For four centuries, American Indians have lived with the knowledge that whatever we have, others will try to take it away or at least turn it to their own advantage. For much of that time, our people have been virtually powerless to stop the usurpation of our economies and cultures. But today we wield more collective power than at any time in the past 400 years, and it's time we learned to use that power responsibly to protect ourselves and our future generations.
Indian gaming is a $26 billion-per-year business, and that kind of money always attracts interest. Most of the time, the people we deal with are good, honest folks who, like us, are working hard to build a better life for themselves, their families and their communities. But the problem with money is that it also attracts hucksters, con artists and crooks of all kinds, and it isn't always easy to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad. The bad ones are nearly always plausible; that's why their scams succeed.
What if we had a way to distinguish these plausible-but-shady characters from the genuinely honest contractors and vendors who do good work, who live up to their contracts and who make a fair bargain? What if you didn't have to rely solely on how these people represent themselves, not knowing whether they're being truthful?
What if there was a grade book available to every Indian nation, where you could look up reports on the contractors and vendors you're considering doing business with and find out whether they've earned good grades or bad reviews from other Indian nations?
This kind of innovation is a simple way for everyone in Indian country to help protect everything we've worked so hard to accomplish. Better yet, it's something we can do ourselves, and we can start doing it today. We don't need to wait for someone else to give us ''permission.''
Our ancestors knew that with prosperity comes responsibility - the responsibility to preserve, nurture and protect resources so future generations can benefit from them, too. If we are really to be self-governing and self-directed, we must accept the responsibility for protecting what we've built and creating new opportunities for all of Indian country.
Ray Halbritter is the Oneida Indian Nation Representative, CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises, and publisher of Indian Country Today.