by Anthony Miranda, Chairman
California Nations Indian Gaming Association
As I suspect it has been for tribal people across the United States, 2005 in California was a year of both accomplishment and continuing struggle. We continue to fight for self reliance, to maintain our sovereignty and for continued economic development.
But let's start with the good news first. Employment connected to tribal gaming in California continues to grow beyond what any of us could have imagined less than a decade ago. The state's 54 Indian casinos now employ more than 53,600 people, a jump of almost 10% over the prior year. It is hard to imagine that less than eight years ago that number was 14,500 employees. Indian gaming is generating hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity for the state as well as putting tens of millions of dollars into state coffers. No one can justifiably question the benefits we bring to tens of thousands of Californians daily.
Any tribal member who wants a job in a casino has the opportunity for one and the revenue from Indian gaming is enabling our tribes to give scholarships to our young people, pave what were once dirt roads, build health clinics, create programs for our elders and, of course, support all the necessary services of tribal governments. In addition, our unique revenue sharing program with the state's non-gaming and small-gaming tribes is now providing up to $1.1 million annually to those tribes so they too can improve conditions on their reservations. Our tribal casinos are healthy and positioned to grow in 2006 and beyond. We are getting the message out that Indian gaming benefits not only tribal people, but the communities that surround California reservations.
But we all understand we have challenges ahead. In California, some prominent members of the state legislature have raised the specter of hearings on proposals to conduct off-reservation gaming by tribes with reservations in remote locations or tribes that lost their ancestral lands. These are questions which tribal leaders must face head on. They are not going to just go away.
Of course at the federal level we have potential legislation in both the House and the U.S. Senate that could change the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act (IGRA) while the Department of Justice continues to propose amendments to the Johnson Act. The latter would have a devastating impact on some of the most impoverished tribes in America.
The bill by Rep. Richard W. Pombo of Stockton, Calif. that would allow a tribe with a reservation to invite tribes without a casino to build one on the host reservation raises valid tribal and public policy questions. Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, three months ago said it is either time to abolish the NIGC or give it the authority it needs to execute oversight responsibilities. Then, in late November he introduced S. 2078 to amend IGRA.
Make no mistake; Indian gaming is under a microscope at the federal level. The National Indian G aming Association (NIGA) is fully involved in these debates and closely following the myriad of proposals on Capitol Hill.
What should individual tribes in California and across the country do? More than anything we need to take charge of our own destiny. Gaming and non-gaming tribes alike are going to be affected by whatever Congress does or does not do. It is critical that each tribal council learn about the potential changes and threats to Indian gaming. We need to stay in close touch with NIGA. If you haven't already done so, you need to establish a close working relationship with your local Congressional member and our two U.S. senators. Your views must be shared with your elected representatives to Congress.
There is an old saying that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” When the very existence of tribal people is challenged, we must join together and whenever possible speak with one voice. If we do not, we will have no one to blame for what happens to our people but ourselves.
Anthony Miranda is Chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA). He can be reached by calling (916) 448-8706 or visit www.cniga.com