PINE RIDGE, S.D. - With a threatened shutdown of the Oglala Sioux Tribe's Prairie Wind Casino hanging in the air, tribal officials met hastily with Bob Mercer, a representative from South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow's office.
At stake for the tribe were 188 jobs on the jobs-scarce Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and substantial revenue brought in by the casino. Referring to these factors, Janklow offered the tribe a stopgap extension on its gaming compact until Sept. 15. Janklow said the measure is good so long as the tribe makes a good faith effort to negotiate.
OST Vice Chairman Wilbur Between Lodges agreed to the contract extension in late June. The extension requires the tribe to enter into full negotiations for a new compact by July 10. The temporary agreement requires negotiations to be completed by Sept. 15.
The tribe's existing gaming compact with the state expired eight months ago, Oct. 28, 1999. Over a period of 14 months Janklow wrote four times to tribal chairman Harold Salway to initiate negotiations for a new compact. All four letters went unanswered by Salway.
Vice Chairman Wilbur Between Lodges cited the takeover of the tribe's Red Cloud Building as contributing to the breakdown in communications. In a letter to Janklow, Between Lodges wrote, "The current situation that has displaced the Oglala Sioux Tribe from their administration building has disrupted not only normal governmental functions, but also our internal mail delivery system."
Between Lodges' correspondence did not acknowledge that three of Janklow's letters were mailed at least four months before the takeover. Finally a June 13 letter was received and answered immediately after an employee of the tribe's gaming commission logged a courtesy copy June 15. The employee immediately notified Tribal Gaming Commission Executive Secretary Saunie Wilson.
After notifying Between Lodges and the tribal council, Wilson contacted Janklow's office to inform them of the breakdown in communication. "The situation is in hand now. We're negotiating and the council will come to an agreement that is beneficial to our tribe," Wilson said.
Some tribal council members expressed anger over what they considered to be "at the very least, willful neglect" on Salway's part. Tribal Councilman Craig Dillon said the council was kept "completely out of the loop" until the June 13 letter came to light. Dillon said Salway claims he never received the mailings from the governor.
"To say I find the tribal chairman's claims of ignorance doubtful would be putting it mildly," Dillon said.
Janklow's June 13 letter was highly charged. Claiming his three previous certified mailings were ignored, he reminded Salway that the tribe's existing gaming compact had been expired for eight months.
"We have long since passed that deadline with no response of any kind from you or any representative of your government. No new compact was reached. No extension of the current compact was signed. Failing those alternatives, and having received not a single word from you regarding the negotiation of compact changes or a new compact, you leave the State of South Dakota essentially no choice but to consider the compact terminated."
Janklow also wrote, "The unfortunate victims of your inaction are the employees and their families who depend upon the casino for their jobs, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe members whose government services receive revenue generated from the tribal casino."
Referring to Janklow's letter, Dillon said, "We dodged a bullet this time, but it makes you wonder how many other bullets are out there."
Repeated calls to Harold Salway's home were unanswered.