Sadly, some wealthy gaming tribes have turned a blind eye to the needs of
their Indian neighbors and Indian service organizations. In California,
nearly 1,500 Indian families have been disenrolled and hundreds more are
threatened Gaming has brought in the dominant culture's disease of greed.
There are numerous reservations where non-Indian families were adopted into
various tribes years ago; now these non-Indians have taken control and have
disenrolled original Indian families.
The American Indian Movement (AIM) usually fought outside forces to
preserve sovereignty and culture. Now the new destructive threat is from
within - something Indians never thought would happen. Our survival as
native Indians will be achieved though our unity as one people, not
Gaming is like a double-edged blade. It has helped in many positive ways to
alleviate poverty with the potential for a better future for all tribal
members. Casino gaming, however, is not the "Holy Grail" for Indians. It is
a good start, but our people need to diversify their economic development
With gaming money, some tribes have turned on other tribes and denied them
the opportunity to have gaming, while not offering them any financial
solutions. Some reservations have achieved great success with gaming
monies; yet the elders rarely meet anymore and young adults are not
encouraged to graduate or better themselves, therefore leaving non-Indians
to influence future tribal sovereignty. Some have lost interest for their
traditional culture and are influenced by gangster rap, etc. The flip side
is that numerous tribes have preserved their culture and language due to
Many non-Indians run tribal gaming operations while dictating policy on how
the money should be spent. In California, gaming money gravitates toward
powerful legal firms and political legislation that favors gaming, thereby
creating a cycle of greed for non-Indian recipients while neglecting
On a few reservations, adopted families have taken control of the tribal
governments, resulting in the disenrollment of many of the original Indian
families. They threatened the remaining Indian families with disenrollment
and/or loss of monies, all the while assuming their leadership has no
accountability for their immoral and illegal actions. This has resulted in
many more voiceless Indians. Leadership requires sacrifice by putting the
needs of your people above your own needs.
One such tribe now pays the remaining enrolled members $45,000 a month and
has put 300 more members on notice of disenrollment. Where poverty once
resulted in apathy and lack of motivation, it appears the same goes for
having too much wealth.
Many Indian reservations have served their people well with gaming, yet
some seem to have resulted in the opposite. Gaming has the appearance of
another intentional strategy by the dominate culture to divide and conquer
Indians. Either way, gaming is having unintentional cultural consequences
by bringing wealth to some and the loss of health benefits, loss of
heritage and loss of ancestral linage to others. Our ancestors who fought
and sacrificed their all to preserve our culture and keep our people
together would be appalled by these actions.
Gaming has also brought out some old family feuds or disagreements with
tribal leaders that have resulted in disenrollments. In other cases, tribal
members who disagree with the direction or expenditures of gaming monies
find themselves and their entire families threatened with disenrollment or
are actually disenrolled. Where does this all end?
The AIM chapter here in San Diego is involved with many community programs
on the reservations and in the urban sector. There are 17 reservations here
in San Diego County, including 45,000 urban Indians living in the city of
San Diego. The majority of these Indian people are not direct recipients of
any Indian gaming revenues. Several of the tribes have very successful
gaming operations and are investing wisely in the future with non-gaming
businesses. However, neither AIM nor other Indian organizations solicit or
receive any gaming monies to support their Indian community-based programs.
Many Indian organizations continue to survive on individual contributions
One positive outcome from gaming is the revenue sharing compact in
California. A percentage of Indian gaming profits must go into a collective
account where the funds are statistically distributed to the non-gaming
tribes. It has helped alleviate serious poverty issues.
Despite the sharing agreement, some tribes work against each other and
their own people. Prior to gaming, many Indians lived in deplorable Third
World conditions; yet families, communities, traditions and sovereign
spirituality united them while disenrollment was rare.
Today, Indian country is threatened with disunity because with wealth come
greed and power, which are always accompanied by lawyers and politicians.
For without the bonds of family and community, an individual has no worth.
Acquiring or possessing more than what one needs (self greed) is not the
Indian way. Walking the spiritual Red Path with our ancestors, who
understood giving and reciprocity, is. One can be educated, live and work
in the dominant culture's domain. That does not mean we have to lose our
spiritual and cultural roots of being Indian. We can help each other to
ensure not one Indian is left behind.
AIM is strong in its convictions as a traditional and spiritual movement
that walks the Red Path in truth and humbleness. Greed and ego have no
place in this organization, which explains why AIM stands as strong as a
tree while keeping in solidarity with the traditions of Indians helping
Indians. What have you done lately to help another Indian or advance Indian
Marty Firerider, Anishnaabe, is a talk radio co-host of the program
"American Indian Movement Today," which can be heard at
www.WorldTalkRadio.com. As a Vietnam veteran national activist he has
worked as a political lobbyist and economic development specialist for
veterans rights in Washington, D.C. He is former CEO of the American
Veterans Chamber of Commerce and is currently CEO of the American Indian
Movement, Inc. for AIM San Diego, a California not-for-profit corporation.