2004 State of the Tribal Nations Address

Press Release
For Immediate Release


2004 State of the Tribal Nations Address

January 14, 2004

Good morning.

We meet today as representatives of sovereign nations bound together by history and a bond of kinship.

My name is Anthony Miranda, Chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association and a proud member of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians.

We also meet today knowing that who we are, and why we are here, is an inheritance from our ancestors whose sacrifices, great and often untold, fortified the spirit that is the source of our true strength and independence.

At the same time, let us also give thanks to our tribal Elders, whose presence among us is a source of wisdom, and whose courage, and strength and determination have been indispensable to those of us who have been elected to leadership positions.

Our very presence here today as viable, forward-thinking and economically diverse tribal nations speaks volumes to the many generations of our ancestors who worked so tirelessly and remained true to their commitment to pave the way for future generations of Native Americans.

Mere words cannot adequately express our appreciation for our Elders and all they have done. I ask that the delegates now stand and pause for a minute of silence to remember and pay respect to our ancestors, pledging continued fidelity to the example they have set before us.

Let us now bow our heads.

I wish to warmly welcome each of you to the 9th Western Indian Gaming Conference, an annual event sponsored by the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, or CNIGA.

The size and scope of this conference is a marvelous testament to the tremendous growth our industry has enjoyed in a relatively short period of time.

To the people of California and those who have helped us in our quest to achieve economic self-reliance, we thank you for your valued, ongoing support.

CNIGA is a confederation of tribes working to enhance the sovereignty, independence and self-reliance of each of its members.

The member Tribes do not exist for CNIGA, rather, CNIGA exists for the members. It is in this spirit that I intend to conduct myself as CNIGA Chair.

As an inherent part of the duty of the CNIGA Chair, I am called upon to offer remarks on the state of our tribal nations, including our accomplishments and the challenges that still face us.

After generations of devastating federal and state actions against tribes, we endured, we survived, our heads unbowed, our determination stronger than ever.

Because of the indomitable spirit, the government in Washington, D.C. recognized that tribes should once again be allowed to govern themselves. Ever since, tribes have grown in strength and knowledge, regaining control of their own destinies.

I am here to report to you that today the state of our tribal nations is strong, and that at this moment in history, for the first time since the Europeans sought to enslave and degrade the native peoples, we stride the land with renewed confidence, knowing that our future is in our hands--ours to determine.

For the first time in generations, we are able to replace welfare with diplomas.

Our future is filled with challenges. Attacks on our sovereignty, our tribal economies and our integrity, continue and will continue for the foreseeable future -- for as long as we survive and struggle bravely as a people.

Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for tribal government sovereignty.

Indian gaming has provided tribal governments with resources to fund tribal programs, the development of businesses and the ability to participate in the political process, allowing tribes to work with local, state and federal officials.

It has also allowed us to share the bounty of our hard work and good fortune with others, an expression of the traditional compassion of Native Americans, something that has been recognized by the people alongside of whom we live and work. Just ask them if Indian gaming is working.

We must use our resources to help us navigate the political landscape that exists in the state today.

Recently, I have been reflecting on what it means to take responsibility for our own future. These reflections humble me, as forging our own future is an awesome responsibility, one that will require everyone’s commitment.

We must be ever mindful that the actions we take today shape the sovereignty of future generations.

Each action from now on should be carefully weighed and fully deliberated. Passion should be directed by reason. Open and mutually respectful dialogue should take the place of politics-as-usual.

Our relations with non-tribal governments should be conducted in the spirit of honesty, openness, and when appropriate, the spirit of friendship.

We must also remain mindful of the unspoken double standard that exists for Native Americans. Our ability to prosper and care for our people through economic development all too often has its limits in the minds of others.

We should always conduct ourselves as good neighbors and citizens -- willing to listen and to talk, but always ready to defend our fundamental beliefs, principles, economic interests and overall cultural identity.

But NEVER, EVER should we permit ourselves to compromise where basic principle is concerned. We must be forever vigilant against those who would seek to divide us, charm us, threaten us, tempt us or otherwise lead us to believe that our security and well-being is to be found in anything other than tribal government sovereignty.

The allure of false promises, simplistic arguments, and division among ourselves may be the greatest dangers facing us. Our history demonstrates that if we are to fail, it will be by our own hand, not by some outside aggressor.

The first of our basic principles is the sovereignty of tribal nations, a power and a right that is our inheritance by nature and history, reconfirmed by decisions of the United States Supreme Court and other branches of the U.S. government.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 is another expression of that sovereignty. The authors of IGRA intended Indian gaming to be a powerful means to promote "strong tribal government."

Clearly, President Ronald Reagan and Congress viewed Indian gaming as a function of tribal government, seeing it as different and separate from all other forms of gaming that are operated for the self-interest of an entrepreneur or corporation.

Frequent comparisons are made between former Governor Ronald Reagan and Governor Schwarzenegger.

May I recommend that California's new Governor, who has often said he admires President Reagan, should take a long, hard look at his predecessor's forward thinking in signing IGRA into law.

The fundamental recognition of IGRA that gaming on tribal lands is a function and right of tribal government, is another point on which we cannot compromise.

Indian gaming is not a business enterprise, such as a card club or a horse track. Nor is it subject, like local businesses, to regulation by local authorities.

We must do everything in our power over the coming weeks and months as we commence government-to-government discussions about the Tribal-State Compact to help educate the public and those in the administration understand these subtle but important differences.

Another principle that cannot be compromised is the government-to-government nature of any discussion about Indian gaming.

Election campaigns between opposing candidates, however important or amusing, play little or no role in the process by which decisions are made affecting Indian gaming. Only government-to-government dialogue is relevant when it comes to decision making about Indian gaming.

Politicians may pander to an unknowledgeable public for election advantage, but they cannot change these basic legal and inalienable truths.

· First, tribal nations are sovereign;

· Second, Indian gaming is an expression of sovereignty and, as such, is a function of tribal government;

· And third, it is a government-to-government relationship that controls the dialogue between tribal governments with any and all other governments.

These principles must be protected as sacred standards of our civil religion. Whatever we do now or in the future, we must not trade away these principles on which future generations will build their security and well-being.

As for our accomplishments, the extraordinary success of tribal government gaming in California is spectacular, contributing to California in untold ways, being the one bright spot in an otherwise dismal economy. Again, we could not have achieved this success without the full support of a strong majority of Californians who recognize and embrace our right to self-determination.

The people of California understand that this is really about people. It is important to remember that the people have spoken clearly on this matter and that they have voted twice for Indian gaming and our right to self reliance.

Since the US Secretary of the Interior published the Tribal-State Compact in May 2000, Indian gaming has grown to a $4 billion industry in California with over fifty tribal casinos.

In May 2000, there were 39 tribal gaming operations with 19,000 gaming devices generating an estimated $900 million per year.

Let us just consider what Indian gaming has accomplished in four years--a record that no other industry can match.

During his recent State of the State address, California's Governor emphasized the need to make job creation the state's top priority. We could not agree more.

Over the past few years, Indian gaming has been the only positive contributor to job creation in California.

State employment figures for the fiscal year ended November 2003 show that tribal governments, fueled largely by Indian gaming, now directly employ 42,000 Californians, a nearly 17 percent increase from November 2002.

As a matter of fact, since November 2000 tribal governments have directly created 19,500 new jobs. That's an astounding growth rate of 187 percent.

During the past fiscal year, tribal government gaming was the only industry with 20,000 or more employees to post double-digit job growth.

These figures do not take into account the hundreds of local vendors and service providers working with tribal casinos that are employing tens of thousands of Californians.

It is estimated that for every job created directly by Indian gaming, three more are created by local businesses providing goods and services for that tribal casino.

Overall, it is estimated more than 200,000 Californians are now employed, either directly or indirectly, by Indian gaming. That adds up to billions in wages, benefits and other payments generated directly and indirectly by Indian gaming.

In comprehending these staggering numbers, it becomes obvious that the contribution of tribal government gaming to the economic health of the state of California is enormous and perhaps unprecedented!

There is, of course, much more to the economic story.

A common public misconception is that Indians don't pay taxes. Nothing could be further from the truth.

According to the National Indian Gaming Association, Native Americans paid $4 billion in personal federal income taxes nationwide last year. In California, Indian gaming generated an estimated $280 million in federal payroll and income tax, as well as over $120 million in state and local taxes last year.

These figures do not even include the tens of millions of dollars in corporate, local use and sales taxes, and the tens of millions donated to charitable organizations and community agencies.

Through the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund, established by the tribal-state compact, gaming tribes also contribute an estimated $120 million annually to help 78 federally recognized non-gaming California tribes fund critically needed programs in housing, healthcare and education.

We should all stand tall and proud.

Additionally, through the Special Distribution Fund, also mandated by the Tribal-State Compact, tribes spend more than $100 million a year to pay for the impact of gaming on local communities.

Based on these estimates, California's gaming tribes are paying more than $600 million in payroll, income taxes and other payments annually.

It is certainly a strange logic to measure progress in terms of the amount of taxes we pay. But by this measurement, the gaming tribes of California are on a roll, and have become so embedded in the economic life of the state, that it is hard if not impossible to fathom what it was like just a few short years ago before the Tribal-State Compact. Judging from these statistics, the tribes of California have much to be proud of.

But, there is still more to this story. Indian gaming has done much to dramatically reduce the number of Californians on welfare, aid to families with dependent children and other public assistance, saving the state millions of dollars annually.

There are also numerous examples of tribal nations reaching out to local and county governments up and down the state through formal agreements that ensure these governments receive tens of millions of dollars in compensation for service and infrastructure impacts.

The contribution of Indian gaming to the state of California is nothing short of spectacular. Why, then, is the future of California Indian gaming, the very foundation of our right to economic self-reliance, once again being challenged?

There are two dangers of immediate concern. The first one was raised by the Governor in his election campaign and again in his State of the State Address. The second is posed by an initiative that would expand gaming to card clubs and horse tracks off reservation lands.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger blatantly used the tribes as political pawns to help sweep him into office. During his campaign, he singled out tribes for not paying "their fair share."

In his State of the State address, Governor Schwarzenegger again called upon the tribes to pay "their fair share".

Campaigning as he did against the tribes, rolling out time after time the old falsehood that "Indians don't pay taxes," the Governor managed to introduce confusion into the public debate.

From our perspective, the Governor's concept of "fair share" is amusing and troubling. It clearly shows that he doesn't understand a very simple fact: that the state does not pay a single dime in compensation to the tribes. Nothing.

And yet, the tribes, as sovereign governments equal under federal law, are expected to provide compensation to the state. Somehow, the hypocrisy of this argument has been lost - especially by the Governor, politicians and the media.

It has become vitally important that we, as tribes, make a concerted and long-term effort to reach out across all party lines, in a spirit of cooperation, unity and respect.

We must immediately move to clarify any misconceptions with the California public who have been our greatest source of support in the battles over tribal government gaming.

What the Governor means by the phrase, "fair share" has so far been left undefined except for those who trade in gossip and rumor. Perhaps we will know soon as the Governor's new compact negotiator, Daniel Kolkey, assumes his duties.

Mr. Kolkey served as legal affairs secretary under Governor Pete Wilson and negotiated the infamous Wilson Compact in 1998.

Let no one underestimate Mr. Kolkey, who is both smart and tough. He will make a formidable negotiator and opponent. This much can be said of him--we will always know where he stands.

Regardless of the past, we must look forward to meeting and working with Mr. Kolkey in a mutually respectful government-to-government dialogue, ever mindful of our basic principles and of the hopes and expectations of the California tribes and the people of California. Our strength lies in negotiating with one voice, repelling those who would divide us in order to gain advantage over us.

The proposed card club and horse track initiative is being organized by persons and consultants associated with former Governor Pete Wilson.

This initiative should really be called the Gambling Deception Act of 2004 to expand gambling throughout California by the horse tracks and card clubs.

In its current form, this initiative would allow the exclusive operation of slot machines at a total of five racetracks and eleven card clubs. How clever that these same five tracks and eleven card clubs and their investors are the ones actually funding this initiative! Just look at the deception!

This is clearly the first step toward a massive expansion of non-Indian gaming in the state. We hope and trust that the people of California recognize this fact, and will reject the proposal outright.

We must unite and make sure that everyone understands that the card clubs are trying to misrepresent tribal gaming and deceive Californians with this initiative.

The people understand that tribal government gaming is about people and self-reliance. This is something that these out of state corporations do not understand.

It goes without saying that this initiative must be resisted with the combined might of the CNIGA tribes.

The process will be long, costly and tedious, but it should begin today with the effort to undo the confusion that was caused by the Governor in his election campaign by undertaking an education program for the California electorate. The aim of this program is to build good will by dispelling untruths, half-truths and uninformed opinion.

Such a program should also seek to undo the damage by those who are influenced by despicable motives, who have welcomed the Governor's words as an opportunity to strike at Native Americans and tribal government gaming.

While the State of our Tribal Nations is strong today, we face a number of significant challenges. Indian gaming has been a tremendous asset in fueling healthy economic growth, but our continued growth faces major hurdles.

As Congress meets every year on Native American issues, opponents will continue to attack our sovereign rights, our right to gaming and our right to reclaim our lands.

The situation that faces us today is far different from that which we faced prior to the formulation of the Tribal State Compact in 2000.

Then, tribal government gaming was hanging in the balance, with significant forces arrayed against it, seeking to shut it down. Today, no one in a significant position of responsibility is advocating shutting down Indian gaming.

This is a testimony to the success of our efforts and the importance of Indian gaming to the people and economy of California.

What is now at stake s the continued defense of the vital principles I outlined earlier in my remarks, principles that are the source of our independence and freedom as tribal nations. To protect these principles, we must rebuild and maintain tribal unity. The dictionary defines unity as singleness of purpose or action. As a united front, we increase the power and credibility of all our tribes.

When we began this journey together some years ago, we were strongly united in purpose and enjoyed substantial support from the people of California. The future for our people seemed clear and bright.

As we face difficult challenges, it cannot be overstated enough to say, it is critical to our very existence as sovereign tribal nations and as a people, that we re-capture this important unity.

Therefore, I ask each and every one of you here today, as fellow tribal leaders and as fellow Native Americans, let us re-commit ourselves at this conference to the same level of unity that led to the success of Propositions 5 and 1A, and to go forward together as one, as we face and conquer the challenges that lie before us.

Together, we can ensure a bright and secure future for coming generations.

Thank you.

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