I am grateful for the support Governor Mike Rounds (R-SD) has given me since I started the new weekly newspaper, Native Sun News. His letters and phone calls have given us the encouragement to face the hardships now being felt by so many in the media.
I am writing this open letter to Gov. Rounds to point out to him some facts that I am sure he is already aware of because they are facts that have reached his desk in the form of a lawsuit. The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe brought the suit in an effort the get the contents of a gaming compact signed between its tribal officials and the governor rewritten. Any lawsuit is costly and time consuming. The discussion of a new compact between FSST and the State of South Dakota should never have gone so far as to involve a lawsuit.
When Gov. Rounds ran for office nearly eight years ago I was in the audience in Sioux Falls while he and the other candidates for governor had a debate. There were about six other candidates besides Rounds on the podium. I asked one question of all the candidates and it was: What would you do to improve the relations between the state government and the Indian tribes of South Dakota?
Several different answers were given and when the question reached Gov. Rounds he said, “I would invite the leaders of all the tribes to come to my home for dinner where we could relax and talk about the problems between the state and the tribes.” I thought that was a very sensible answer and I put my support and that of the newspaper behind Gov. Rounds and it was the second time in the history of any of my newspapers that we supported a Republican for any elective office. The first time was when we supported Gov. George Mickelson after we saw how he had opened up the doors of state government to the leaders of the Indian nations in South Dakota.
These are very difficult economic times. Businesses are folding or they are cutting way back and laying people off. The Indian casinos are no exception. A lot of people are not about to spend their hard earned money gambling. They are packing their meager savings away and applying whatever they can spare to reduce their credit card or mortgage debts, or they are barely paying their bills and putting food on their tables. This means that those customers that would have ordinarily visited the casino for a little gambling and fun are not showing up the way they used to and the crunch is being felt every day by the tribal governments.
An anonymous letter to the editor of the local daily shows how little the average non-Indian citizen of South Dakota knows about the Indian reservations that our their next door neighbors. The letter read that when the Indian casinos started to pay taxes to the state like the non-Indian casinos do, the writer would consider visiting them. There is a major difference between Indian and non-Indian casinos. For one, the profits from a non-Indian casino go the owners of the casino or the shareholders. The profits from an Indian casino go to the tribal districts and programs that serve the health and welfare of the tribe. The tribal casinos use their winnings to pay for college scholarships and to improve the infrastructure of the reservation. The non-Indian casinos have no such social programs on their profit schedule.
As the economy continues to nose-dive and the Indian casinos feel the pinch, it takes away from the good things they have managed to do for their people. Flandreau and the other tribes in South Dakota would like to re-negotiate their gaming compacts and increase the number of gaming devices they are allowed. More devices they hope will bring in more customers and additional revenues to carry out the social programs that are now in dire need of more funds.
Gov. Rounds, the bad economy has been much harder on the people of the Indian reservations than it has been on the citizens of the rest of the state. Good times will come again, but in the meantime the tribes need a hand-up, not a handout. They can reach the goals they strive for if you loosen the chains that limit the number of gaming devices they are allowed. And who is going to get hurt if you do this? No one! But many will be helped and in your remaining time in office, let it be said by the people of the Indian nations that you were the instrument that helped the tribes achieve economic parity in a state where they have forever been on the bottom of the economic ladder.
We respect you Governor Rounds, but we hope you respect the dreams and ambitions of the Indian nations within the borders of your state. Negotiate new compacts for the good of the Indian nations and you will see the good that will happen all over the state.
Tim Giago is the editor and publisher of Native Sun News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing him at: P.O. 1680, Rapid City, SD 57709.
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