Casinos’ windfall is due the tribes

If we don’t learn from the mistakes made in history, we’re bound to repeat them. All baseball CEOs, politicians and even the occasional blackjack players are bound by these same rules.
Unfortunately, in our nation’s dealings with Native Americans, we’ve repeated our mistakes over and over again. An agreement is an agreement and a treaty is a treaty. Let’s hope the Minnesota Legislature remembers some of the many mistakes this country has made in the past and finally learns something from them and leaves the casinos alone.
Over the next few months we’re going to hear debate over ways to take, tax or skim money that rightfully belongs to Native Americans so that white businessmen can invest in ballparks and things that voters will say should rightfully be the responsibility of the Forbesians anyway.
Of course, Native Americans are resistant to the idea of paying for a new stadium. “The tribes are not going to put a stadium in — plain and simple,” says John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association. Larry Kitto, Native American lobbyist adds, “It’s ridiculous to expect that the poorest group of the people in the state should be blackmailed into helping the richest.”
But of course this debate has much less to do with Carl Pohlad, the Twins and a new stadium as much as it’s about allowing one of the few things that have gone well for Native Americans in this state to stay that way.
Amie Rankin, a member of the Free Cherokee tribe, an unregistered Native American tribe, moved to Minnesota from Texas in 1995. She says she’s been impressed by what she found happening in the tribes of this state.
“I think it’s a great thing. The Native Americans take care of their people here,” she says. Rankin notes that reservation conditions usually fare much worse in other parts of the country where economic opportunities aren’t nearly as available. The irony, she adds, is that for perhaps the first time “they (Native Americans) have been successful, and now whites are hurt.”
And so in the next months we’ll probably hear more comments like those made by Senator Dick Day last session. Day criticized the progress of Native Americans in this state stating the community “through casino profits, has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions to the DFL to keep gambling a monopoly … the loss of the Minnesota Twins … may be the ultimate price paid by the people of Minnesota.”
Members of the Minnesota Legislature — as well as many sports fans throughout the state — continue to confuse issues and delude themselves into thinking that somehow the Indians owe us a ransom. In fact, any dues owed are owed to the Native Americans.
The game plan being advocated by certain politicians is akin to the tactics of a childish “Indian giver” who has made an exchange, decided he doesn’t like it, and then takes it back, for self-interest alone.
The truth remains that the state of Minnesota made an agreement with Native American tribes over a decade ago to allow casinos to operate exclusively on reservations in the hope that it would allow tribal members to gain employment, some skills for the workplace and a desperately needed cash flow for the impoverished reservations. The plan seems to have worked so far, at least on a good number of the reservations.
Now what’s this talk about a “monopoly” on gambling? The supposed market that Native Americans are alleged to have cornered never even existed until the agreement between the state and tribes was reached. And again, someone please explain where another idea came from: that the Native Americans of this state or anywhere owe the politicians a single red cent.
If history has taught the whites of this country anything about our relations with Native Americans, it’s that we haven’t even begun to reciprocate for centuries of injustice; murder, blackmail, lying and countless broken treaties. The last thing any politician or citizen should be talking about is penalizing Native Americans.
“It’s like they have gotten their butt in a crack and so they start talking out of the side of their mouth,” says Rankin, adding, “It’s a characteristic fault.” She is dismayed by the government’s history with her people. “Native Americans are the only people in the United States who have to register their race with the government. It’s required in the treaties. But the government has also broken its treaties. That’s why I remain unregistered as a Free Cherokee.”
Take for example — if you have any book that’s bold enough to include the blood and guts of history — any chapter on the Fort Laramie Treaty of April 29, 1868. The United States recognized the Black Hills of South Dakota, long sacred to the Sioux Indians, as part of the Great Sioux Reservation to be set aside for exclusive use by the Sioux people. However, gold was discovered there in 1874 and the United States confiscated the land in 1877. To this day, the U.S. government and the Sioux are still in dispute over who owns the land.
The parallels with Minnesota’s current predicament speak for themselves. Yet legislators continue to rework and redefine the semi-autonomy granted the reservations over 100 years ago in the attempt to regulate fishing, hunting, gaming and now even casinos.
If nothing else, we may see the legalization of gambling around the state, just a more subtle version of taking the gold back.
If politicians continue their history of superseding laws created with respect to reservations, at least Native Americans will continue to have the letter of the law on their side. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August of 1997 that a major treaty signed between the U.S. government and eight Chippewa bands in the Minnesota territory in 1837 remains “good law.” It continues to halt attempts by the government to restrict the autonomous aspects of reservation life with state law. While the treaty does not directly mention more modern concerns of casinos, the court’s decision sets an encouraging precedent for Native Americans in the state.
Rankin hopes that Native Americans will continue to prosper from what is, in this state, currently one of the few resources from which they are allowed to benefit. She says, however, “The one thing that bothers me is that a casino is not the kind of place I’d like to be.” There are many dangers associated with compulsive gambling and some of the crime-related issues that have crept into the headlines as of late.
The central issue in all of the discussions surrounding agreements and treaties must remain the humanity of us all. “Native Americans are not immune to the ills that come with success,” says Rankin. “If they don’t have the moral character of the spiritual foundation that is necessary when dealing with these things then they don’t deserve it.”
Ultimately, this is a truth that Native Americans and everyone in this state can and must be able to address. For over 200 years they appear to have gotten away with meddling with the process. Hopefully, the current legislative session will not add another mistake-ridden chapter to our history books.

Gregory Borchard’s column appears every Thursday. He can be reached with comments via e-mail at [email protected]