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From: Pat Morris <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
Success of casinos has its price
Some tribes fear being punished for gains by having more federal assistance tied to
conditions undermining their sovereignty
Monday, December 13, 1999
By Jim Barnett of The Oregonian staff
WASHINGTON -- If anything is a sure bet in Indian country these days, it's the lure of
gambling. Tribal casinos are closing out another banner year, raking in nearly $10
billion in revenues -- more than the total spent on tribes by a dozen federal
Casino money is helping some tribes build hope on reservations once condemned to
despair. Oregon's Grand Ronde tribe, for example, recently issued $2,800 dividends to
members after paying for improvements to housing and social services.
The vast majority of the nation's 554 tribes, however, have no casinos and little hope
of ever cashing in. Yet they are experiencing an unpleasant side effect of casino
wealth: As gaming revenues grow, so do political risks on Capitol Hill.
As the Clinton administration plans to lobby for increased spending on tribes, tribal
leaders fear they will face a no-win proposition: Additional federal money may come
with conditions that undermine their governments' hard-won status as sovereigns.
"It's an attempt to punish based on a perception of success," said Wayne Shammel, a
lawyer for the Cow Creek Band, which operates a casino in Southern Oregon.
"You could hardly call us wealthy," Shammel said. "But before the advent of gaming,
you certainly could call us destitute. Now we're just in a position where we feel like
maybe we've got a chance."
At issue are competing notions of federal responsibility to tribes and their 1.2
million members. It is an intense, if largely unnoticed debate that starts each year
with money -- or lack of it -- and escalates into questions of tribes' rights as
Some members of Congress view tribes as they view welfare recipients: Once tribes can
support themselves through casinos or other business ventures, they should give up
federal money. The leading advocate of this view is Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash.
"The proper way is that subsidies like this ought to be based largely on need," said
Gorton, a senior member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, which oversees
federal spending on tribes.
Tribes view their basic federal support from the Bureau of Indian Affairs more like
Social Security. They believe it is an entitlement, promised by treaties and other
acts of Congress in return for lands and resources handed over to the federal
"They say, 'You owe us; look what you took away from us,' " said Sen. Ben Nighthorse
Campbell, R-Colo., chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. "They lost a hell of a
lot more than they're getting, I'll tell you that."
The cornerstone of federal support for tribes is Indian Affairs' $1.7 billion budget,
much of which goes directly to tribes. In all, the federal government spends $7.8
billion a year on tribes, with departments from Agriculture to Veterans Affairs
But tribal governments don't get enough money from Indian Affairs to perform basic
services, according to a recent bureau report. The report found that tribal
governments meet only a fraction of needs in education, human services, community
development and other areas.
The federal government should start bridging those gaps, particularly in light of
mounting budget surpluses, the bureau's top officer said last week.
"What I cannot do is make programs that are inadequately funded succeed," said Kevin
Gover, an Native American and assistant secretary of Interior. "In the end, a lot of
these conditions can only be relieved through the expenditure of real money."
System needs fixing
Tribes and their political rivals do agree on one thing: The system of federal support
for tribes needs to be fixed to help the poorest. But fixing it raises a difficult and
politically explosive question: how to measure tribes' needs fairly and accurately?
Under the current system, no such determination is made. The bureau's annual payments
to each tribe depend upon on the amount paid the year before. But those direct
payments are based on decades-old political deals rather than tribes' modern-day
Gorton wants to require tribes to submit their business ledgers for federal review.
Federal payments then would be based on each tribe's relative ability to help itself.
It's the best and fairest way to allocate scarce federal resources, he said.
But tribal leaders and advocates argue that such a review amounts to a "means test"
and would offend tribes' rights as sovereign nations. States with lotteries don't have
to submit to such a review to get federal assistance, they said, so why should tribes?
Further, tribes see means testing as the top of a slippery slope. Once Congress knows
exactly how much money is made at Native American casinos, it's only a matter of time
before that source of wealth is taken away, just as lands were taken away in the 19th
Gover, who surveyed tribal leaders, said that even the poorest tribes object to a
reallocation of bureau funds. "The sentiment I heard was that if you take from the
rich tribes, someday you set the precedent to allow you to take it from us," he said.
Tribes' casino wealth was made possible by the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,
which allowed gambling on reservation land. A recent count found that 200 tribes had
gaming compacts with 26 states, although some casinos operate without state approval.
The goal of the act was to promote economic development on reservations, liberating
tribes from dependence on federal money. In addition, casino wealth has given tribes
means to sharpen their political skills.
Evidence of tribes' political ascendancy can be found across the country. Tribes are
spending casino profits to challenge local governments in court, lobby legislatures
and influence state and federal campaigns.
If some members of Congress want to put limits on sovereignty, tribal leaders said, it
is because they fear tribes' newfound clout.
"That has to be one of their concerns, that finally tribes have the resources to seek
justice under the laws of this country," said Don Sampson, executive director of the
Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland.
In California, tribal support was critical last year to overwhelming passage of
Measure 5, which legalized dozens of casinos. In a campaign that cost a total of $100
million, tribes outspent rival Las Vegas casinos by a 3-to-1 ratio.
That kind of impact soon could be felt in the Northwest. Tribes already are planning
to campaign against Gorton, who faces re-election in November. Casino money also could
finance a potential lawsuit seeking billions in damages from the federal government
for extinction of some runs of salmon in the Columbia basin.
"Our lawyers are working around the clock on it," Sampson said.
Boosting the budget
Back in Washington, the perennial tribal funding debate ended last month with a modest
boost in the budget of Indian Affairs. Gorton included some new money for tribes,
including $160,000 for the Snoqualmie tribe to set up a new administration.
Also tucked into the Indian Affairs budget was a three-sentence budget rider that
gives the bureau authority to shift 10 percent of funds from wealthy tribes to poor
ones. The rider, in effect, gives Gover power to perform the means testing that tribes
The origin of the rider is disputed, although Gorton's staff and bureau officials
agree it is a watered-down version of a Gorton proposal offered in 1998. In any case,
Gover said, the rider does threaten sovereignty because he does not plan to use its
But the legislation could be a preview to next year's budget debate.
In February, the Clinton administration will send Congress its budget proposal for the
2001 fiscal year. In it, Gover said, will be a request for a major increase in the
Indian Affairs budget, although he would not reveal the amount.
Gorton does not plan to push for reform of tribal funding next year unless Gover asks
for it, said Cynthia Bergman, a Gorton aide. While some poor tribes privately approved
of Gorton's previous effort, she said, many reacted negatively.
Nevertheless, tribes fear that a backlash is coming, said Campbell, the Indian Affairs
chairman. Although the 20 largest Native American casinos account for half of all
revenues, tribes everywhere could be perceived as undeserving of unconditional federal
"No question about it, Indians are scared to death," Campbell said.
Rather than fight the perception that all tribes are getting rich, Gover said he would
seek more money for programs aimed at poor Native Americans. For example, Gover said
he wants to expand an $18 million housing improvement fund that gets $200 million in
requests for help.
"I don't consider that means testing," Gover said. "I consider that targeted investing
to needy Indians, and I think that's good policy."
Ute tribe, Colo. sign air pact
By Denver Post Capitol Bureau
Dec. 14 - Colorado and the Southern Ute nation Monday signed a "precedent-setting''
agreement to work together on air-quality standards for the tribe's sprawling
reservation in southwest Colorado.
Gov. Bill Owens said it's the first example of a state government working with
American Indians, who have sovereignty on their tribal lands, to ensure clean air.
It's especially important on the Southern Ute reservation, where 308,000 acres of
private land are scattered among 680,000 acres of reservation.
"Air quality has no boundaries,'' said Howard Richards, vice chairman of the Southern
Ute Tribal Council, who signed the agreement along with Owens and Attorney General Ken
Lt. Gov. Joe Rogers, head of the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs, also attended
the signing ceremony in the governor's office, along with other state, federal and
Bill Yellowtail, regional director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, called
it "truly a precedent-setting agreement.''
Yellowtail said the EPA will expedite approval of implementing the pact, "whether it
will be a few months or a couple of years down the line.''
Actually, Richards said, the reservation, south of Durango, has few air problems. It's
"clear, clean, crisp,'' he said.
Salazar said the 27 regulated air-quality sites, eight of which are on private land,
are related primarily to natural gas and oil production.
The attorney general said the agreement requires state legislation to set up a joint
state-tribal commission. The commission will establish regulations for the entire
area, avoiding a potential court battle over the tribe's request to control non-Indian
pollution sources on private tracts within the reservation, he said.
Web posted Monday, December 13, 1999
Appeals Court Won't Re-Hear Yankton Reservation Case
SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has decided not to
reconsider a ruling that diminishes the size of the Yankton Sioux Indian Reservation.
In late August, the appeals court returned 220,000 acres to state jurisdiction. In a
ruling dated Wednesday, the court turned down requests to rehear the matter.
The August decision was a blow to the Yankton Sioux Tribe and a victory for state
officials. The state had argued that criminal and civil jurisdiction in most of the
area belongs to the state and Charles Mix County.
Much of the original 400,000-plus acres of the reservation has been under state and
local authority for the past century.
''The 8th Circuit denied everybody's petition,'' said Charles Mix County State's
Attorney Scott Podhradsky.
Petitioners wanted a three-judge panel to reconsider this summer's ruling and asked
that the full court hear the matter.
Also requesting reconsideration were the state and the Southern Missouri Waste
Management District. They argued that the August ruling should have said the
reservation was disestablished, not merely diminished.
Most of the land has been treated as a disestablished reservation for 100 years, the
state has argued.
Now, any of the parties can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Podhradsky said. If that
doesn't happen, the case goes back to U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol, of Sioux
Falls, to determine the boundaries within the guidelines of the previous ruling, the
state's attorney said.
That ruling said the reservation could encompass up to 40,000 acres of trust land,
according to Podhradsky.
''It would, in reality, put us back the way it was in 1995 for the last 100 years,
because the state has never tried to exercise jurisdiction over trust lands,'' he
The reservation was created by an 1858 treaty. About 168,000 acres of the 430,000-acre
parcel were sold to the government in 1894 and opened to settlement. The rest was
allotted to individual tribal members, and most has since been sold to non-Indians.
About 40,000 acres remains in trust.
In 1998, Piersol had ruled that 270,000 acres of the original reservation was still
Indian Country under tribal and federal jurisdiction. The state appealed, and
Piersol's decision was reversed, returning about 220,000 acres to state jurisdiction.
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Tsonkwadiyonrat (We are ONE Spirit)