California tribes are engaged in a battle for survival. Its outcome will
determine how, and perhaps even if, they endure as sovereign nations. It is
not Governor Schwarzenegger's recent words, however inflammatory, that have
inflicted the most damage. Rather, tribes sustained heavy losses earlier on
in the struggle, and continue to do so, as a result of a Trojan horse in
the form of a defeated Proposition 70 that is part of a comprehensive
strategy to fatally undermine the sovereignty of California tribes.
In a well-known myth, ancient Greeks presented a large wooden horse as a
peace offering to their foes, the Trojans. Once within the city's gates,
the horse's hidden cargo of soldiers sprang forth, enabling the Greeks to
overrun the city and claim victory. Over the past year, this
purposely-deceptive tactic has been used effectively against Indian tribes
With the passage of Propositions 1A and 5, California voters overwhelmingly
endorsed the right of tribes to engage in Class III gaming. While tribal
gaming has brought prosperity and self-sufficiency and has enabled many
tribal members to participate in mainstream society, its tremendous and
rapid success has also engendered some resentment and jealousy within
mainstream society. Here, the experiences of our grandfathers prove
Our ancestors well understood that coexistence was the preferable way to
live - especially when your neighbors were more powerful - and so
negotiated government-to-government. Yet so many of the agreements they
entered into in good faith were breached, over and over again. Each time a
promise was broken, a new one preceded it, deceiving tribes into accepting
new terms. Inevitably, the new promises proved as false as the old ones.
Our grandfathers learned a bitter lesson: What the majority gives, it can
take back, if not by overt means, then by deception.
In California, tribes signed compacts in good faith, never anticipating
that they would not be allowed to realize the full term of their respective
agreements. But over the past 12 months, the tribes have been coerced by
means of a well-planned media campaign that hammered them with "fair share"
language in order to get them to renegotiate their compacts. To sweeten the
deal, tribes were lured with promises of additional slot machines.
At first glance, Proposition 70 held out a promise of peaceful coexistence
between tribes and the state. However, at its heart, the ballot initiative
contained the hidden danger: Namely, the "fair share" language originally
launched by Arnold Schwarzenegger during his gubernatorial campaign. This
rhetoric assumes that the original compacts tribes signed with the state
were not "fair" and that California is entitled to a "share" of tribal
revenue. Further, the words are deliberately weasely and do not address who
gets to decide what is "fair." One thing is certain, it is not going to be
By embracing Gov. Schwarzenegger's language, tribes put themselves in a
vulnerable position. The governor openly rejects the corporate tax rate as
"fair" for tribal gaming and instead seeks to impose a 25 percent rate as
the new standard for tribal compacts. By assuming that this "fair share"
was to bring peace and fairness, tribes were deceived into embracing
language that will forever be used against them.
Were Proposition 70 to have passed, the tribes still lose because they will
have agreed to be perceived and treated as nothing more than corporations
that exist at the discretion of the state. The important differences
between tribal casinos and simple profit-driven corporations have been
deliberately obscured and ignored. By embracing the "fair share"
assumptions, tribes have allowed their sovereignty to be dismissed as
Since Proposition 70 failed - as it may have been destined to all along -
tribes are also losers since there is no retreat from the position already
endorsed and actively advanced. Tribes can then almost certainly expect
that the next phase of the attack on tribal resources will be mounted. With
tribal gaming effectively reduced to a state revenue stream, how soon will
it be before a needy - or perhaps greedy - state government seeks to tap
that resource again? Every time tribes attempt to say no, "fair share"
rhetoric will reappear to conquer them again. And, as each compact expires,
tribes will be bullied into accepting what the governor deems "fair." For
now, it is 25 percent. Who knows what it will be five years from now?
As the "fair share" language well demonstrates, tribal leaders cannot
afford to be complacent. They cannot assume that the valuable resources
that tribes currently enjoy and control by virtue of tribal sovereignty
will not be jealously coveted by the majority society. Tribal leaders
cannot assume that what rights and privileges their tribes enjoy today will
remain intact tomorrow.
Some leaders may have thought that agreeing to pay their "fair share" would
improve relations with the state. In reality, this language was presented
to tribes as a step in a well-orchestrated plan of deception and
manipulation to extend state control over tribal resources.
The enemy planted their words in the tribes' mouths: "Fair share." Tribes
in California were deceived into speaking them and they are now part of
their legacy. The success of the Trojan horse tactic in California will
likely fuel similar attacks in the ongoing battle to protect and defend
tribal sovereignty in other states with dire consequences for all tribes.
Unless California tribes adopt a dramatically different over-arching
strategy, it is absolutely certain these attacks will not go away but
escalate. The battle has been brought to the tribes' door; it is now time
Christine Grabowski Ph.D., has worked on behalf of tribes for over 20
years, consulting on such issues as government policy, ethno-history,
contemporary tribal relations, economic development and public relations.
Joseph M. Valandra, Rosebud Sioux, has served Indian country for over 10
years as a senior executive in the gaming and entertainment sectors.
Grabowski & Associates, LLC is a full service consultancy specializing in
policy analysis, public relations, and economic development.