It will be 20 years on October 17, 2008 since the national Indian Gaming Regulatory Act became law. Time sure flies when you’re having fun; but for some Indian nations, it hasn’t been all that much fun.
There are still tribes standing in the wings waiting to get state and federal approval to get a gaming casino open. The Fort Sill Apache of Oklahoma is one such tribe. Known traditionally as the Chiricahua Apache, they were kicked from pillar to post by the federal government for fighting to preserve their homelands in New Mexico and Arizona.
After surrendering to federal troops in 1886 after nearly 25 years of fierce resistance, the tribe was moved to reservations in Florida, Alabama, and Oklahoma. In 1913 they were allowed to return to Arizona and New Mexico, but many remained on in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Some returned to the Mescalero Nation near Ruidoso, New Mexico.
This unfortunate tribe had been treated by the United States government as “prisoners of war” for 27 years and they are now trying to open a casino on their ancestral lands at Akela Flats in Southern New Mexico. Thus far they have been blocked by Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) and federal Judge Stephen Friot. The tribe has been advertising on New Mexico television stations with an ad that says, “For over 120 years, the Chiricahua Apaches struggled in exile. Today we return to the land of our ancestors in New Mexico with plans to build a future. Don’t let history repeat itself. Help the Chiricahua Apache shape their own destiny.”
Another roadblock was thrown in their path when the Bureau of Indian Affairs said that they had to complete an environmental assessment on the impact of their proposed activities at the gaming site. “We will comply with this request and then move forward,” said the tribe’s attorney, Phillip Thompson. I hope every gaming tribe in America comes to their support with legal assistance and money. The Fort Sill Apache have been punished enough by the federal government for behaving as patriots in defense of their land and people.
In 1987, as then editor of the Lakota Times, I met with Roger Jourdain, Chairman of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe, Wendell Chino, Chairman of the Mescalero
Apache (Chiricahua), Elmer Savilla, former Chairman of the Quechan Nation of Yuma, Arizona and also former Executive Director of the National Tribal Chairmen’s Association, and Tom Beaver, then a news reporter for a television station in Minneapolis, MN. Jourdain and Chino are now deceased.
We discussed IGRA because the Act was about to be implemented and everyone at that meeting, especially Roger Jourdain, was particularly concerned about a provision in the Act that would force tribal governments to deal with two of their worst enemies in order to get a gaming compact approved: the BIA and state government. Jourdain was adamant that by forcing the tribes to kneel before state governments in order to open a casino, IGRA was forcing them to sell out their tribal sovereignty. His prophetic concern has been born out time and time again since that day in 1987.
In those early days the biggest argument offered by state governments against approving compacts with the Indian nations was the fear that by allowing the tribes to open gaming casinos in their states, it would open the doors for organized crime to move in.
With a snicker, Jourdain discarded this fear saying, “We’ve had organized crime on Indian reservations for more than 100 years. It’s called the BIA.”
Jourdain, Chino, Savilla, Beaver and I had high hopes that we could, in deference to a dream of Jourdain's, organize a “think tank” for Native Americans. Jourdain told me over the many years I knew him that we (Indians) needed a “think tank” just like the Heritage Foundation and other think tanks operated by White Americans. “As long as all of the decisions affecting our lives are made by non-Indians with little or no knowledge of who we are and what we stand for, our future will always be in doubt because it will be left in the hands of those who are not Indian and never will be,” he said on many occasions.
Jourdain said, “We need to bring Indian minds from all walks of life together in this think tank to discuss and find solutions to our problems so that those ideas would come from those who know our history, our culture, our traditions and our spirituality better than any non-Indian could ever know.”
But all of us got busy on other matters and the formation of a national think tank never happened. Nevertheless, it was a grand idea.
The many problems in trying to establish Indian gaming casinos, as experienced by the Fort Sill Apache, were foreseen by visionaries like Chino, Jourdain and Savilla. School is still out on Indian gaming and it may take another 20 years to sort out the good and bad of an Act passed by Congress with little or no input from the leaders of the Indian nations.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association and the founder and publisher of Indian Country Today, the Lakota Times, and the Dakota/Lakota Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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