Live from Global Gaming Expo: Final Day 3

Updates from the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas!
The world's largest gaming conference concluded last Thursday. Tribal issues played a big part of the week's events, with National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. delivering the final keynote.

Media Matters: Indian Gaming & The Press
Victor Rocha, the founder of Pechanga.Net, moderated an early morning panel on the media. It was sparsely attended but stirred some lively debate from the presenters and the attendees.

Marsha Kelly, a media consultant, drew no punches when she explained why tribes appear to have such a hard time with the press. "Indian gaming should be the easiest, since we have such a great story to tell," he observed.

But something keeps the negative stories coming. "That factor is racism," she said, "and that racism creates a barrier to communication." Kelly said she represented the fur industry and the National Rifle Association but both were cakewalks compared to gaming.

"This is one of those things that white folks don't get because they don't want to get it," she said of concepts like tribal sovereignty.

Mark Trahant, the editorial page editor of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Idaho, offered some insider insight. He suggested that tribal leaders immediately respond to editorials and submit them with a female byline because those tend to get printed.

"Challenge them on facts, challenge them on tone," he said. "We like people who disagree." He encouraged frequent letters to the editor and regular meetings with the editorial boards of newspapers.

Another way inside is to contact Native members of the media who may not cover tribal issues but can point tribes in the right direction. "There's a real change going on in the media in terms of Native participation," he said. "Some people in the media are extremely influential, he noted, citing a tribal member who heads the Associated Press for Wisconsin.

"I've always wanted to see the curtain pulled back on your dirty little world," Rocha said after Trahant's presentation.

Frances Snyder, the public relations director for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians in California, offered some real world advice. Stories about her tribe are frequently negative in tone, with residents, local officials and even celebrities like David Crosby on the attack.

That makes Snyder's job a very busy one. "I'm a burr, not the other word that starts with a 'b,'" she said. One media outlet appears particularly biased, she said, so she works with a different paper and gives its reporter greater access to tribal leaders.

Snyder frequently submits op/eds written by tribal leaders but she said the best coverage appears to come from the tribe's own magazine. "It positions us as the entertainment hub of the region," she said, but it also publishes stories that she said the local media isn't covering.

Indian Gaming Keynote
Like just about everyone at the conference, Ernie Stevens of NIGA spoke of the recent Democratic takeover of Congress. But he said tribes will have to work on a bipartisan basis, particularly with the new members of Congress, some of whom have no tribes in their district or state.

"That will be our priority in the months ahead," said Stevens. He hoped that the changes in Washington, D.C., will take the heat off Indian gaming and lead to a greater focus on legislation to settle the Cobell trust fund lawsuit, treat tribal tax-exempt bonds the same as other municipal bonds and clarify the applicability of labor laws on reservations.

Tim Wapato, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes of Washington and the first-ever executive director of NIGA, gave a historical perspective of Indian gaming and its challenges. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, he said tribes weren't very effective in Washington.

But that changed when tribes realized the threat to their burgeoning industry. He cited the National Governors' Association's near unanimous vote against tribal gaming, the Vegas opposition to tribal casinos and efforts in Congress to kill the industry.

That's when NIGA and tribes got organized, started to keep people in Indian Country informed about the happenings in D.C., and brought tribal leaders to the Capitol to lobby. He cited some valuable advice from Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who said: "You need to do something or we're never going to be able to hold the line."

Relevant Links:
Global Gaming Expo -
National Indian Gaming Commission -
National Indian Gaming Association -