Nothing would be easier than to dismiss the recent press conference of
three anti-casino groups as a closet drama for dummies, staged by some of
the more laborious minds of 1947 or thereabouts.
But then again, these groups have gotten the attention of a few congressmen
and state attorneys-general anyway, as congressional inquiries into gaming
industry influence in the federal Indian recognition process moves forward.
And really, as one poked around after the press conference, it seemed that
fear, rather than any direct disliking for Indians, is the driving force
behind them - fear for local ways of life, fear of how tribes with casinos
the local folk don't want in the first place may challenge them in other
ways, economically for instance.
A couple of the groups' supporters said they began to scour the Internet
for Indian knowledge following an aggressive town meeting with casino
tribes, and ended up getting recruited to either Larry, Curly or Moe ...
that is, to One Nation, Citizens Equal Rights Alliance, or United Property
Owners. A good deal of anti-Indian funding goes to these groups, and they
have engaged in direct anti-Indian rhetoric in the past. At their joint
press conference, by contrast, they pronounced themselves in favor of
tribes but against federal Indian policy. This may merely mean that the
leadership has learned to name its enemies more wisely. But the hot button
for the membership, insofar as it could be determined, seemed to be simple
fear of change. That Indians are bringing it about seemed incidental.
So perhaps the National Congress of American Indians has the right idea,
even though it's more than most small towns have ever done for tribes:
Invite them to sit down and learn about tribes and federal Indian laws and
policies. The latter is what they say they're against, calling them unfair
One Indian man tried to do some teaching after the conference, and from a
distance the conversation still seemed friendly after half an hour. But
those wanting to join him should know going in that these people and their
ideas can be a bit trying:
One woman at the press conference more or less screamed, in the flat
quavering tones that empty church choirs in congregations across the land,
that "America is not about kings!" The occasion of her outcry seemed to be
a decision of some kind by the Michigan state courts, but any connection
appeared to be purely notional on her part.
One man seemed to take even the conference organizers by surprise when he
called for an end to interracial marriage. At least he had a purpose in
mind: To end the dilution of Indian blood quanta. But because he also
demanded an end to government regulation on tribal land, one can hardly
accuse him of clear thinking. Given that modern contraceptives guarantee
we'll never return to the days when parents marched their children to the
altar at the business end of a shotgun, banning interracial marriage would
eventually, of course, require the regulatory intervention of some
governing body or other. Simple connections of that sort seem to elude
these groups at every turn.
Several speakers articulated a clear case against the Crow Tribe for
decisions that present endless problems for non-Indian entrepreneurs, as
well as not-fully-Indian offspring, on the reservation. But without trying
to demean the Crow council in its struggle toward steady self-government,
we can still suggest that anyone who has been paying attention in Indian
country the past 15 years should know not to pile on.
A person accepted as some kind of scholar by these groups spent a minute or
two assuring everyone that the case for tribal sovereignty is nowhere to be
found in the U.S. Constitution, and ended his case with "OK?" before
handing off to another speaker.
A person accepted as a sort of historian by these groups is threatening to
regale them with a history of the American Indian Movement at next year's
meeting. To the gentle hint that perhaps AIM is no longer in the mainstream
of Native affairs, he responded - "In Minneapolis they are!"
Again that theme of localized fear. For all the silliness that surrounds
it, we should also know enough by now not to underestimate a few white
folks and their fears.
Rebecca Adamson is the president of First Nations Development Institute and
a columnist for Indian Country Today.