Gaming Changes Native American Tribes

This coming weekend, hundreds of Native Americans who have been kicked out of their tribes plan to meet in California. They claim that they were removed because tribal governments didn't want them getting part of the profits from Indian casinos. Commentator Harlan McKosato is a member of the Sac and Fox Nation. He says that gaming has brought more than money to Native Americans.

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This weekend hundreds of Native Americans who've been kicked out of their tribes plan to meet in Southern California. They claim they were disenrolled because tribal governments didn't want to share in profits from Indian casinos. Commentator Harlan McKosato is a member of the Sac and Fox nation. He says the conflict over disenrollment is evidence that gaming has brought more than money to Native Americans.

HARLAN McKOSATO:

All my life my family has instilled in me the value of sharing, and I've always believed that sharing is a core cultural value of my Native-American people. `Be generous, not greedy,' I was taught. But apparently for some tribes with big casinos, these long-cherished beliefs are fading, and the lure of wealth is pitting Native Americans against one another.

The Indian casino era is, by far, the biggest economic boom to ever hit the reservations. The nationwide Indian gaming industry has surpassed Las Vegas as the number-one leader in the business with $18.5 billion in gross tribal revenue last year. There are more than 500 tribes in the US; 200 operate casinos and more than 100 issue per-capita payments. That means profits from gaming are shared equally among all tribal members. Payments can range from a million dollars a year to less than $100 a year.

Over the last several years hundreds of members from more than 20 tribes have been stripped of their citizenship by their own tribal governments. And virtually all of the disenfranchised members claim it's because of per-capita payments; the fewer members, the higher the payment for everyone else. Tribal officials insist that disenrolled members should have never been allowed as citizens in the first place. They say oversights years ago, perhaps generations ago, illegally enrolled some members, and now all of their descendants are excluded. They are they are simply correcting past mistakes.

But I can't imagine being exiled from my own tribe. It's not like you just go enroll in another tribe. For a Native American, your tribe is your heritage, your culture, your identity and often provides the foundation for your political and religious beliefs. It used to be tribes were very inclusive when it came to acceptance of others, taking care of our own and showing generosity to those in need. It used to be that tribes needed every single member they could find. There's no doubt that some tribes are now benefiting from the cash generated by casinos, but to me it's not worth the price of discarding their relatives.

NORRIS: Harlan McKosato lives in Albuquerque.

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