Don't close reservations' window of opportunity

fedgazette Editorial

Tim Giago

Published July 1, 1992  | July 1992 issue

A strange thing happened to several Indian reservations on the way to the poorhouse. A small window of opportunity called "Indian gambling" was opened.

But this small window didn't profit Indian tribes alone. In many states, such as South Dakota and Minnesota, the spin-offs from the casinos have provided badly needed jobs for non-Indians, jacked up the sagging economy of several economically depressed regions, and given the tribes with successful gaming operations new-found political and financial clout with city, county and state governments.

For the first time since colonization, Indian nations lucky enough to be geographically situated to capitalize on this window of opportunity are able to find enough financial independence to build housing for their elderly, provide scholarships to tribal members, invest in pension plans, build health clinics and expand their community colleges.

But more important than this, astute tribal leaders with a sharp eye to the future realize this window can be slammed shut with the stroke of a pen. Already there are rumblings within some state governments to place a stranglehold on Indian gaming.

These tribal leaders are investing their profits wisely. They are using excess funds to build other business enterprises or to entice industrial development on their reservations from the private sector. Gas stations, mini- marts, super markets, motels and other forms of small businesses are being constructed with profits from the casinos.

Most of these wise leaders have never considered legalized gambling as the ultimate solution to their problems of poverty and unemployment. They have larger dreams. They understand that profits from their gambling enterprises give them the financial security to approach private lending institutions about making major investments on their reservations.

There is much truth to the old adage that money talks and these wise tribal leaders are using their new-found wealth to impress lending institutions, heretofore reluctant to invest in tribal enterprises, to reconsider.

Those non-Indian community leaders who witness state governments attempting to curtail tribal gaming through the back door should speak up. One doesn't have to be an Indian to understand that the Indian casinos are good business for everyone. As the unemployment and welfare rolls begin to drop on Indian lands, the funds required to pay out these benefits also decrease.

As money comes into the tribal governments, more jobs are provided. Tribal members have more funds to purchase cars, houses and major appliances. This money eventually ends up being recycled in the non-Indian community. As tribal members spend money on these items, they also pay taxes. This increases state tax revenues.

The entire structure of reservation/non-Indian community relations undergoes a dramatic change. From dependent welfare recipients, the Indian people suddenly are transformed into tax-paying, wage-earning, upwardly mobile community members.

These are the things city, county and state officials should understand before they begin to throw up roadblocks designed to make it difficult or impossible for Indian tribes to take full advantage of this small window of opportunity.

In this situation, everybody wins. The state, the county, the city, the tribes and the non-Indian communities all hit the jackpot.