Catching Their Breath
by Dave Palermo
Catching Their Breath
After challenging year, tribal leaders seek reprieve from 110th Congress
Tribal government gaming will likely get a reprieve from the 110th Congress following Native America’s most difficult year on Capitol Hill since passage in 1988 of landmark legislation that opened the door to economic growth on tribal trust lands.
That was the message delivered in late-March by tribal leaders at the 2007 National Indian Gaming Association’s trade show at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Ariz.
“We don’t think there is going to be any major legislation dealing with gaming,” said former Sen. Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell, a senior policy analyst with Holland and Knight law firm.
Tribal leaders and advocates last year successfully fought off efforts to amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. The IGRA was legislation that acknowledged the legal right of tribes to operate gaming on Indian lands and provided a regulatory framework for what is now a $28.9 billion gambling and hospitality industry that has generated 670,000 jobs, according to a NIGA economic impact study released at this year’s s convention and trade show.
Tribes also defeated congressional efforts to limit Indian government participation in the political system by amending laws regulating their ability to contribute to political campaigns and candidates. Many of the efforts were prompted by the scandal surrounding convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Proposed amendments to IGRA intended to strengthen federal regulation of tribal gaming by increasing the authority of the National Indian Gaming Commission failed to pass out of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
And ongoing efforts by anti-casino forces at the state and federal level to erode tribal sovereignty and self-governance for the most part proved unsuccessful.
“It was not the easiest year,” NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. told delegates. “It was, however, by far the most rewarding.
“Thanks to your support of NIGA, and the exercise of your voice on Capitol Hill I’m proud to report that we stopped these proposals dead in their tracks,” Stevens told the audience.
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which spent much of the 110th session debating proposed amendments to IGRA, will likely turn its attention to health care, education and other issues impacting tribal nations. At least those are the priorities outlined by committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who is replacing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz).
“His priority is not going to be gaming,” said Campbell, a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Nation. “His priority is going to be health care, as it should be.”
Campbell and Stevens warned attendees to guard against continued assaults on tribal sovereignty and self-governance. Most of the attacks on tribal nations stem from fear of growing Indian political and economic power and a lack of understanding of tribal sovereignty, an ignorance American Indians largely blame on the news media.
Newly compiled economic data show tribal government enterprises in 2006 generated $11 billion in employment, income, sales and excise taxes for non-Indian governments.
“You don’t see that in the Washington Post,” Stevens told a cheering audience of some 400 people. “You don’t see that in USA Today.”