California Indians don’t need more money to fuel further division

Because of the questions the Muwekma Ohlone tribe continues to receive asking us where we stand on Proposition 26, we felt a need to weigh in and make our position public.

Prop 26 would legalize in-person sports betting and other table games in Indian casinos and racetracks in California. This would give a monopoly to some of the already wealthiest tribes in California and allow them to generate even more money. These wealthy tribes oppose competing Proposition 27, which would allow outside corporations to offer on-line sports betting because, of course, enough is never enough when you become infected with greed and the need for possessions.

In an ABC interview, Chairman Greg Sarris of Graton Rancheria, one of the wealthiest tribes in California, said, “California Indians have worked so hard to create a business that helps sustain ourselves. … We don’t want an outside group coming in. “

The issue we have with Chairman Sarris’s statement and with Prop. 26 in general is that gaming has not been the cure all that was promised for Indians in California. Since California legalized gambling for Indian tribes in 1989, the results have been to shower a few tribes with enormous wealth while leaving the rest to continue their struggles alone and without support.

These wealthy gaming tribes act in direct oppression of their native brothers and sisters by using their casino profits to lobby directly against the sovereignty of other tribes. By opposing “legitimate” unrecognized tribes’ efforts to become federally recognized, the gaming tribes have lost their indigenous tribes ways of community and solidarity and embraced the greedy ways of the colonists.

Recently Graton Rancheria and other gaming tribes actively lobbied against a Muwekma Ohlone tribe State resolution (SJR13) that supported our tribes’ efforts to restore our sovereignty. Our state resolution had overwhelming support from Bay Area universities, environmental and conservation groups, religious organizations, anthropologists , historians, local and state agencies, and local, state, and national organizations, but these rich and powerful gaming tribes sent their lobbyists to kill the bill.

California Sen. Bill Dodd, chairman of the Senate Government Organization Committee, refused to vote on our resolution and effectively killed our bill in his committee. No one in the media or watchdog groups bothered to pay attention or question how one politician who represents the territory of Graton Rancheria’s casino and has clearly been influenced is allowed to pervert our political process. This isn’t the way transparent government and democracy is supposed to work.

The “No on Prop 26” coalition claims that “Five California tribal casinos sponsoring Prop 26 have become some of the wealthiest and most powerful special interests in the state” and “… they pass out millions in campaign contributions every election to protect their winnings. “

This is not news to unrecognized tribes who have felt the negative impacts of casino money corrupting the political process both in Washington and in California.

Indian Country today, an independent non-profit news enterprise, reported in 2011, “The number one donor in the last US presidential election cycle wasn’t a health-care lobbyist, a tobacco company, or a tech giant. It was a small group of tribes in California determined to protect their interests … tribes, especially those in the Golden State, are among the biggest donors to state and federal political campaigns.”

We absolutely respect all tribes’ sovereign rights of self-determination, and no one is suggesting that Native American tribes shouldn’t have the same rights as any other corporate interest to engage in the political arena. However, when they weaponize their casino profits against other “legitimate’ historic tribes, one must question whether handing them more money is in the best interest of all California Indians. We certainly don’t believe so.

Charlene Nijmeh is the chairwoman of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Jorge Oliveira

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