An Offer They Could Refuse

On the western prairie, tribal leaders have a message for governor Pawlenty: Back off

CP:What do you think is the biggest misconception about Indian gaming?

Blue-Redner:That everybody's getting rich. Not that it should be anyone else's concern, because it really isn't. We don't make it a practice to ask people what they make, and I don't think anyone should do that to Indian people. We are sovereign nations, and we have a sovereign right to game. The state of Minnesota has no more right to ask Indian tribes to resolve the budget deficits than it has to ask the state of Alaska or Hawaii.

CP:Describe how casino gambling has changed the lives of people in the Upper Sioux community.

Blue-Redner: We're making a lot of progress. Day-to-day lives have improved dramatically. Our mortality and morbidity rates are declining. We've gone from an unemployment rate upwards of 70 percent down to an unemployment rate well below 10 percent. Before gaming, we had a median per capita income of less than $7,000. We're talking about people who in the past didn't have the means to own a home, flush a toilet, or turn on a tap and have running water. So that's the sort of improvement we've seen in the last decade.

And of course that was the primary objective of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988--to help improve the quality of life for Native Americans because, let's face it, we have not been equal participants over the years. My grandma used to say we're pretty lousy capitalists because we haven't had the same experience everyone else had. We're very new to money, so we're still struggling.

CP:Before the election, the Republican Party ran radio ads blaming Democrats for "giving away the casino monopoly" and saying, "Vote for a fair deal on tribal casinos. Vote Republican." What did you think of that?

Blue-Redner: The GOP lost 13 seats in the House, in part because of its attacks on Indian people, but the governor has done a good job of dredging up a lot of anti-Indian sentiment. It's the wrong thing to do, and I think he knows that. It doesn't mean that he's going to stop. To me, this is racial profiling, and it's also economic profiling. As far as the fair share statement goes, Minnesota has gotten its fair share and then some. A lot of then some, including hundreds of millions of dollars in [construction and other casino-related] purchases and a lot of job creation. Probably 85 percent of the people who work in tribal gaming are non-Indian. They all have benefits. They all have retirement plans. It's been more than a fair deal for the state of Minnesota.

CP:Nine of the eleven tribal governments did not meet with Pawlenty, but leaders from Leech Lake and White Earth did. Has that had any effect on the relations between the tribes?

Blue-Redner: I don't think it has much of an effect. Tribal leaders, like any other leaders, have to make decisions based on the best interests of their constituents. But if there is going to be a metro casino from which some of the Indian tribes might benefit, I think those benefits will be temporary. All you have to do is look at our treaty history, our land history, our boarding school history, and now our gaming history to know that, as far as Indian people are concerned, a deal is not a deal. It never has been, and it never will be.

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