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Don’t Stop Tribe From Helping Itself

Coeur d’Alene tribal members are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

On one hand, New York and New Jersey congressmen are trying to block the Coeur d’Alenes from staging a national lottery. On the other hand, a conference committee has recommended deep cuts - $205 million or 19 percent - in a Bureau of Indian Affairs budget that supports all tribal governments.

What hypocrites!

If these actions stand, Congress will be saying to the local tribe: We’re not going to help you as much as in the past, and we don’t want you to help yourself.

This is the kind of self-defeating policy that created our welfare state.

If Congress is going to fudge on treaty obligations to provide housing, education and health services to the nation’s tribes, it should, at least, provide enterprising tribes like the Coeur d’Alenes with the means to become self-sufficient. U.S. Sens. Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne, both R-Idaho, should assist this minority constituency.

The Coeur d’Alenes aren’t proposing anything new with their lottery. It would raise an estimated $200 million annually for the Plummer-based tribe and go only into states that have their own lottery.

Yet, they’ve run into a series of roadblocks.

Shortly after the February unveiling of the tribe’s National Indian Lottery, attorneys general across the United States began sending letters to phone companies, ordering them not to carry the 800 telephone number that players would call for tickets. Last week, the Coeur d’Alenes sued to force Sprint Corp. to carry the game’s number.

Now, self-serving Eastern congressmen have proposed a bill that effectively would outlaw the Coeur d’Alenes’ lottery. Meanwhile, House Ways and Means Committee members have introduced a bill to tax Indian gaming revenues at 34 percent.

Critics are mistaken to think that American Indians relish embracing gaming as an economic savior. Says Dave Matheson, the Coeur d’Alenes’ gaming director: “It’s not us, our heritage, or our culture. But we were reduced to that opportunity, and we decided to take it.”

Not too long ago, the 1,300-member Coeur d’Alene Tribe suffered an unemployment rate approaching 70 percent. It combatted the rampant joblessness with a series of bold economic moves that helped tribal members and non-Indians alike.

First, the Coeur d’Alenes purchased and expanded the regional Benewah Market at Plummer. Then, next door, they opened a medical center and a dental clinic, which have become national models for interagency cooperation. Finally, they built the Coeur d’Alene Bingo Casino, which has pumped millions of dollars into their education and social programs.

Now, if Congress will abandon its hypocrisy, the tribe can take a final step toward economic independence.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board

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