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LET THE GAMES BEGIN; Blaming the victim; Turning a blind eye to reality

The explosion of computer technology and the rapid growth of the Internet
over the past decade have, among other things, allowed for more rapid
communication between individuals and a broader dissemination of ideas and
opinions through the new electronic media. This overall expansion of
communicative ability, one would hope, would lead to a more enlightened
populace.

But while consumers certainly have a wider array of news delivery options
from which to select, there doesn't seem to be any greater sense of
enlightenment, at least in regard to public perception of the Indian gaming
industry. Some of this fault lies with the media itself. A recent editorial
published Dec. 13 by the Providence Journal provides a case in point.

The Journal rightfully derided the "intense money lust" currently pervasive
in our nation's capital. It aimed its pen (or, perhaps, its keyboard) at
scandals involving congressional Republicans; the revolving door between
government, lobbying firms and private industry; "bribes for obtaining vast
defense contracts"; and, of course, that two-faced fleecer of Indian tribal
governments: Jack Abramoff. All of these are legitimate targets for
criticism.

But the Journal crossed the line and went way out of bounds in targeting
IGRA, which it called one of the "numerous happy highways for corruption
these days." This includes, it wrote, "the inevitable influence peddling
that goes with the disastrous Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which has led
to an explosion of Indian casinos and hence more corruption." Blatantly
inflammatory and misguided statements such as these do nothing to inform
and educate the public, which the editors of a major daily newspaper surely
understand is not only their job but also their responsibility.

CORRUPTION?

Whatever corruption exists surrounding the Indian gaming industry rarely
stems from Indians; it often comes from the money-centric horde of
lobbyists and the salivating politicians who pander to them. What choice do
tribes have but to play this game, just like everyone else who wants a
piece of the American pie?

Abramoff and his lobbying cronies deliberately and shamefully ripped off
their tribal clients. Should the tribes who employed them have known
better? Maybe, but don't forget that gaming tribes are new players in the
D.C. influence game and perhaps did not exercise sufficient caution in
putting their trust in people who didn't deserve it. You can bet your
bottom dollar that the affected tribes and others will show greater savvy
in the future.

Connecticut tribes seeking federal recognition have had to battle an
onslaught of race-based negativity from state officials. These include the
attorney general and the current and former governors (former Gov. John
Rowland, by the way, is currently in prison for accepting kickbacks), who
hypocritically deny that the Schaghticokes and Eastern Pequots are real
Indians, even though both enjoy state recognition and live on reservations
created before the state of Connecticut came into existence.

Allegations have run rampant that these anti-Indian politicians unduly
pressured the BIA to deny federal recognition to the tribes. Time may well
reveal that these hypocrites, who rake in millions of dollars from Foxwoods
and Mohegan Sun, have corrupted the BIA process for other deserving tribes.

Yes, the glacial BIA recognition process may well have been corrupted, but
Indians are not at fault for that. Tribes applying for recognition are only
seeking something to which they are lawfully entitled through the primary
process available to them.

DISASTROUS?

As far as tribal governments are concerned, IGRA has been anything but
"disastrous." No, not all tribes are getting rich from gaming (a misplaced
but growing stereotype that has absolutely no credence). But gaming has
become the best means of economic development in Indian country. Tribes
with successful gaming operations have, as mandated by IGRA, used gaming
proceeds to fund educational and health care programs, to revive languages
and other aspects of cultures on the verge of extinction, to support tribal
governmental operations and to reinvest in other business ventures.

Tribally owned casinos have also created hundreds of thousands of jobs
nationwide, a majority of which are held by non-Indians. These workers
spend a large chunk of their salaries to boost their local economies, while
their tax dollars support governments at the local, state and federal
levels. Tribal casinos and other businesses pour millions of dollars
annually into the coffers of vendors, suppliers, contractors and
subcontractors who would not have this business but for IGRA.

And, under the concept of "revenue sharing" (which is not mandated by
IGRA), tribes have voluntarily (in some cases) ceded a portion of their
gaming dollars to state governments, who are becoming increasingly
aggressive in trying to obtain such revenue, to which they are not legally
entitled. Many tribes also make payments in lieu of taxes to local
communities and school districts as a way to mitigate the local impact of
their casinos. Likewise, IGRA does not require such payments.

To call IGRA "disastrous" is to willfully turn a blind eye to all the good
this federal law has done for Indian tribes and their non-Indian neighbors
throughout the United States. Likewise, blaming tribes for being fleeced by
Abramoff, or blaming them for the apparently skewed way in which
recognition is awarded, is akin to blaming a rape victim for being
assaulted, or a roadside car-crash fatality for getting in the way of a
drunk driver.

Then again, the general sentiment in Rhode Island seems to condone raiding
sovereign Indian territory, confiscating tribal property, disrupting
commerce, and arresting Indians for trying to defend themselves and their
livelihood -- as happened in July 2003 to the Narragansett Indians.
Subsequent promises by that state's governor to explore alternative means
for economic development (other than gaming and cigarette sales) have come
to naught.

It is the duty of every journalist and editor to be factual and responsible
in his or her reporting of the news and writing of opinions. The Abramoff
scandal does not mean that IGRA is a "disaster": there is no logic to
support such an inference. In baselessly attacking IGRA, the Providence
Journal has unfortunately succumbed to an unfounded stereotype promulgated
by the same "fanatical worshippers of Mammon" it claims to abhor.