State of the Tribal Nations Address — Text

Press Release
For Immediate Release

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State of the Tribal Nations Address — Text

January 26, 2005

A Decade of Progress

Good morning.

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

Thank you, Chairman Milanovich, for your kind words, and your gracious hospitality.

Before we begin, I respectfully ask that we take a moment of silence to remember our ancestors and the Indian warriors who came before us. People like Cheryl Grahn of Rincon, Mabel McKay of Rumsey, Chairman Peter Siva of Agua Caliente, Billy Todd of Pechanga, John Welmas of Cabazon, and so many others who fought to preserve and secure the rights we have today. If not for their determination and sacrifices, none of us would be in this room today. May their courage, strength, and values serve as an example for all of us.

I also ask that you keep in your hearts and prayers the men and women of the Armed Forces, who today are defending our freedoms throughout the world.

Please let us stand and bow our heads.

- SILENCE -

Thank you.

Members of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, Executive Board, distinguished tribal leaders, industry partners, and distinguished guests: welcome to the 10th Annual Western Indian Gaming Conference.

For the last ten years, we have gathered at the start of the year to contemplate the State of the Tribal Nations of California, and the Indian gaming industry in particular. This gathering in many ways symbolizes the progress Indian gaming has brought to the state’s Native Americans and working-class citizens.

The site of the first Western Indian Gaming Conference was John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks, Nevada. Back then, we were not allowed to hold our gathering in our own home state. The event was attended by not more than 30 tribal leaders and a dozen vendors. But the room was filled with dreams and hopes for a better future.

That was 1995.

Indian gaming was in its infancy. CNIGA had no full time staff. Meetings, when they were called, were attended by about a dozen tribal leaders, and they were usually held in the back of a curtained-off bingo hall, not in award-winning resorts.

Nearly all of California’s Indian reservations resembled third world countries. Tribal economies were non-existent. Unemployment was rampant. Alcoholism and drug addiction were devastating our people in front of our very eyes. Entire generations suffered from poor health care. Our youth had little hope of graduating from high school, let alone attending college. Our culture was dying day by day.

That was 1995.

Today, we convene with the wind at our backs; hardened by the challenges of the past; optimistic about the opportunities that lie ahead, and grateful for the progress we have made in the last ten years.

In the last decade, we have witnessed Indian gaming flourish into a multi-billion dollar industry that has, above all else, returned the light of hope to reservations and communities that were once darkened by despair.
In the last decade, California Tribes have made more cultural, social, political and economic progress than in the entire history of the United States of America.

In the last decade, we have witnessed the First Americans finally begin to realize the great promise of America: A Better Life.

Thanks to tribal government gaming, our youth are standing in college enrollment lines instead of unemployment lines.

My friends, young adults like Andrew Masiel, Jr. of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians hold college degrees. Ten years ago, Andrew was a high school student dreaming about going to college. At about the same time, the Pechanga Entertainment Center opened.

Andrew got himself into college, and paid for a good portion of his tuition before he received support from the Tribe. Then he went on to Graduate School and earned a Master’s Degree in school counseling. Today, Andrew Masiel, Jr. is Pechanga’s Education Counselor and Director. He has returned to share his knowledge and experience with our Tribe. Andrew, you make us all proud.

Stories like Andrew’s are not unique to Pechanga. They can be found on reservations across California. But there still is a great deal more work to do in this area.

We must encourage young tribal members to pursue college educations. We must bring our educational standards up to par with the rest of America so that our children are able to compete and excel in this new economy.

Today, tribal government gaming is bringing unprecedented opportunity to our youth.

But it of course assists more than just our youth.

More of our people have realized the American dream by owning their own home. Homes are rising on reservations where weeds once prevailed. And with those homes, the hopes of a people rise.

We have made good progress in the critical area of healthcare. Our grandparents are finally starting to receive the quality health care they need and deserve. Our parents are enjoying longer, healthier lives. Our children are better equipped to fight ravenous illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity that have afflicted Native peoples for far too long.

And our progress does not end there. Indian Tribes throughout California are also building health centers that serve the needs of Indian and non-Indian communities. One such facility can be found on the Colusa Indian Reservation. There, the Tribe has built a thriving medical center with a state-of the-art dialyses facility that is also open to neighboring communities.

Thank you, Colusa. Thank you, Chairman Mitchum.

Friends, progress is coming to Indian and non-Indian people alike.

By improving the health and well-being of our elders, we are also making progress in the race to preserve our culture and our heritage.

Good health has given our elders the strength that is required to instruct our youth about our customs, traditions, and history. On reservations throughout California, you can see a resurgence of our language. Children can be found in after-school programs learning from elders the ancient languages and songs of our ancestors.

In some cases, tribes are preserving our history and culture in ways that our ancestors could not have dreamed of. They are employing innovative technologies such as interactive CD-ROMs, the Internet, and other devices to preserve and teach our languages.

And after more than a century of struggle, we have made progress in the urgent need to preserve what’s left of our sacred sites.

Exactly two weeks and one hundred and fifty years ago, Chief Seattle, leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish Tribes of Washington told an agent of the U.S. government his people would retire to the proposed reservation, but with one condition: “that we will not be denied the privilege, without molestation, of visiting at the graves of our ancestors and friends. Every part of this country is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some fond memory or some sad experience of my Tribe,” he said.

At last, after years of pleas, lawmakers recognized the value of Tribal sacred sites. Last year, California codified Senate Bill 18, providing limited protections for our sacred sites. Though it is not everything we would like, it is a step in the right direction. We are making steady progress.

Our ancestors instilled in us the importance of compassion and the custom of sharing the harvest with our brothers and sisters in need of help. It was this tradition that motivated the establishment of the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund in the 1999 Tribal-State Compact.

We promised in 1999 to make contributions to a state fund that would then distribute annually up to $1.1 million dollars to each non-gaming tribe. Our goal was to help our fellow brothers and sisters whose reservations were in such desolate locations, that economic development was next to impossible.

Well, we honored our commitment. And I am proud to report that nearly one-quarter of a billion dollars has flowed to less fortunate tribal governments.

Who says we’re not paying our fair-share?

These desperately-needed resources are being used in the fight against diabetes, alcoholism and other ailments. They are funding educational programs; they are providing housing for families; they are giving job training skills to single mothers; they are ensuring the light of hope illuminates all Indian reservations in California.

But the benefits of tribal government gaming are not exclusive to Indian people.

Today, tribal governments are among the largest employers in their communities. We have created nearly fifty thousand taxpaying jobs for Californians; our business activities have resulted in the creation of at least another one hundred thousand jobs in our state. Rest assured; these jobs will never leave California.

Each year, tribal government gaming generates more than four hundred million dollars in local, state and federal payroll and income taxes.

And that’s not all.

Under the terms of the 1999 Compact, tribal governments will pay more than one billion dollars to the state of California over the life of the Compact. That money comes right back to local governments where these resources are being used to hire more police and firefighters for local communities; they are building fire stations and buying police cars; they are relieving traffic congestion and improving roads; from Eureka to Alpine, local governments are receiving aid from tribal governments.

But there are a few critics out there who would have you believe that all tribal governments are running amok, ignoring the rights of their neighbors. Friends, don’t be fooled by their half-truths. This is simply not true.

In almost every case, tribes have met their responsibilities and have worked in good-faith with their local government to address the impact caused by their development. In a few cases there have been tensions between tribes and local communities.

But let us not forget these Tribes did not ask to be placed on those reservations. These Tribes did not have a choice in where their reservation would be located. These Tribes did not ask for hundreds and in some cases thousands of homes to be built next to their reservation.

The true cause of these tensions is inadequate planning and coordination on the part of the city or county government. It is neither the fault of the people who live there now, nor is it the fault of the Tribes who only want what their neighbors have enjoyed for years: A fair shot at a better life.

But, circumstances aside, we are where we are. And now both sides must work in good-faith to resolve their issues.

In these matters, local and tribal government alike should heed Roosevelt’s policy of the good neighbor – “the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others – the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.”

I am confident that, with good faith on both sides, the Tribes and the local governments will be able to do so.

Friends, it is already happening in many places. I have traveled across this Golden State and have seen Tribal and non-tribal communities flourish side-by-side. I have seen it as far north as Redding, California, where the Tribe and the community each year hold a “Vision Quest” to mutually outline their plans for the future. I have seen it in this county in which we gather today, where each month tribal leaders meet with county supervisors to tackle issues of importance to both tribes and local communities.

We must work harder than our opponents to dispel their half-truths and venomous rhetoric. We must do so because our very existence as independent sovereigns depends on it.

We witnessed this past year, the power half truths can have when left unchecked. “They don’t pay their fair-share,” they proclaimed on television across California. Some people started to believe it.

Card clubs and racetracks tested our resolve and our will to protect the rights guaranteed to us under the Compact and the California Constitution. Make no mistake; we will vigorously defend those rights that have allowed our people to make such great progress.

The card clubs and racetracks have said they will keep trying until they get what they want. Let them. We are ready.

For the first time in our history, the people of California did not support an Indian gaming proposition. For most of us, the outcome of that measure was not a complete surprise, because it was missing a key element that was omnipresent in Propositions 5 and 1A: Tribal Unity. Yes, Tribal Unity.

In those historic campaigns, we witnessed the strength tribal unity can bring to a campaign.

I recognize that some of us in this room and outside may have divergent interests. But we must unite behind those common bonds that make us sovereigns. We must, for the sake of progress, get back to the guiding principles that worked so well for us in 1998 and again in 2000.

For more than a decade CNIGA has empowered tribal governments to act collectively in pursuit of our shared political goals. This large, broad based coalition has accomplished more on behalf of our people than any individual tribe acting alone could ever have hoped to achieve.

Now more than ever, Tribal Unity is required if we are to protect and preserve, for our children and the generations yet unborn, their right to be free and independent Indians. In 2005 and future years, CNIGA will play a crucial role in overcoming the many challenges facing Tribal government gaming in California. The more we stand together, the stronger we will be.

I know there are several tribes who are thinking about returning to the CNIGA family. They see the necessity for tribal unity. To those tribes I say: we want you inside our tent to shape our future together. Join us in fighting to uphold the principles that led to the formation of this great association. Join us and we will welcome you back with open arms.

Our people will continue to participate in the political process. In the days of my grandparents, this State allocated more than one million dollars to bounty hunters to hunt down Native Americans. In their time, this State authorized the public display of Indian body parts at the state fair.

Our people know the profound consequences of political inaction. We know that decisions in Sacramento and Washington D.C. will have profound impacts on our people. The atrocities in our long history are just cause for our political activities today.

But our generation has witnessed the benefits of political engagement. The State of California and our Tribes now enjoy a much more respectful government-to-government relationship.

Our people have traveled a long road to arrive where we are today. This journey was filled with centuries of struggle and hardship. But along the journey, they faithfully preserved for us a treasure more precious than any heirloom: sovereignty. Yes, sovereignty.

The price of our sovereignty was paid for with their blood. The sovereignty we enjoy today is not to be bartered away for mere dollars. It is not for sale at any price. Now it is our duty to preserve sovereignty for our children.

Though many challenges confront our generation, they don’t compare to the difficulties those before us faced.

Our ancestors did not cower from their responsibilities. They did not choose the easy path. No, the heroes of past generations instead chose enduring liberties over temporary wealth.

Now, our generation is called to build upon the foundation that our ancestors poured for us. I ask you: Will our generation help strengthen the house of sovereignty? Will we allow the fruits of their labor to be chipped away, or will we instead raise columns for our children to build upon?

Will we, in our closing days, look back and say we did everything we could to protect our rights, our children’s rights and our grandchildren’s rights?

My friends, we have made good progress. But I believe it is only a start. We have much work to do. This time, it will not require bloodshed. It will only require toil, sweat, and maybe some tears.

I challenge you, tribal leaders, through unity, to protect our future generations’ sovereignty so that they will have the opportunity to build upon the progress we have made.

Thank you.

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