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Chris Cargill Dead Wrong on Tribal Casinos

The Spokane Spokesman Review chose to print Chris Cargill’s factually and legally flawed comments regarding Tribal Casinos ("State should reach deal with tribes for portion of casino profits", January 30, 2011) at the top of the page and bold headlines and with more than ample space. Yet the Spokesman refused to reprint my Column (Indian Country Today, December 17,2010) which was supportive of Indian Casinos and the proposed Spokane Tribal Airway Heights Casino in particular. In an attempt to convince the Spokesman Review to “fairly” cover both sides of the “issue”, I write again.

As the former Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), the Federal Regulatory Agency with oversight over Indian Gaming, I have spent the last two decades responding to the misstatements of law, distortion of facts and outright fabrications by people like Chris Cargill. People like Cargill will never be convinced that Indian Tribes have a right to exist let alone be able to engage in commerce subject to their own law and Federal Law. People like Cargill simply refuse to accept that legal fact that Indian Tribes do exist and exist as “sovereigns” under the Constitution, Treaties and Laws of the United States. So they write articles that mischaracterize, misinform and actually “slander” the tribes. They state facts and law as they “wish” they existed, not as they exist in reality. These people are allowed to do this over and over again, while people like me have to go around straightening out their messes.

Mr. Cargill wishes that Tribes were on the same level as businesses and individual tax payers in the State of Washington. They are not. Indian Tribes are governments. Like most governments they engage in business to raise revenue for specific governmental purposes. In the case of tribal gambling revenue, federal laws strictly dictates that it “must” be used for governmental purposes. Like other sovereigns, tribes are not taxable entities nor are their businesses. Almost every state sovereign engages in gambling to generate governmental revenue without the federal restrictions that are placed upon tribal gaming. Also, Congress, in what was one of the worst “sell-outs” of tribal sovereignty in the history of this country, allowed states a “say” in Indian Commerce through the imposition of Tribal-State Gaming Compacts. This is like telling Washington that it has to negotiate an agreement with Oregon and Idaho before it can have a lottery and then only use its lottery revenues as the Federal Government wants it to. Is this fair? Hardly. But because of the legal premise of “federal supremacy” our “federal trustee” is legally (some would say illegally) allowed to place hardships on reservation economic freedom that no state would accept without outright rebellion. And you don’t hear any “Tea Partiers” objecting about federal restriction of tribal commerce, do you?

Washington Tribes, and tribes all over the country, have been coerced into giving millions, tens of millions and, in some cases, hundreds of millions, to state governments in one of the greatest “pocket pickings” ever de-criminalized by federal law. Washington tribes are required by the Tribal State Gaming Compacts to set up mechanisms to “give” revenues to local units of government and to negotiate yearly with local units of government and the state to compensate the state for “impacts” related to the presence of Indian Casinos. Apparently, Cargill missed that part of the Compacts. If it Quacks like a tax, it is a tax. Where are the “Tea Partiers” on this tax issue? Of course, their solution would be to violate international law and have the Indian “disappear” into the tea stream.

Cargill also asserts that “Washington Tribes are now doing well”. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Maybe a few tribes in the Seattle/Tacoma area are “doing well”, but on the most part the unemployment on reservations has historically and continues to run in high double digits. On the average, Federal Prisoners are allocated more dollars for health care than the per patient expenditure by Indian Health Service. Tribal law enforcement resources have been so under-funded that it finally became a national disgrace after attention was drawn by the horrendous numbers of federal non-prosecution of violence toward women on the reservations. Reservation schools, both public and BIA/Tribal, are grossly under-funded. And Cargill wants to take more so the state can balance its “deficit” on the backs of our Indian children and elderly. I must have missed that lesson in Sunday school that says it’s ok to tread harder on the downtrodden in order that the treader be made more comfortable.

The Spokane Tribe under the Treaties, Constitution and Laws of the United States and under all human notions of fairness and equal protection, should not be treated any less than the Kalispel Tribe was treated. As Chairman of the NIGC I supported the Kalispel in their Quest for their Airway Heights Casino. The Spokane Tribe deserves no less support. How can any decent person or society say otherwise?

Harold A. Monteau is a Chippewa Cree attorney who resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission in the Clinton administration. He can be reached at