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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Guest Opinion: Editorial shows bias on issue on tribal representation

Dennis Held

Sunday’s cringe-worthy, unsigned editorial claims that the Spokane Tribe of Indians has no right to a place at the table on boards that make regional transportation decisions. This ridiculous assertion is a helpful illustration of what’s come to be known as “white privilege,” and reveals inherent bias on the part of the editorial writer(s).

According to the Teaching Tolerance website – which offers helpful discussions on the matter – white privilege is “both the legacy and a cause of racism.” It’s a complex subject, but overall, being aware of white privilege reminds us white folks that we have certain cultural advantages that we might not even recognize, and to look for ways to eliminate that inherent bias in our lives.

The editorial encourages just the opposite: a blank stare that is blind to the irrefutable and disturbing truth of how white people came to live here in Spokane.

The editorial addresses Rep. Marcus Riccelli’s efforts to require tribal representation on regional transportation commissions “for any tribe that has a reservation or trust lands within the area covered by the commission.” The fact that this seemingly innocuous proposal is even the target of an inflammatory editorial speaks volumes about the priorities of those in charge of the newspaper.

The paper rails against Riccelli’s proposal without recognizing the self-evident fact that all of us who live here, unless we are Native people, live on land that was taken, without due compensation, from the Spokane Tribe of Indians.

The editorial later conflates two very different issues: whether or not the tribe deserves a seat at the board, and whether or not it should be allowed to build a casino in Airway Heights.

The editors took great pains to list all 17 members of the board, but couldn’t seem to find one word to mention some of the more salient facts about this matter. The Department of the Interior has already approved the casino. Fairchild Air Force Base has already signed off on the plan.

The editorial also claims that the tribe has no more standing in the matter than any other large employer in the area – Providence Health Care is named. Do I really have to point out the fact that the Spokane Tribe of Indians is a sovereign nation, and Providence is not?

Not at all – the editors later point out that “the tribe has less claim to a seat than other large employers because of the generous tax agreements it enjoys as a sovereign nation.” So the tribe is getting rich off generous tax breaks? I don’t think so.

According to an article in Tuesday’s paper by S-R reporter Jonathan Glover, “the Kalispel Tribe spends on average 30 times what the Spokane Tribe spends per tribal member on government assistance, thanks in large part to revenue from Northern Quest.” The article points out that the “Spokane Tribe has long considered the 145 acres of (the new casino) to be part of its aboriginal territory.” That should have settled the issue long ago.

Yet the Spokesman editorial blithely asserts that Riccelli’s commonsense proposal is really about “(m)oney in politics,” and goes one problematic step further: it asserts, without a shred of evidence, that the tribe is paying off the Democratic Party to further its interests.

I’ve taught college-level English for many years, and the first thing taught in any class is that you don’t make an assertion without providing evidence. The fact that the editors of this newspaper felt compelled to violate the basic standards of how information is presented says a lot about the cultural blindness of its editorial board. It’s obvious that training in cultural matters is long overdue at the newspaper.

The snide way the issue is addressed – “this wouldn’t be the first time that donors and lobbyist with deep pockets gained the ear of a politician” – smears Riccelli, the tribe and anyone else associated with a law that is long overdue. I expect better of my newspaper and its editors. An apology to Riccelli and the Spokane Tribe of Indians would be a good place to start.

This guest opinion was written by Spokane resident Dennis Held. To submit a guest opinion, email inquiries to

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