in its analysis.

To my dismay and disappointment, however, the Star inexplicably discounted these benefits.

As chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation, I feel I must provide accurate information on Indian gaming.

The series started with the false premise that Congress intended that Indian gaming would eliminate federal support for tribes. To the contrary, federal law states that gaming was intended to "promote tribal economic development, self-sufficiency, and strong tribal governments," not to reduce federal support for tribes.

The Star's headline proclaimed that "Despite gaming revenue, O'odham, Yaquis remain dependent on U.S. taxpayer money." This statement is misleading, as demonstrated in the Star's own statistical analysis. The Star used two federal statistics to make its argument: funding per tribal member and food-stamp usage. Ironically, the nation has experienced measurable decreases in both areas since gaming was implemented.

The Star also referenced increases in the number of nation members relying on state-funded health care without mentioning that the nation's rate of increase was only one-quarter the rate of increase in Arizona's general population.

The Star highlights "social woes" that have not been remedied by gaming revenues, without discussing the significant improvements that gaming has brought.

Indian gaming created our Fire Department. Our Police Department has tripled in size. Gaming revenues fund the nation's sizable border-security efforts. Without gaming, the nation would have no dialysis center, no health clinics, no cultural museum, no skilled nursing facility, no new courthouse nor the thousands of new jobs funded by gaming.

The Star's follow-up article on the nation also was riddled with misrepresentations. To substantiate a claim that youth needs are unmet, you would expect a reporter to interview key officials, such as the nation's education director. This did not happen. As a result, the Star provided inaccurate information on our students and educational successes funded by gaming.

Like many communities, the nation is working to educate its youth and keep them away from the proliferation of drugs and gangs. The nation has devoted substantial resources to its youth, including funding three new Headstart facilities, five youth centers to keep kids off the streets, a Boys and Girls Club, its own fully accredited community college and full scholarships for students heading to college.

In addition to supporting its own programs, the nation provides funding to dozens of local governments and charitable organizations annually. Ask Tucson Medical Center, which received funding for a newborn incubator, or the Flowing Wells Neighborhood Association, which constructed new Little League baseball fields, if Indian gaming is working. Ask the numerous first responders, who have new vehicles and safety equipment, if gaming is working.

The nation acknowledges that it has significant needs that will take decades to fully address despite the benefits of Indian gaming, but I take umbrage with the Star's selective misuse of statistics. No impartial person could look at the benefits Indian gaming revenues have brought to the nation and report that few, if any, improvements have been made.

As chairman of the nation, I am accountable to my community for the decisions I make. The Arizona Daily Star is accountable to its readers, but there appears to be no one at the Star, including the two reporters, their editor or the managing editor, who assumed the responsibility to make sure these articles would not mislead the Star's readers.

On the nation we have a saying: We:sij T-we:m. It means, "All of us together." We believe in it, and I am committed to running our government and our gaming enterprise under that belief.

I am proud of our people. I am proud of the progress we have made. And I am proud of the contributions we are continuing to make to our members and the surrounding communities.

Related links
Indians as welfare recipients
The facts about Indian gaming


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