Thoughts on the Casino

By Susan Hess

Special to the News

It's a beautiful land here and bountiful. No wonder we all want to live here. But how? How is the question.

Is a big store unfair competition to small stores? Yes.

Can golf courses and ski resorts be built on what is now agricultural or forested land? No.

Should a casino be built at the edge of town? Ah, this for me is a much more difficult question.

****

Until very recently, only a few places (like Nevada) in the United States allowed gambling. It was widely believed and maybe justifiably so that gangsters controlled many of those gambling establishments. I found 39 states that now have lotteries. Every day or multiple times a day, you and I can gamble to our hearts content; and for those addicted, gamble till the money's gone.

As gambling became state departments, that gangster image left. People like you and me depend on the lottery for middle class jobs; and stores count on it for customer draw and revenue. So it seems the states are the biggest gamblers and the most addicted to the income their lotteries provide.

This quote from the Oregon Lottery Commission's web site: "Since the Lottery began in 1985, over $2.6 billion in Lottery profits has gone to public education and economic development programs throughout Oregon. During that same time, players have won over $6 billion in prizes, and over $1 billion has been paid to Oregon businesses for services and supplies needed to operate the Lottery."

Around the same time period, one Indian nation after another opened casinos on their land. Between the states and the tribal nations, gambling has become almost as ubiquitous as McDonalds.

One source says only a small fraction of the tribes make a profit on their casinos, but for those that do, it has given them an economic boom that little else has. There is concern among some tribes that the compact agreements, required by the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act, weakens their sovereignty. This act makes it mandatory that a tribe wanting to offer gambling on its land, must negotiate with the state -- usually some payment in lieu of taxes. That one agreement puts a toe hold for other regulations to follow. Because of this, the Navajo, the largest Indian tribe in the U.S, for years refused to allow casinos, yet last October they too, voted to allow a casino on one of their properties.

I fear a casino would bring increased masses of tourists. I fear the town would become candy shops, souvenir stores, and traffic jams. I don't want a building sitting atop the scenic highway. I myself want to run claustrophobic from the huge rooms with no windows and people sitting silently interacting with only a machine.

****

And Yet. Indians lived here in Oregon for at least 10,000 years. Ten thousand years! They lived here at the time "civilization" began in Mesopotamia (now Iran); lived here before Egyptians built pyramids. The Indian culture is an incredibly successful history.

What happened when we Europeans came is too sad for many of us to even read. Europeans by in large were insensitive, culturally ignorant, and greedy. And what damage that didn't do, disease did. In his Pulitzer Prize winning book, "Guns, Germs and, Steel," author Jared Diamond asks why Native American diseases didn't decimate the European invaders as theirs did the American Indian population. (It has to do with the domestication of animals and diseases jumping from animals to humans.) European diseases, he estimates, killed 95 percent of the Indian population in the century or two following Columbus' landing.

What disease didn't do, fencing off land did. It's as if modern USA was invaded and all oil and gas supplies cut off. For the Indian, livelihood in many cases depended on one area for fish, others for game, roots, berries -- each area essential for physical and economic health.

That treaties were broken time and time again is no secret to many of us, or that Indians were moved forcibly from land they lived on for millennia. That they were put on land with unfamiliar plants or given European foods they didn;t know how to use, also known.

Indian people who spoke different languages, had entirely separate cultures, and different governing structure were grouped together on a single reservation. This, too, we know.

Time after time, Indian tribes were "given" reservation land only to have the government take all or part it back into public domain. When the government at the behest of the new comers took land from the Indian people, how it could then "give" seems a strange twist of logic, but there you have it. Typical of what happened is the case of the Grand Ronde & Siletz Reservations. Indians from southern Oregon, the Willamette Valley, and up and down the Oregon coast were moved onto those two reservations.

Originally 1.4 plus million acres in 1856, these reservations were reduced through government take backs and allotments; until by middle of the preceding century the tribes were left with less than five acres. In 1954, Congress terminated the tribes. Terminated? As if you were told by some new peoples: America is no more. A thought like that makes my heart pause.

****

Today? Take a drive along the gorge, drive through the City of North Bonneville (along Washington Highway 14), a city the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moved when they built the second powerhouse at Bonneville Dam. Look at the lovely homes and municipal buildings the Corps built for the families, the wide paved streets, the modern sewer and water system.

Then head east and drive along Oregon I-84 to Celilo Indian Village fourteen miles past The Dalles. Tour another city relocated by the Corps. The homes were old army barracks remodeled; drive the pitted street, notice the sewer system that was and is too small, and the water system that works sporadically.

A representative I asked said the Corps learned. That by the time they built North Bonneville in the 1970s versus Celilo Village around 1950, they learned to do a better job.

I hope so. I just don't understand why in all these years with that hindsight, with all the dams the Corps has built since 1955, they have never had time or money to go back and make right what was done so poorly.

It's easy to throw stones at a big impersonal government entity like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and overlook the individuals within who try to do the right thing. But what of us neighbors of this community. Why have we let this go on?

Which brings me back to the casino and why I'm so torn in my feelings about the casino the Warm Springs Nation plans on building here. I'm torn by what the majority society has done to a minority; I think perhaps we have had enough say in what they can and can't do versus my concern over what a casino would do this community.

As I read and interview experts, I understand more and more how desperate I would be, were I an Indian, to never again be at the economic mercy of the majority culture.

Log in to comment