Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Like the last one, this post won't make me a lot of friends either, but here goes: let's talk about casinos.

Now, I don't have a many pictures for this one.  The times I spent on tribal land, I saw a lot of things that made me ask a lot of tough questions.  However, taking pictures not only seemed like poor taste, but it's also a practice the tribe frowns on.  As my father explained, the tribe doesn't really appreciate their experiences being exploited for the media.  Since this is technically a blog, I figured I'd respect that.

Now, a little bit of history of the area.  The tribal lands I saw the most of belonged to the Salt River tribe, located just across an underpass from Phoenix. It really is as simple as simply making a left turn and boom, you're on a land controlled by its own government, with its own laws and justice system. (Legal alert: when the speed limit on a tribal land road says "25 mph" you drive 25 mph)

Something important to note is that the members of the tribe don't own any of the land themselves, the tribe owns it.  The Salt River tribe (and many others) believe that a person cannot "own" the land they are on, you're simply "using" it.  Therefore, plots of land are simply being "used" by families, but they cannot simply do what they want with the land because they are not the "owner" of said plot.

Indirect thought: I commented to someone recently that, when you look at things happening in the universe and see the scope of events, disasters, and wondrous creations, it becomes harder to get your brain back into being able to "appreciate" smaller versions of things happening here.  One such thing was when I learned about the tribe's perspective on land "ownership" was right after my evening at the observatory.  I was still coming down from seeing entire other galaxies, and hearing that a group of people don't feel it's possible to "own" land really seemed to connect with that same "grander" scale of thinking.  Anyway, back on topic.

There is a lot of tribal land still undeveloped. The phrase "dirt poor" wasn't just a turn of phrase for them. Families lived in single room shacks or trailers, many of which were in total disrepair when I saw them (to be honest they didn't look like much to begin with). There was no irrigation, very little plumbing.  The tribe couldn't grow anything besides dust and cactus, and they relied on the city for their resources.  Poverty was rampant, and with poverty came having to rely on cheaper foods, which caused health issues to skyrocket.

Now, the tribe has two casinos. Each member on the tribe who lives on tribal land now gets a share of the casino's profits. I don't know how much that is, but the Puyallup tribe in Washington State gets about 25 to 30 thousand per member, and they control one of the most important shipping ports in the west coast.  Any member of the tribe who wants a job at the casino gets one (after all, each one has a stake in it, so why not?).  And where has that money gone?

Right next to barren, dust-layered lots, there are now acres of fields of corn.  Gardens are everywhere, thanks to the latest in irrigation being used to in water.  Trailers and shacks are being hauled off of the land and demolished, replaced with simple houses families can raise their children in.  I saw a new house being built next to an old trailer a family had lived in with the ceiling almost completely collapsed.  It looked like someone dropped a car on it, or something from space landed smack in the center of the building.  Streets are actually paved.

The people of the Salt River tribe are healthier (they still have a ways to go, as do we all, since junk food and fatty food is still so widely available), and they're also more active in the community around them.  They're turning what was once a wasteland into a place people can actually survive on.

Now, here's where I get political.  If you want to skip this, scroll down past the picture of the casino I visited for a few more rambling thoughts.

In 1980 the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act was put in place, paying the tribes $81.5 million dollars in exchange for the tribes giving up all claims to land in Maine (their original suit against the state called for the return of what would've been 60% of Maine to be handed over to them).  One provision was that all tribes are subject to Maine law, and that any future federal legislation regarding Indian tribes had to include special language specifically discussing the Maine tribes, or Maine would refuse to acknowledge it.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed in 1988, and it did not have any special language in it to include the Maine tribes, so Maine's "no gambling" laws trumped the federal law stating that governments are required to negotiate with tribes to allow casinos to be built.  As far as I'm aware, Maine is the only state to limit its tribes this way.

There have been many appeals, all of them shot down by the federal courts, and so this is why Maine has the only tribes that are required to let people vote whether or not they can have the same opportunities as every other Indian tribe in the United States.  Hoo-ray.

But that's a longer topic for another day.  Here's what I wanted to discuss: the arguments.  The biggest argument I heard in 2003 and again in 2007 was that allowing a casino would "increase crime" in areas.  Commercials and ads promoting fear made it sound like every street corner would become a drug dealer's heaven, that robberies, rapes, and murder would run rampant, and the entire state would turn into New York, but "Escape From New York" New York.

Here's a fun fact: the Arizona tribal casinos and the surrounding area have ridiculously low crime.  Many tribes outlaw drinking at all on their lands, meaning you don't even get drunk drivers heading home from losing their money and deciding to plow their cars into oncoming traffic.  Why?  Because it's tribal land.  You grab someone's purse?  Deputy Barney Fife can't come over and arrest you, you're getting taken down by the tribe's own personal police force.  And the tribes don't think crime is very funny.  You sell drugs or kill someone?  Congratulations, you just committed a federal crime, meaning the DEA or FBI are on your ass, and they also don't have much of a sense of humor when it comes to crime.  I also asked around to see how rampant crime was in Phoenix since the casinos went up.  There are a lot of businesses on the other side of that overpass I mentioned before, and it didn't seem like crime spiked dramatically since the casino's construction.

Now, here's my other issue with Maine, and it can be summed up with a motto I often hear repeated:  "The way life should be."  Maine is very...quaint.  I really get the impression that Maine wants everyone else in the nation to picture them as the first twenty seconds of "Murder, She Wrote."  Angela Lansbury rides her bike down a quaint city street, walks with her fishing pole across a dock, runs in a field, waves to a passing boat...truly, a relaxing vacation spot for anybody willing to visit.  Let me point out that opening was first played in 1984.

Now, I hear complaining about paper mills shutting down when more and more businesses strive to become "paper free" and more people read their news online than from newspapers.  Attempts to bring in new power sources are spit upon because of their affect on nature, or are too noisy, or, and my personal favorite argument, "are ugly."  I know several people who have told me, regarding Somali refugess who live here, that they understand why they had to flee their homeland, but a) "why don't they learn our language if they're going to live here?"  b) "Why can't they understand that we don't do things their way?" or c) "Why are they so different?"  NIMBY runs rampant, and, as a state, Maine seems determined to refuse to admit that it's becoming somewhat antiquated.

(Disclaimer: I'm not saying anybody's opinion is wrong, I'm simply stating things I observe and might, perhaps, strongly disagree with.  People who state or believe the above things are not bad people, and having differing opinions is what fuels debate, advancement, and new ideas, and I encourage everybody to research topics and come to their own conclusions on matters.)

I hope Maine's aware that a state can still be a gorgeous nature preserve and have major industry and cities.  Washington state has the only full rain forest in the continental US, and Seattle's just a short drive away.  I could easily see Portland becoming another San Francisco or Seattle, finding a balance of "classic" tastes mixed with modern technology and business.  You can't have an entire state of Cabot Cove, because, much like "Murder, She Wrote," the steadily-aging population will just keep dying off, and you won't see anybody new coming in to take their place as tourists- I mean, "guest stars."

Oh, and as for that "ugly" argument, the same one was used against building a casino here in Maine.  Let me show you all the casino I stopped at in Arizona:

That's it.  First floor is casino, the rest of the floors are hotel rooms.  The casino itself wasn't as garish as the ones you see in movies from Hollywood either.  They had a large open front area that let in some sunlight.  It was noisy, but not so you couldn't hear yourself think.  TVs located in different areas allowed people to keep track of what time it was (CNN, ESPN, and local news stations were playing when I was there).  Maine's a big state, I don't think a building that size would suddenly appear as horrible as a pimple on a teenage girl's nose during prom.

Anyway, that's my quasi-political rant.  This has been something weighing on my mind since the trip, and I know it's jumbled, not very clear, and I don't quote my references (a history of Maine's tribal disputes with the state government can be found at http://mainelaw.maine.edu/academics/maine-law-review/pdf/vol50_1/vol50_me_l_rev_143.pdf), but for an amateur blog post?  I think it works.

Coming up next:  The time a monkey jumped on my head.

Don't let the cuteness fool you.

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