2nd Update: More about racism against Native Americans in my hometown

(Added: Tribe responds to threat of protest at their powwow.) I’ve decided to add to my column rather than writing a new one for the weekend because another example of racism has emerged among those who are trying to stop the Mashpee Wampanoag from building a resort casino here in Middleboro, Mass.

(The two updates are in red at the end of the column.) I’ve been dabbling in small town politics for the last two weeks, and sadly discovered that among a small minority, bigotry is alive and well in our bucolic New England town. Two overheard comments about Native Americans hoping to establish a mega-casino here were especially upsetting: “send them back to the reservation” by one well known resident and “first they let in the blacks, now they want to let in the indians” by an elderly gentleman.

So I did what I could. I helped start a website to compete with the anti-casino website.

The Mashpee Wampanoag, the folks who greeted the Pilgrims and helped them through their first harsh winter, recently received federal recognition as a native American sovereign tribe. As such they are able to set up a gambling operation on their land.

Our town of Middleborough is one of their homelands, where in colonial days they numbered about 22,000, which coincidentally is the population of the town now. Ours is the school largest town by land area in the state. Many of our streets and rivers are Wampanoag names.

Most of the arguments made by opponents of a Mashpee Wampanoag resort casino in Middleboro can be classified into two major groups.

One is speculation based on what happened or has been reported by some to have happened to communities hosting tribal casinos like Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

The other is a more generic argument based on the moral and social ramifications of compulsive gambling.

Many of those most vocal in their protests against having the casino here are those that live next to or near the some 400 acres the tribe has purchased or will soon buy.

But unfortunately a few of the arguments have nasty racial overtones.

For example, on their own anti-casino website they list three dire consequences to having the casino here. Third is that it will “strain our schools by introduction of low-wage casino workers who will bring 20+ languages into the school system.”

Horrors upon horrors that our town will host these undesirables!

I have had several candid, truly no holds barred, conversations with several members of the tribe about racism. They have confirmed what I observed. Most of them have had personal experience with prejudice and bigotry right here in progressive Massachusetts.

But it’s funny what a white person, or a person who they think is white but is really native American, overhears, because bigots will say things around us that they’d never say around someone with dark skin.

I even heard second hand that someone, an elementary school teacher no less, complained that the Wampanoag themselves were immigrants. Tell that to the Pilgrims!

Update 5/8/07 Those advising opponents of casino warn them to be prepared for Native American casino supporters to “play the race card”.

What they seem to want to deny is that if there wasn’t a race card in the deck, nobody would play it.

This column was going to move quietly to the archives when I read this in one of our local newspapers today, The Brockton Enterprise (link):

“CasinoFacts.org” the anti-casino group) is ready to stage a silent protest at the Mashpee headquarters during their Pow-Wow” this summer.”

“They brought us something, we could bring something back to them,” said Richard Young.

The Mashpee Wampanoag have been holding their Pow-Wow for some 84 years at their tribal meeting ground on Cape Cod. It attracts native Americans from around the country and thousands of local tourists. (You can see pictures of last year’s Pow-Wow here.)

The Pow-Wow is a celebration of what their Tribal Chairman President Glenn Marshall calls “the hidden culture.” (Reference) It is important to note that American Indian culture has many aspects including an important spiritual side.

From the above reference:

… the grand entry dance at noon each day marks the official start of the day’s activities. The fireball game at dusk Saturday is considered the highlight of the three-day event. For about an hour, native men toss and kick the flaming kerosene-soaked rag ball in an attempt to score on opponents by getting the ball past the goal posts. Believed to be unique to the Mashpee Wampanoag, fireball is more than a game, says tribal historian Patty Oakley. “It’s a healing ritual,” she explains. “The pain you endure takes the pain away from the person you’re playing for.”

Open to natives only, ages 18 and older, fireball is also a rite of passage for Wampanaog males.

Ask yourself whether this is the place to hold a demonstration.

I believe planning to hold a demonstration at the Pow-Wow, silent or otherwise, is far worse than mere insensitivity. It is racism. The statement “they brought us something, we could bring something back to them” sounds to me like the words of a very angry bigot.

But there was more in the very same article:

Marses Belanger said an Indian reservation is governed by tribal law.

“We have no jurisdiction where free alcohol is being served. Do we trust them to police?” Belanger asked.

Does this person really believe that in this day and age Native American tribal law is so primitive that they will allow alcohol abuse in their casino? Or does Belanger subscribe to the racist stereotype of the drunken indian?

I wouldn’t be able to live comfortably in this town if I thought any more than a handful of those against the casino harbored intense racial bigotry.

Regardless, I will not remain silent about it when I hear remarks attributed to even a few people.

I have to wonder about the racist attitudes others reveal only to those who they know are of like mind.


Update 2- 6/10/07

The Mashpee Wampanoag reponded to the possiblity of a protest at their annual powwow in the same newspaper where the “threat” was reported.

They invited every resident of Middleboro, but advised those inclined to protest that the invitation comes with “a caveat”:

Tribal Chairman Glenn Marshall, comes with a caveat — disruption of the powwow is barred, and protest signs won’t be allowed.

Last week, a group of residents who oppose a potential casino coming to town, discussed a “silent protest” during the tribe’s annual powwow on July 6-8.

“They’ve expressed their views what’s best for our town, let’s express our view what’s best for them,” Robert Dunphy suggested to a group of about two dozen casino foes.

The event is meant as a spiritual and religious event for Native Americans, steeped in tradition.

“It’s hard to believe people would disrupt something of such a deep spiritual nature,” said Scott Ferson, spokesman for the tribe.

Marshall asked the protesters to leave their signs at home, but to “come and see the tribe, who they are and meet them,” Ferson said. (Article continued)


Working on Casino-Friend.com is what caused me to miss two weekend columns now, and has me so preoccuppied that all I could think to write about for the second Friday in a row is my new endeavor. The Mashpee Wanpanoag’s plans for a destination resort casino to rival any other casino in the world can be reviewed here on Google News and you can check out the anti-casino website CasinoFacts.org here and see if you think they are really fairly presenting the facts.

Comments

  1. Stoney13

    Every time a pow-wow happens, the Evangelicals come streaming out of the woodwork! These sadly delusional people sit up at night worrying that there are actually people in this country, that don’t believe the same way they do! Even worse, that there are some that (GASP!!!) aren’t even Christians!!

    When Native American tribes hold Pow-Wows, there’s always these fringe cases milling around that try to shove their religious dogma down the throats of all, and sundry. The fact that they proclaim that it is their right to do so is even more laughable since they seek to destroy every belief system that isn’t theirs!

    If I were you Hal, I would find the churches that are sending out the protesters, and send Native Americans in full tribal dress to pound the tom-tom in their parking lots, and hand out fliers proclaiming all the evils done “in the name of Christ” to the Native American People for the last three hundred years!

    When they stand out in front of the abortion clinics, and Pow-Wows, they hide under “Freedom of Religion”. “Freedom of Religion” goes both ways, you know!

    Stoney Browning

  2. jgw

    I live in an area with more reservations, per square mile than any other place in America. We also have our casinos. There are some things that folks don’t like to talk about associated with them. The first is that they have NOBODY regulating them. When one gambles, in an Indian casino, there are no inspectors, no guarantee that everything is on the up and up, etc. (I am not suggesting that there is but simply noting a fact). My personal feeling is that anybody who gambles in an Indian casino, or any other, would do as well just throwing their money in the street. However, in Las Vegas, for instance, Nevada has inspectors in the major casinos 24/7!

    The second problem is that, at least here, that they can plant their casinos anyplace they want! The closest, for instance, in NOT on a reservation but, rather, on land that was simply bought and the casino built.

    The third problem is that of equity. In my state we have Indian casinos and, then, casinos owned by everybody else. A couple of years ago some folks tried to pass a law that would give casinos owned by non-Indians the same opportunities to get as rich as the Indians are supposed to be (in this case have the same slots that the Indians had). The general consensus is that money FLOODED into the state, from Las Vegas, to put a stop to this nonsense! (yep, there are still Las Vegas interests in some Indian casinos.) Indian casinos, incidentally, don’t have to account for profit or pay taxes or put up with inspectors).

    If seeing these three things as being racist then I guess I qualify. There is, incidentally, a flat out solution to racism – simply make the Declaration of Independence part of the constitution. Then EVERYBODY is equal – by law!

    I guess that I should add that American Indians remain at the very bottom of virtually any statistic you can name; suicide, mental health, disease, the whole panoply of abuse, it just goes on and on. I have no answer but if there was ever a group that needed serious study, and help, its the American Indian! Indian trust funds, for instance, has been looted (billions, literally, have gone up in smoke), by the government, for years and, as far as I know, nobody has even been able to stop that!

    I think that there are serious issues that are simply not going to be dealt with. The American Indian is one (mental health is another – there are more). In the case of Indians, casinos are simply a distraction have have little to do with the problem.

  3. Stoney13

    Harrah’s is the best thing to happen to the Eastern Band of The Cherokee since Tsali and the male members of his family sacrificed themselves so The Cherokee could stay in North Carolina!

    Before Harrah’s, alcoholism and suicide was rampant! The Reservation schools were abysmally under-funded, and under-staffed. Native American children were taught to hate the old ways, and to embrace Christianity and the White Man’s culture. They were taught that the old spiritual teachings of our people were “evil” and that those who taught, and ascribed to the Healing Way, and followed The Path of Light were “evil” and caused the problems the tribe was facing!

    Now our schools are well funded, and doctors, and lawyers are being produced in droves! Doctors who don’t run off to the cities, but stay on The Reservation to heal the sick, tend The Elders of Our Tribe, and bring comfort and solace to those who’s time has come to die!

    The children of our tribe love themselves now, and The Old Ways! They love who and what they are and see themselves as a people on the move! Not a beaten and broken people all too willing to seek solace in the liquor bottle, or the corner drug dealer! We have become strong again! All of these things are because of the casino, and the wisdom of our chiefs! The Path of Light has never shown brighter, and our brothers and sisters have never been happier!

    No more do the People of Turtle Island hide and tremble in fear of the White Missionaries who come to take their children away to be raised in “Residential Schools” to hate their parents and Elders of the Tribe! Instead our children are learning to speak their native tongue again, instead of being beaten by the missionaries for not speaking English!

    Don’t believe me? Come to The Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina! Visit a vibrant people with purpose and vision! Go see the play “Unto These Hills” which is performed all summer, thanks to men like my uncle, Albert Browning II, who had the vision to put the seed money up for the theater. See what an influx of funds can do for a tribe! THEN make your decision! Just make sure you hire some GOOD lawyers! White Eye does indeed speak with forked tongue! (And so do lawyers!)

    Stoney Browning

  4. pondering_it_all

    I have certainly read about situations where most of the profits from an indian casino have ended up in the management company’s pockets (or the mob’s!). But that is not the case for most casinos.

    If this particular development plan will not benefit all the tribal members, then they need to change the plan. After all, the casino development must belong to the tribe to qualify for the indian reservation exemption from state laws. The development can not procede unless a majority of their tribal government agrees. If most individual members are opposed, then they can change the makeup of their governing group if need be.

    But I suspect that disagreement within the tribe is just a reflection of a power struggle over control of the money. Even if the “anti-casino” faction wins control of the tribal government, don’t be surprised if they immediately announce THEIR casino development plan! The prospect of raising the average income of tribal families from sub-poverty to 10 or 20 times higher is very difficult for any tribal leader to oppose.

    One thing I would suggest for the tribe: Form a corporation in which each certified tribal member owns a certain percentage of the shares by virtue of the corporation’s use of commonly-owned tribal land. (Shares should be held in trust for members under 21.) Outside investers can buy additional shares in order to finance development of the resort infrastructure. Every quarter, share dividends would be distributed to all shareholder’s accounts just like any other dividend-paying corporation. This way there can be no diversion of the profits, conflicts over distribution of income, etc. The board of the corporation would be elected by the stock owners, but the corporate bylaws (and perhaps those indian reservation state law exemptions as well) could require a certain number of board seats be reserved for tribal members.

    As for the increased expenses for the town, I think you are overlooking one fact: People who come to work at the resort will either live on the grounds (reservation property) or not. If they are legal residents of the reservation then they are not entitled to use the town’s schools. Instead, the tribe would have to create or expand their own school system. Or more likely, they would just pay the town’s school district to accept their students. Workers living off the reservation WILL pay more property taxes into the town or county’s coffers either directly or through landlords if they rent. They will also shop in the local stores, eat in the local restaraunts, buy cars at local car dealers, etc. All of those activities generate sales tax, and higher incomes for local business owners. I suspect the studies that claim economic harm are using highly selected data and ignoring other items.

  5. jacquie

    Unfortunately, the issue here is MONEY, INVESTORS and CASINO’S. As Amelia Bingham stated last evening, her tribe will not benefit and either will our town.

    The only people standing to benefit are Mr. Marshall and his backers.

    If you don’t believe me, then write to Ms. BIngham, who is on a crusade to stop her cousin from mishandling all of the tribes finances, and let her tell you. Why would she be against her own cousin?

    Our motives are pure. We are not motivated by money. All we want, is to really understand what is going to happen to our community. The more we learn, the more adversarial people become. Why? What are people afraid we will learn?

    For those of you so willing to debate, and appear to be so educated on the topic, explain to me where all the money from a casino goes. I want to know precisely how much the Indians get versus the Investors versus the town. Let’s talk factual numbers. Remember, we need to compare MEGA casino’s to MEGA casino’s (like foxwood’s Mohegan Sun), that’s the size that Middleboro plans on building. We are not talking about the smaller casino’s that are in Cali. or other western states.

    Last year, the town hosting Mohegan Sun only received 500,000, which did not account for all the expenses the town incurred from hosting the casino. So, where did all the money go?

  6. Carl Nemo

    Interestingly Hal your plight with casino placement is raging 3000 miles away in Clark County Washington with the Cowlitz tribe trying place a large casino complex on land that was never part of their original tribal range. Evidently there’s something in treaties negotiated with the U.S. Government that allows them to stake out land for casino placement anywhere within a state once they petition the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

    There’s an anti-casino org, but they aren’t doing too well because there’s large non-tribal, deep-pocket interests pushing for casino placement. It’s big business and alot of large investors have climbed onboard giving the tribes with casino placement opportunities all the backing they need.

    Our local county commissioners seem to be acting like the same crowd we have in Congress;i.e., give them enough campaign conributions and they’l rollover like puppies to have their tummies scratched.

    I’m not a gambler and feel gambling of any type has dragged this nation down into sewers of history along with many other negative forces, but “who cares what I think”…:)) (an infamous dubya quote) Casinos attract alot of other peripheral problems that end up on the local tax payers shoulders. All I can say is if they should make it through the regulatory process then they have to pay for all increased community costs of traffic control, law enforcement, drug, gambling, and alcohol counseling along with any other services that are burdened due to the casino’s presence.

    These casino’s have a large staff and they have families and children that will impact local schools. I say they have to pay the freight for this too rather than disrupting a community taxbase; i.e. they make all the bucks and the locals get nothing but disruption and increased taxes. Everything should be “contractual and in writing” with no simple letters of intent etc. being accepted. I understand that other areas in the U.S. have been screwed because they didn’t get “contractual” agreements between the local cities or counties/townships and the tribal casinos prior to placement and the casinos reneged on the promises after they were in operation?! A letter of intent doesn’t mean diddly when it comes to big business and the courts.

    Right now there’s an intense TV ad campaign in the Portland/Vancouver WA area trying to expose all the shadowy aspects of the casino plans with tel. numbers to call in order to pressure the three commissioners to back out of the deal. Allegedly two of the three commissioners have “second” thoughts whatever that means, probably they need some “grease” to get ‘right-thoughted’ again…:)) Good luck on your anti-casino efforts. Casinos may have their place, but not just anywhere and everywhere in hometown America.

    Carl Nemo **==