Regulatory Updates

Pay Attention Congress!

Chief Boyd
Chief Boyd

Chief Boyd, Partner
Thalden-Boyd-Emery Architects

As a Native American, I find the workings of the U.S. Congress the last several years very disturbing. I believe that the only Native American in Congress today is House Member Tom Cole, a Chickasaw from Oklahoma. If we were represented as our percentage of the U.S. population the number of Native Americans in the House of Representatives would be five, but we have only one. We should have one senator that is Native American and we have none. Fortunately, we do have some advocates in Congress who are not Native American, so all is not bleak. The reason I am concerned about Congress is that it is not consistent or predictable. In 1934, with good intentions and the Tribal Reorganization Act, they basically eliminated the tribes altogether. Fortunately, Native America did not go away, as the tribes were officially brought back into being by Congress in the early ‘70s.

Congress' efforts of providing programs to help Indians with education, health care, housing and welfare have not been successful. There are still reservations where people have some of the poorest quality of life on the planet.

In 1988 Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, brought about to provide some economic opportunity for tribes. This act, along with the help of several successful Supreme Court decisions, has allowed gaming to be an economic engine for some tribes, particularly those living in populated areas, which has allowed those tribes to become very successful. In fact, Native America has suddenly become visible in the U.S. because of gaming tribes. Unfortunately, the tribes living in remote areas have not been able to benefit from gaming, except through the generosity of the newly prosperous gaming tribes.

My concern is what Congress is likely to do in reaction to the success of these tribes. Now that Native America has suddenly become visible, there have been many verbal attacks on tribal sovereignty and negative reactions to the success some of the tribes now enjoy.

What I hear most is that Native Americans have an unfair advantage in the gaming business and that they are hurting other business. It is interesting to me that a business, like Wal-Mart, is not put on the same chopping block. Wal-Mart is everywhere, and Native Americans are only in a few places. Wal-Mart has hurt lots of small business, while gaming tribes have generated lots of new business entities. In fact, numerous states have enjoyed a major economic turn around in the areas where tribes have built ccasinos.

Wal-Mart has 3,900 stores scattered across every state; tribes have only 354 casinos, and they are run by 224 separate and often competing tribal gaming business enterprises. In addition to actually fostering the creation of new businesses, tribal gaming is one of the most labor intensive businesses in this country. Wisconsin and Minnesota have produced studies that show unemployment goes down and welfare costs are significantly reduced in areas where tribes have built gaming facilities.

Tribes have also been accused of bringing crime because of our introduction of gaming. Most of the statistics on Indian gaming and crime show that crime levels actually drop in areas where there is Indian gaming, in part because the casinos have supported higher levels of crime prevention. And Indian gaming is very well regulated. In fact, Indian gaming is more regulated than commercial gaming in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

There has also been some strong reaction to tribes making political contributions. Contrary to what the news media report, Indians are not the big contributors to national political campaigns. The facts are that labor unions, trial lawyers and big industry like the pharmaceutical industry, each contribute much more, both to political coffers in D.C. and to hired lobbyists, than all the tribes together. And another interesting observation is that the news media view tribes as one entity – just try and tell the Crow and the Northern Cheyenne that they are the same!

We are one of the smallest minorities in this country and, as such, we have fewer votes. Therefore we are more easily attacked. Congress is a powerful institution that has often affected our very existence. And they cannot always be trusted to take reasonable actions. Most tribes have been moved from their traditional homelands, relocated many times, and told they didn't exist. Of the approximately 600 treaties between the United States and Native American tribes, approximately 6 have been honored.
But we are still here! Native America has successfully defended its constitutional right to sovereignty for two centuries. We have our strength and our ability to persevere under adverse circumstances.
So, my response to those who say we have an unfair competitive advantage in gaming is that Native America is here, has always been here, and will continue to be here, although we now own only a tiny fraction of the land that the Great Spirit has provided for us. We have proven our perseverance and tenacity prior to and throughout the history of this country. We are naturally competitive. We will continue to compete among ourselves and with others in the gaming business; in fact we enjoy this battle of competition. Being warriors by nature this is an exciting battle for us.

Congress, pay attention: Native America has now become a strong economic force in this country. We have gained strength because of our success. And the American people support our plight and overwhelmingly support Indian gaming (as proven repeatedly by California voters). As Native Americans have been willing to fight and die on the battlefield for the United States in much greater numbers than our proportionate share, we will fight for our sovereignty and for gaming, our new buffalo.

Chief Boyd, AIA, NCARB, is a partner in Thalden-Boyd-Emery Architects. He can be reached by calling (800) 886-2693 or email chief@tbgarch.net