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Casinos Undermine Indian Sovereignty By: David Yeagley
The American Enterprise | Wednesday, August 18, 2004

American Indian sovereignty is on the rocks in California. The decisions Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is making about Indians and casinos will forever effect the future Indian status in the United States. If tribes are required to pay taxes, or agree to "share profits," then tribes are no longer sovereign, but business partners.


Schwarzenegger is compelled to negotiate with the tribes. In July 2003, Standard & Poor rated the state's credit as "two points above junk status." The $38 billion budget deficit cost Grey Davis his job as governor. Schwarzenegger sees the Indian casinos as part of the solution.


California Indian tribes with casinos are bringing in over $5 billion annually (2003), and have become the largest contributors to California political campaigns. But the issue at this point seems outside Republican or Democratic party principles. Socialists of course will support the capitalist casino enterprise, rather than see budget cuts. Conservatives simply want to see the bills paid. Both sides see Indian casinos as critically important.


The most important issue to Indians however should not be casino income, but sovereignty.


Sovereignty is that peculiar little left-over notion from the 19th century Indian wars, unknown to most California "tribes." Sovereignty is a costly privilege won by bravery and blood. It is the Indian "nation" status. Sovereignty was manifested when any Indian tribe made an agreement or treaty with any other tribe, state, territory, or federal government. Sovereignty means making your own decisions as a people. It means autonomy and freedom to be what you are. It means everything to Indians. It's a mythical archetype, more than a legal reality.


Casinos have unfortunately made sovereignty an explicitly economic issue. Never mind an Indian tribe's inability to sustain itself through production, trade, and economy; never mind the tribes inability to defend itself with its own military force; never mind the boundaries of the reservations which are passed into and out of freely, without passport. No, the definition of sovereignty today rests wholly on taxation.


And casino dollars are quickly destroying the Indian status of being sovereign. If Schwarzenegger's Indians are required to pay taxes or to share income, then, however much profit they do make, they have forfeited sovereignty. They have bought federal recognition for the price of paying state taxes. The IRS is waiting like a vulture over Indian country.


But the federal government is keeping the issue at the state level for now, handing out federal recognition like candy so the states can acquire more income through more Indian casinos. But the federal government is thereby encouraging Indians to forfeit sovereignty for money, and also endorsing the international crime syndicate behind the casino business.

California Proposition 70 is a case study. The California Indian Nations Gaming Association said on July 16, 2004 it was endorsing Proposition 70, which would allow tribes to operate an unlimited number of slot machines, as well as games currently banned in California such as roulette and craps. In return, casinos would be required to pay about 8.8 percent of their net gambling income to the state.

Schwarzenegger is against the proposition, denouncing it as misleading. He instead has been negotiating with individual tribes to form compacts between the tribes and the state of California. But Proposition 70 would destroy those efforts, and give Indians a 99 year monopoly on gaming, without paying "fair share" taxes on the revenue.

The key word is revenue. The plain fact is, non-Indian, syndicated casino management companies operate Indian casinos normally without oversight, and often keep nearly half the revenue or more.

So, if a tribe nets $1 million, and the management takes its cut, the state takes it's 8.8 percent of whatever the management leaves the Indians. It is a fluid figure. Even Schwarzenegger's figured income from the tribes is only a very rough estimate. And yet everyone is banking on the white man's gambling vice as though it's as sure as the sunrise.

In the meantime, newly reconstructed California Indian "tribes" are deconstructing the word "Indian" through the political, manipulative issue of federal recognition--the magic status whereupon the tribal leaders have sovereignty and immunity from taxes and yet agree to pay the state.

Tribes are popping up all over California, and new "federations" of tribes end up with new leadership. Suddenly, originally enrolled members are dis-enrolled if they present any resistance to the new order of the mob and its newly hired Indians.

Not only do California casino tribes forfeit sovereignty; they are also rewarded with tyranny.

Dr. David A. Yeagley is a published scholar, professionally recorded composer, and an adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Liberal Studies. He's on the speakers list of Young America's Foundation. E-mail him at badeagle2000@yahoo.com. View his website at http://www.badeagle.com.

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