Helping One Another:

Tribes Need to Live Like Their Ancestors

By Yulu Ewis


This morning as I was enjoying the breakfast that was provided by the tribe before our monthly membership meeting, I was reminded of how far we have come. Today, I was sitting in the event room of Graton Casino and Resort. A place that was non-existent until a little over two years ago. As a reorganized tribe, our federal status was terminated in the 1950s and reinstated in the year 2000. For fifty years, we were deprived of being a community. Now, sixteen years later, we are rebuilding our community and our nation. It feels good to have strong leaders who honor the old ways and respect the wishes of our ancestors.

However, this is not always the case in Indian Country today. This year in January, the Pamunkeys of Virginia became the latest tribe to be federally recognized after fighting off a California organization opposed to expanding Indian Gaming. Right now there are 356 tribes whose federal recognition is still pending. Opposition from state agencies and other organizations are not the worst of our worries.

Federal recognition is a process that often puts tribes against one another. Federally recognized tribes often work with groups in Washington to block other tribes because they don’t want the competition they would have if the tribe opened a new casino. For example, the Eastern Band of Cherokees own Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in North Carolina. They have been opposing the Lumbee Tribe’s petition for recognition for years. They argue that the Lumbee Tribe does not consist of real Indians. But, the factor remains, that if the Lumbee Tribe was to gain federal recognition and open a casino, their location would pose a huge threat for the Cherokees.

 What happened to Indian peoples working together?

The 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act changed everything for tribes. And not necessarily for the better. Coming from a gaming tribe, the casino has given us a financial stability that we would have never dreamed of before. But, that with that stability comes responsibility and sometimes even consequences.

At this point, we, as a tribe, have to consider what type of tribe we are going to be. Our leaders have to decide how they are going to lead the tribe. We have to ask ourselves what kind of neighbors are we going to be with our sister tribes and with our state and local communities. This is why it is important to have laws and programs put into place that will honor and protect the people. These laws can protect us from greed and corruption. Unfortunately, these are the evils that come with money. This is where good moral values are important. We cannot let the money overtake us. We have to remember why we are here in the first place.

We are here because our ancestors fought for hundreds of years to keep our culture and traditions alive. Sometimes they did this with their lives. They sacrificed themselves so that we could be the people that we are today. Their sacrifices helped get us to this point and we owe them to do the right thing.

Our ancestors warned us about greed and what it will do to a man.

We have let the very thing that we feared consume us. Indian Gaming is an opportunity that we can use to build our nations, to self-sustain our communities; to get out of poverty and the reliance that we have had on the federal government since the creation of the reservation systems. We need to remember what has always been important to us; thriving.

There was a time when tribes helped one another. They worked together for a common cause and were good neighbors. They were hospitable to travelers and never took more than was necessary. We lived off the land and helped sustain ourselves. We were mostly peaceful and only fought when we had too.

Sometimes, I feel that Indian gaming has created a monster, a disease within ourselves that has caused us to become sick with greed and power. For hundreds of years we have fought against our colonizers to keep our very identities; our culture and presence in the world alive. And, now we are fighting amongst ourselves. Indian gaming has created an epidemic that has tribes disenrolling members and fighting to keep other tribes from getting recognized. They are fighting to keep them from acquiring the very rights and economic stability that we all need.

Greed has done this to us. Greed is the virus that we are spreading around like smallpox on blankets. And, we need to break this habit. We need to realize that there is enough financial stability to go around. We can all benefit from Indian gaming. Because at the end of the day, these are the morals that we teaching our future generations. If we do not nip this in the butt now, this will become an endless cycle of corruption. And, I for one do not want to wake up one day and see our people extinct; especially from our very own hands.

I propose that we go back and help each other fight for our right to be here. And make our ancestors and future generations proud to call themselves Indian.


Published by Kristen Debler