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Indians Just Want Out Of Poverty

Sat., May 11, 1996

When is it going to end? The federal government, the states, counties and cities have thrown up roadblock after roadblock to curtail, prevent or discourage Indian tribes from building bingo parlors and gaming casinos.

Where were these benevolent governments when Indian tribes across the nation had unemployment rates as high as 70 percent? Where were they when the decaying schools on many Indian reservations were condemned and yet allowed to be used as classrooms to teach Indian children? Where were they when tribe after tribe was being given handouts of food, clothing and furniture by charitable organizations?

Where were they when housing on most Indian reservations was so scarce some two-bedroom homes, if you want to call them homes, had as many as four families living in them?

Where were they when the life expectancy on many Indian reservations was about age 43? Where were they when the funds to the Indian hospitals were being cut so drastically that many of them had to curtail or close the emergency departments at night?

Where was the state of South Dakota when Shannon County on the Pine Ridge Reservation was declared, along with two other counties in this state, to be the poorest counties in the United States, Shannon being No. 1?

The federal government was chopping the funds on one end while the state governments, for the most part, would have nothing to do with the Indian tribes. At the same time many cities and counties were giving out the most meager subsistence and housing Indian families in inner city ghettos. Where were they then?

So, many tribes decided to take their future into their own hands. They decided to take their very survival into their own hands. They started to build bingo halls, first in the state of Florida, and then expanding them across the nation. They then started to build gaming casinos on their own lands in their own sovereign nation.

“Hey,” the Great White Father said, “These guys are starting to make money and pull themselves out of poverty. They can’t do that. Before long their casinos and bingo halls will be overrun with the Mafioso. Criminals will rule the reservations.” This ridiculous propaganda came from Nevada and New Jersey, two states with legalized gambling. Afraid of competition? You bet!

The problem for the Indian nations was they did not have the money, savvy or connections to the national media to refute these stupid allegations. The powerful Nevada lobby and of course “The Donald,” Mr. Trump that is, knew how to get their false message on television, in the newspapers, and on the radio. They frightened state governors, legislators and ordinary citizens out of their wits. A hue and cry arose against Indian-owned casinos.

If the truth be known, not a single Indian casino or bingo hall has ever been invaded by any criminal organization, least of all the Mafia. In fact, Indian casinos are much cleaner than those in Nevada or New Jersey.

While the profits from the Nevada and New Jersey casinos go to the shareholders of the corporation, most Indian tribes use theirs to build homes for the elderly, set up college scholarships for their young, build hospitals and new and better houses for their tribal members, construct museums, and rebuild the infrastructure of their home reservations that have deteriorated to the point they resemble most Third World countries.

The federal government just confiscated the casino profits from the bank the Omaha Tribe used. They literally stole $87,000 from a people who are among the poorest people in this nation. They then threatened this tiny sovereign nation that they would close down their small casino thus depriving them of a chance to pull themselves out of poverty. Why? I can only scratch my head and ask why.

What harm were these casinos doing to the state or the federal government? They were eliminating unemployment and welfare thus reducing the costs of unemployment compensation and welfare. But more than that, these bingo halls and casinos were giving a downtrodden people pride in themselves.

I believe anyone interested in justice should call Butch Denny, the chairman of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and offer him support. I believe every tribal chairperson in the United States that operate casinos should come to the Omaha Reservation and give this gallant bunch of people their physical and moral support.

I would like to see the governor of Nebraska and the House and Senate of the United States buried in letters of protest. What they are doing to the Omaha people is a human disgrace. These things only happened in Nazi Germany, right? For God’s sake; don’t the United States and Nebraska have more important things to worry about?

When is it going to end?


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