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California tribes face divisions on key issues
Thursday, January 27, 2005
The leader of California's largest inter-tribal organization
vowed on Wednesday to mend the rift that has emerged among the
Anthony Miranda, chairman of the California Nation's Indian Gaming
Association (CNIGA), delivered his second State of the Tribal Nations
address at a conference in Palm Springs. Before a large audience
of industry leaders, he urged tribes to stick together as they confront
common challenges at the state and federal level.
"We must unite behind those bonds that make us sovereign," he said.
But Miranda acknowledged that tribes weren't united in 2004,
a particularly rocky year in tribal-state relations. A handful of
tribes negotiated controversial gaming
compacts with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R),
a move that contributed to the
defeat of a ballot initiative endorsed by CNIGA.
The costly $100-million-plus campaign failed because "it was missing a key element -- tribal unity," he said. Two prior gaming initiatives were successful because they had wide tribal backing, he recalled.
CNIGA boasts a membership of 62 tribes, some with casinos and
some without. That represents more than half of the number of
federally-recognized tribes in the state.
But in recent years, the organization has lost the support of
some tribal leaders who were disappointed with its direction.
Miranda vowed to win them over as they enter the new year.
"Join us and we welcome you back with open arms," he told the
10th annual Western Indian Gaming Conference.
But the task is easier said than done. At a press conference
later in the day, Miranda elaborated on the divisions that
have developed and said it boiled down to how tribes view themselves.
"The main issue is being a government," he said. "That is
the core issue of sovereignty." He said some tribes are
acting more like businesses than governments and are
approaching state-tribal relations from that standpoint.
Michael Lombardi, a gaming regulator for the Augustine
Band of Mission Indians, agreed with the assessment.
At a panel discussion, he took offense at the compacts negotiated
by Schwarzenegger and said they force tribes to give up
too much of their inherent rights.
"Trading slot machines for sovereignty is a bad deal for
generations unborn," he said of the new agreements.
Compacts aren't the only issue where the tribe are divided.
While CNIGA has not adopted a position on off-reservation
gaming, Miranda said the issue will be discussed at
the group's members-only
meeting on Friday, and he voiced concerns that
tribes are trying to open casinos far away from their
existing land bases.
The topic is not on the agenda for the main conference
but it came up during the panel
discussions anyway. Members of tribes
that have opened casinos on their reservations are
clearly concerned about a potential backlash against "reservation
That is already occurring in northern California where at least four tribes are
seeking casinos in the Bay Area. In one high-profile case,
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)
introduced a bill this week to delay an off-reservation casino
in the city of San Pablo.
"I think that is fairly well recognized among people in
our industry that urban casinos are a bad idea," Lombardi
said at the press conference.
CNIGA resumes today with discussions on the successes and
failures of last year's legislative session, casino fraud
and the workforce. National Indian Gaming Commission
Chairman Phil Hogen will lead a special question and
answer session in which he is expected to draw
heat over the agency's attempt to develop standards
and rules for Class II machines.
California Nations Indian Gaming Association - http://www.cniga.com
Arnold Schwarzenegger - http://www.governor.ca.gov/state/govsite/gov_homepage.jsp
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