Casinos are bringing billions of dollars to Indian tribes. Yet reservation Indians don’t pay taxes. To most Americans, Indians seem to have an “unfair advantage.”
Naïve and ironic as this accusation seems to us Indians, who once lost our whole world, it represents a national, negative sentiment that threatens Indian tribal status altogether.
I predict that casinos will cause Indians to lose our tribal status. Casinos will cause Indians to lose our reservations. Casinos will finally cause Indians to lose even our genetic identity through forced assimilation. Casinos will destroy Indians.
Indians have mocked my concern. Those with casino connections, or those involved personally with gambling, have accused me of grandstanding paranoia.
But my concern is validated as I write.
Shepherd Smith featured the Indian casino issue on Fox News (Aug. 12, 2003). It was a California state issue, but it represents the national issue as well.
“California faces major budget gaps, but American Indians — who are making hundreds of millions in casino profits — are not required to pay state taxes. Some argue it isn't fair; Native American leaders say they've paid enough.” That was the headline.
The Fox News Politics site featured a detailed story last April. California is more than $34.6 billion in debt. Soon to be ousted Governor Gray Davis, desperate for money, wanted to tap into the Indian profits. Gaming consultant Michael Lombardi says this feeling that states should access Indian casino profits is spreading across the country.
But the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1998 bars states from taxing Indian casinos. Congress had no thought that states would be facing such fiscal crises.
Now crafty attorneys and individual Indian leaders negotiate agreements that allow states to share significant profits, particularly in Arizona, Wisconsin, and New Mexico. If a tribe is granted exclusive rights to have casinos in a certain prescribed area within a state, the tribe in turn will profit-share.
In Oklahoma, however, the “It isn’t fair!” attitude prevails. There is a new organization called One Nation, which is devoted to the dissolution of Indian tribal status and sovereignty, thus ending “unfair tribal advantages.”
One Nation references Oklahoma Tax Commission reports saying some $80 million in sales taxes is lost annually to Indian exemptions, Then ON adds its estimation of property tax that would otherwise be paid, and the tally rises to a staggering $500 million in tax losses, due to the Indian “nation” status.
This is incendiary. People don’t like playing against “unfair” advantages. Never mind about the unfair advantages Americans had over Indians in the past. What counts now is the inflammatory concept that Indians are somehow cheating.
Add to this fiscal based crisis the (August 6) USA Today report that reservations are drug smuggling havens, and we have visceral public outrage. The American people will call for the government to eliminate the reservations completely. Laws will ensue. It’s only a matter of time.
$1.8 million worth of marijuana was seized in a single incident on the Tohono O’odham reservation in southern Arizona. Tribal police and Border Patrol say they stop only about 25 percent of the Mexican drug traffic that passes through. (This is not to mention the illegal Mexicans that sneak across the very loosely guarded boarder of the 2,8 million-acre reservation. That number is estimated at about 1,500 a day.)
Nationwide, there were 4,259 drug possession cases filed against Indians on Indian lands. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (that bastion of equity and responsibility) says the drug industry has deeply infiltrated Indian communities. Indeed. Some 3,000 pounds of marijuana pass through the Tohono O’odham reservation each week.
Tribal members are paid to cooperate. It’s an offer they can’t refuse: lots of money, or lots of broken legs. The reservation is sparsely populated, and even more sparsely policed. The tribe cannot control the situation.
Yet, the tribe is one of those “sovereign” nations: like the Blackfeet, along the Canadian border, among whom 30 cocaine traffickers were recently convicted. The BIA took over the tribal police department after investigating; Like the Oneida Nation, and the Mohawk nation, the Blackfeet nation is supervised by a team of seven white boys who are constantly investigating and convicting Indians for illegal drug trafficking and related crimes, not the least of which is assisting in illegal immigration, as Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell observed before the a tribal summit on Homeland Security.
The casino billions are a mysteriously ineffective fix. The reservations now represent a blackhole in America’s Homeland Security system. What greater cause to abolish them?