Supreme Court folds on gambling

Wolfchild et al. v. United States would have brought intra-tribal fairness to gaming revenue.

Jacob Swede

The U.S. Supreme Court has a long history of disregarding American IndiansâÄô complaints; on Monday another chapter was added to that sad history with the denial to hear the case Wolfchild et al. v. United States. The nature of this case transcends the historical grate between the government and American Indians. The case has cleaved MinnesotaâÄôs Dakota community into competing factions; if Wolfchild were to win the case it would equalize gambling revenue sharing between the three Sioux reservations, thereby pitting the poorer Upper and Lower Sioux reservations against the wealthier Shakopee Sioux. The case hinges on the historical divisions between reservations following the Dakota Conflict of 1862. Brought on by chronic federal failure to pay annuities, provide food and water and establish a livable reservation, the Dakota of southwestern Minnesota rose up to fight the state and federal garrisons. The defeat of the Dakota was signified by the hanging of 38 warriors in Mankato in the same year. Civilians of the remnant Dakota communities forcibly emigrated to Illinois and South Dakota. After a $25 bounty for the scalp of any Dakota âÄî drafted by the Minnesota Legislature âÄî was repealed, many Dakota returned and three reservations were established. The rest is history, at least if the Supreme CourtâÄôs appeal denial is an indicator. But Wolfchild is determined to find a venue for his justice. In response to the disappointing outcome Monday, Erick Kardaal, the attorney representing Wolfchild, stated, âÄúWe will continue to make an effort to vindicate their rights.âÄù But that vindication of rights comes at a cost to the Shakopee Sioux community. In 1992, Mystic Lake Casino and Hotel was established; 18 years later, they do nearly $1 billion in annual business, which comes out to more than $1 million in per member annual gaming revenue. At the last census, in 2000, it was estimated that 19.8 percent of the Shakopee Sioux lived in poverty and is expected to fall dramatically with the expansion of casino incomes over the past 10 years. The struggling communities of the Upper and Lower Sioux reservations are not as lucky. The Upper Sioux reservation ranks second poorest in Minnesota: 36.8 percent live in poverty. The Lower Sioux have a more manageable 9.7 percent poverty rate, but both are expected to rise with the new census numbers as a stagnating economy and crumbling rural gambling industry flag the reservations. The main source of revenue and employment between the two is the Jackpot Junction Casino Hotel on the Lower Sioux Reservation, which earns only a fraction of Mystic LakeâÄôs profits. Visiting the reservations, which are only a few minutes away from Redwood Falls where I grew up, was like stepping into a different world; the rampant unemployment, racism and malaise that plagued the reservation was obvious even to the uninterested passerby. That the government passed up the opportunity to adjudicate the differences on both the Federal Appellate and Supreme Court level is unsurprising, given the history of federal ambivalence and ineptitude toward American Indians. WhatâÄôs much more disappointing is the inability within the American Indian community to resolve pressing issues. Over the past 30 years, American Indians have been granted unprecedented sovereignty. Part of that freedom is not only opportunity, but also obligation. Benevolence and charitableness has been the hallmark of the Shakopee Sioux because of their casinoâÄôs prosperity, but they ought not forget their rural relatives. Jacob Swede welcomes comments at [email protected]