Restricting economic growth on Indian reservations, whether in these very tough times of recession or in the past when the opportunity for such growth was formidable, is a crime against a people. The State of South Dakota wears the crown in implementing such heinous skullduggery.
What is the nonsensical reason for this act by the self-serving state government? According to comments attributed to Governor Mike Rounds, it seems the state does not want to give the Indian tribes an advantage over the state sanctioned casinos. The state therefore limits the number of slot machines the tribe can install in their casinos to 250 machines. If a tribe has 1,500 members or 20,000, it is still limited to 250 machines. How fair is that?
Casinos in Deadwood have no such restrictions. The casinos there are allowed to bloom and flourish while the Indian casinos are held in bondage. The casinos in Deadwood are having a definite economic impact upon the Prairie Wind Casino located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a reservation containing a county within its borders that was declared the “Poorest County in America” in the 1980 U.S. Census. If these unfair restrictions were removed, how many more jobs would be created, not only for the Indian people but for many non-Indians?
Let’s take a closer look at this ridiculous premise. First off, the profits from the casinos operated by corporations or individuals in South Dakota go into the private pockets of those individuals or corporations. The profits from the Indian casinos go to economic development, college scholarships, schools, road and building maintenance and improvement, health care, daycare for children while their parents work, law enforcement and tribal courts.
The profits from the Indian casinos are earmarked (to the Indians that is not a dirty word) to improve the lives and living conditions of a people. For more than 100 years the state of South Dakota did little or nothing to contribute to the economic development on the nine reservations in its borders, and the U. S. Congressional delegation brought economic development money in dribs and drabs, usually giving the tribe just enough money to assure failure. As a matter of fact, instead of assisting the tribes to make them more self-sufficient, the state government did everything to impede their independence. The state literally stole thousands of acres of Indian land, not only by using its superior knowledge of the law, but by creating self-serving laws that prevented the tribes from finding out about the theft until the deed was already done.
Because Indians were not allowed to vote until 1924, the laws passed prior to that date in Washington and in the different states were passed without input or comment from the Indian nations. In that time period, millions of acres of Indian land suddenly became state or federal land. The taking of the Black Hills alone amounted to the theft of 7.3 million acres of land rich in timber, gold, uranium and other natural resources. Not one penny in compensation has been returned to the tribes, even though profits from timber sales are divided among several non-Indian counties every year.
Unable to create growth through economic development because of the restrictions placed upon it by the state, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe brought a lawsuit against the state to change the law that prevented them from increasing the number of slot machines they could have in their casino. For more than 19 years the FSST has had to operate their casino while restricted to only 250 slot machines. The towns and cities around Flandreau have grown rapidly during this time and, ominously, the state of Iowa is in the process of opening a competing casino just across the border from Sioux Falls, a city that is the main source of revenues for the Flandreau casino. And while growth is happening all around them, the Flandreau tribe has been handcuffed and unable to join that growth.
It is incomprehensible to me and to the leaders of all the tribes in South Dakota how such inhumane restrictions can be placed upon their economic growth when the tribes are the poorest of the poor in America. While the city of Deadwood is booming as a gaming Mecca, the tribes have been economically shackled for more than 19 years. Who is getting an unfair advantage over whom? It certainly is not the Indian tribes. Speculation is that the state is using this underhanded tactic in an effort to force the Indian tribes to pay taxes on their casinos.
It is time for Governor Rounds and the South Dakota state legislators to unbind the Indian nations or pray that Flandreau does not win its lawsuit against them. Either way, the winners in this unfair fiasco will not only be the Indian nations, but all of the citizens of South Dakota.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the 1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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