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For Time Magazine, Din? rejection of casinos a cultural choice

The TIME Magazine "Special Report Indian Casinos" may be most objectionable for its omissions. In its Dec. 23 installment, it several times compares the finances of the Navajo and Hopi Nations, with no money at all from casinos, to the "lucky few" with casinos. The writers neglect to add that the Navajo and Hopi refused to enter the gaming business by their own free will, because of strong cultural objections. The following article by Southwest correspondent Valerie Taliman explains these objections, and some of the Navajo's second thoughts.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - With hundreds of tribes pursuing or operating casinos, the 250,000-member Navajo Nation has stood out as an anomaly for its resistance and opposition to gambling within its borders.

Twice in the last eight years, the Navajo Nation government has put gaming to a vote of the people. And twice it was defeated by roughly 54 percent of voters. In 1994's general election, the referendum measure on gaming was defeated by a vote of 23,450 in favor and 28,073 opposed. In 1997, during a special election, the vote was 15,224 in favor and 18,097 opposed.

Many people worried that Navajo sovereignty would be compromised by state gaming compacts. Others raised liability issues. But many Navajos, women in particular, had moral reasons for opposing gaming. They publicly voiced their fears that gaming would attract social ills to families and communities already reeling from the impacts of gangs, crime, alcoholism, domestic violence and poverty.

Traditionalists and elders reminded people about Navajo stories and teachings concerning the dangers of gambling and the "enslavement" it can cause.

According to Din? (Navajo) teachings, there was a time in our history when Nahoolbiihii, "the one who wins you over," appeared among the people. He began enticing people to gamble with him, promising riches and better lives. But soon, with the help of the owl and other creatures of the night, the so-called Gambler was winning everything, including the people themselves and their families.

The people became slaves to the Gambler and it is said that they labored to build what is now called Chaco Canyon, a huge maze of ancient Anasazi ruins on the eastern border of the Navajo Nation, where the Gambler lived. In desperation to win back their people, Din? leaders also began to gamble. But they, too, lost everything and became slaves. Then the people began to disappear.

After a time, the prayers of the Din? were answered by their deities, the Holy People, who sent a young boy with a good mind for numbers called Naa hoo' di dahi, "the impoverished one." With the help of the wind and the Holy People, he was able to win back everything that had been lost.

Naa hoo' di dahi then offered to put up everything he had won. In exchange, the Gambler had to bet himself. When the Gambler lost, he was sent to a place with no air, commonly thought by Navajo people to be "beyond the universe."

But he warned he would one day return to enslave all the people.

The Gambler then roamed the heavens, going from one deity to the next, asking if he could return to earth. One of the deities agreed to allow the Gambler to return, and some say he came back in the form of the white man.

One interpretation of that teaching by Navajo medicine man Ned Nez holds that when Columbus brought the Bible, alcohol and guns into Indian Country, he was carrying out the promise the Gambler made.

Guns and alcohol were certainly used to conquer Native people and gambling remains an ever-present threat that could once again enslave the Din