American Indians need our own national bank. The annual income from “Indian” casinos is now $16.2 billion. That’s ten time’s larger than the BIA Trust budget. President Bush’s proposed 2004 budget for the entire Department of the Interior is $10.7 billion. Though that increases the BIA’s Trust by $168.5 million, it still totals a mere half-billion dollars. It’s time to talk seriously about new management of Indian money.
And the BIA itself stands accused of embezzling or otherwise losing track of anywhere from $10 to $176 billion over the last several decades. The BIA is simply an archaic and corrupt management bureaucracy, with a guaranteed revenue, and no incentive for fiscal responsibility. It must be replaced.
And let’s correct an inconsistent concept about Indian money itself. Indian casino income should not be differentiated from treaty money. Casino money is still money that comes to Indians because we’re Indians. Casino money exists by virtue of historical Indian treaties. Why declassify casino money as something other than treaty money? Indian business income is no different from treaty income. Therefore casino money should be dispensed equitably to all Indians.
But not through the BIA. Though the BIA was designed to distribute goods and services to the different tribes according to their different needs, and to “manage” Indian land and money, the BIA has failed to do this wisely. Its record is dismal.
An Indian national bank can do better. As a competitive business, the bank would have to be accountable, profitable, and have to expand its interests. The bank itself would compete with other banks. The Indian bank could invest and be invested in, like any other bank.
All casino money must be first turned over to the bank. No tribe should have any advantage over another. Right now, California and Connecticut “tribes” are bringing in some 40 percent of the total casino income. But half of America’s historically ‘federally recognized’ tribes don’t even have casinos. Some 1.8 million Indians aren’t affected by the staggering casino profits. In 2001, 39 of the 290 Indian casinos alone took in $8.4 billion. That means 13 percent of the Indian casinos made 66 percent of the profit.
How so? It depends on the location of the casino. “Indian” casinos are established just outside large cities. They draw crowds, but against the will of the non-Indian people of those suburban, rural communities. Casino management therefore pays off officials—from local town councilmen, to state representatives, to the Washington senators who approve the “federal recognition” for these new “pop-up” casino “tribes.” There are 330 casinos today, and the number increases constantly.
An Indian national bank might curb the fraud. If by law all casino profits were deposited in the Indian bank, the money could at least be kept tract of. Eventually, the Indian bank could even own all the casinos. Perhaps the Indian bank could even replace the BIA.
The Indian bank could distribute funds to the tribes with equity, because each tribe could look to its own regional branch of the bank. Much of the demographic, need-based patterns established by the BIA could still be useful.
The “socialist” appearance of this management is not foreign to Indians. American Indians have always been classified as a “group” by federal law, and always dealt with as a group, despite our different languages, religions, cultures, and geographic locales. If we accept this, then we must accept an Indian national bank on the same basis.
Furthermore, some tribes bought their treaties with blood, while others surrendered without a fight, and never actually made treaties with the government. They are benefiting from the blood of other tribes. Interestingly, the “tribes” of Connecticut and California, with the most lucrative casinos, are precisely the most unworthy, if they’re even Indian.
Some tribes are simply not capable of self-sustenance. They have no natural resources, and their populations are isolated. Right now, they still need the BIA. However, the Indian bank could provide them with more than the BIA ever could or ever will.
If syndicated casinos and corrupt politicians are not going away, then Indians need to make some serious decisions about our relationships to them. Gambling is a nasty business, with great liabilities. Indians have never been able to depend on the white man’s word. Why are we so willing now to depend on his vices?
Without an Indian bank, non-Indian casino management companies may soon own the tribes. This spells the end of Indian sovereignty. An Indian bank may be our last hope.