He comes from a business entrepreneurial career, which accounts for his
streak of independence. He is right when he says that the gaming revolution
has not improved the lot of most Indians, not so far anyway. He is right to
emphasize the need to encourage Indian families to live cleaner and eat
healthier. He is a champion of a clean reservation environment and of the
lifestyle message Indians (and all people) need to hear. To prove his
sincerity, Anderson has lost 30 pounds since coming to Washington.
"The real problem in Indian country is the woeful health care, high
alcoholism, drug abuse, high suicide rates and unemployment," Anderson said
recently. "It's not the result of an ineffective bureau. It is solely,
solely, the result of young people growing up without hope."
Again, he hits it on the head. This is all true. So why is he in so much
Independence is one culprit. The maverick multi-millionaire keeps getting
in hot water. For instance, Anderson not long ago bought some equipment for
Indian students at a tribal college using his own money. So-called
colleagues at Interior turned him in for "conflict of interest."
Anderson can be careless in the way of businessmen coming to work in
government. They are smarter than bureaucrats in getting things done and
yet naive at the same time about the trap doors and smoking mirrors game in
Washington. The bureaucracy, particularly your own, will eat you up.
Anderson, uniquely, did not get to pick his own team, taking over a
fractured bureaucracy in midstream. They began to whip him early, when
Anderson recused himself from cases and decisions relating to his former
business partner, gambling entrepreneur Lyle Berman. If this first recusal
seemed proper, his second, more universal, self-removal from any and all
cases dealing with gaming, well, that seemed unnecessarily comprehensive,
perhaps an overreaction.
The decision was not well accepted, generally. Went the cry: Dave, if not
you, then who? Gaming and its impact on tribal economies - positively and
negatively - is a priority agenda for nearly a third of Indian country.
"This is your job," Mr. Anderson has been told by nearly everybody. You
signed up to do just this.
At this time when the BIA is undergoing intense and hostile scrutiny by
congressional committees, particularly on gaming and recognition matters,
the complete recusal of the BIA director is a most peculiar development.
Mark Dayton, D-Minn., and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Co., the only Indian
in the Senate, have challenged Anderson's decision. On the defensive,
Anderson, a Choctaw and Ojibwe as well as an openly devout Christian,
appeared to disparage the promotion of the Indian gaming industry, a
position that has its charm perhaps for some stuck in hinterland economic
hardship and who have yet to get practical attention from the national
However, disparaging gaming at this time in Indian history is not a
particularly good corner for the BIA director to be punching from. The
gaming success in Indian country is quite young still and in no way
contradictory to the potential prosperity of any tribal enterprise or
opportunity anywhere in the country. A BIA director has to be willing and
able to deal with the nuances of the gaming revolution and how it might be
best guided toward positive outcomes in Indian country. Anderson perhaps
stepped back too far from the arena on this one. It is hard to imagine what
clout he can have left without joining the fray. True leadership never
comes from outside the arena. Advice, some coaching perhaps can be applied
this way, but it takes actual risk to lead. If Anderson is not willing to
reconsider how he might effectively and actively integrate all of the
sectors of Indian life, including the role of gaming in the economic future
of American Indian governments, to lead the overall fight, he should step
down. It's hard to see things working out for Mr. Anderson any other way.