National Indian Gaming Commission Respects Tribal Sovereignty

Author:
Updated:
Original:

I am writing in response to an editorial printed in Indian Country Today on
May 19 (Vol. 23, Iss.49), submitted by Jacob Coin, the executive director
of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA).

In his remarks, Mr. Coin suggests that the National Indian Gaming
Commission (NIGC) seeks to "have a role in tribal membership and enrollment
issues." He further states that the "NIGC's attempt to get involved in
tribal enrollment matters is, perhaps, the most egregious example of the
agency's abuse of power."

As the chairman of the NIGC, I want to make it clear that the NIGC is not
attempting, in any way, to become involved in determining tribal membership
or enrollment issues.

Mr. Coin and representatives of California tribes are right when they
vigilantly defend tribes' rights to self-determination and resist
unwarranted federal meddling.

As Mr. Coin mentions in his editorial, the NIGC periodically receives
telephone calls regarding tribal enrollment issues in response to articles
published in various newspapers. Some of those articles suggested that
gaming revenues paid to tribal members in the form of per capita payment
sometimes led to the expulsion or denial of tribal membership in order to
increase per capita payments to a fewer number of tribal members. Mr. Coin
calls such allegations "harsh and unsubstantiated."

While we do not argue whether these allegations are harsh or
unsubstantiated, the fact of the matter remains that the NIGC receives
inquiries, not only by members of the press, but by concerned citizens,
both Indian and non-Indian, about these claims. I viewed my presentation
before CNIGA as an opportunity to share with its participants our
accomplishments from 2003, our future goals and objectives, and to foster a
discussion about common concerns and challenges that both federal and
tribal gaming regulators face. As such, I included in my presentation
before CNIGA a discussion mentioning the inquiries we have received
regarding gaming-related tribal enrollment issues that tribal governments
may face.

Raising these issues was NOT indicative of the NIGC's desire or intent to
become involved in tribal enrollment or membership issues.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) sets forth requirements relating to
the distribution of tribal gaming revenues on a per capita basis, and
meeting those requirements directly interfaces with tribal membership and
the determination of who is qualified or entitled to receive such payments.

The mechanisms tribes have established to deal with membership and
enrollment issues vary from tribe to tribe and are strongly influenced by
the traditions and cultures of the various tribes. The NIGC respects the
inherent sovereign authority of tribes to determine their membership
criteria. However, in our experience, tribes that have a comprehensive
system to determine membership eligibility criteria, which includes some
form of due process, encounter fewer complications and less controversy
than tribes that do not have such systems in place. Our goal during the
CNIGA conference was to communicate to participants that our agency had
received numerous press inquiries on tribal membership issues and to
comment on the attention the issue has attracted and its potential to
adversely affect the Indian gaming industry. I want to be clear that it was
not our intent to insert NIGC into this tribal matter. However, should a
tribe seek the assistance of the federal government to develop such a
system, there should be a willingness on our part to provide that kind of
assistance, particularly if such assistance will further the economic and
governmental benefits to tribes from gaming, as IGRA intended.

We agree with Mr. Coin that determining tribal enrollment and membership is
an inherent function of tribal governments. The NIGC respects and honors
the sovereignty of tribes. Our recent establishment of a formal
consultation policy is a testament to our commitment to enhance and support
the unique government-to-government relationship between tribes and the
federal government.

We also agree with Mr. Coin's statement that the purpose of the IGRA is to
help tribes build strong tribal governments and economies. There is no
question that Indian gaming has provided economic opportunities for
hundreds of tribal communities. The NIGC strongly believes that proper
regulation - at the tribal and federal level - helps to ensure the success
of Indian gaming as a tool to build tribal governments and economies. As
such, we have developed a number of regulatory goals for the upcoming year.
If you would like to learn more about the NIGC's objectives for 2004 -
2005, please review our 2003 Annual Report.

The NIGC Government-to-Government Tribal Consultation Policy and the 2003
Annual Report can be found at www.nigc.gov)