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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sent this editorial to the Press Democrat. I don't know if they'll use it.

ON INDIAN GAMING

The media coverage over the Indian Gaming issue is always framed in binary thinking thus making it difficult for someone like me to consider the issues while locating them historically, ideologically, and politically. So this is what I’ve been thinking:

1. Of course, it is about the Environment. The opposition to the casino mentions water table depletion, traffic, pollution, and concern over environmental aesthetics. Additionally, there is also a growing public discourse about the effects of global climate change and the coming "peak oil" that call on us to mitigate these effects at the local level. When Greg Sarris promises that the project would mitigate these concerns, the public would like to know how exactly this can be done. When Nature dictates the limits of development, what is the scientific and technological response to such limits? Would mitigation projects be sustainable? For how long? One of my students recently asked: "We always associate Native Americans with living in harmony with Nature; I want to know how the casino project reflects this value." It is a tough question. On the other hand, this should not be a question for casino projects alone, it is a question for all development projects.

2. Of course, it is about Capitalism. As Native peoples learn to empower themselves economically through casino projects and become good capitalists – do we now find fault with how they choose to exercise this capitalist power? There is something schizophrenic about the perception of Native peoples within the US. As Sarris said – they have been marked, first, as noble savages and now as "evil and dangerous." Why is it that we allowed parts of Sonoma County to be devoured by the big boxes of WalMart, Target, and ubiquitous malls and yet there is hardly any loud criticism of how these corporations have marred the aesthetic landscape of the county; how they’ve destroyed independent and locally owned businesses; how they siphon off profits instead of reinvesting in the community? Don’t these corporations have moral obligations and shouldn’t they be held accountable for the same dangers that supposedly the casino would bring to the county? Why is unbridled consumerism less of an evil than gambling? Isn’t global capitalism itself already a form of gambling? Why should Native peoples bear the burden of prior environmentally devastating development under the capitalist system?

3. Of course, it is about Justice. Most folks, I assume, are willing to acknowledge the historical past on Native genocide. Yet, the retreat from the topic of restorative justice is as fast as the disavowal of guilt and shame for this history. Guilt and shame are trapdoors that close the possibility of reckoning. Sarris often cites the impoverishment of the tribe as a motivating factor for the casino project. Other tribes who have built casinos also say that casinos are a short-term solution to the long-term goal of economic empowerment. The idea that casino profits would go towards projects that would provide educational, social services, health services and result in the amelioration of poverty is a worthy goal. In one of his public talks, Sarris offered this proposal: If you don’t want a casino built, would Sonoma County be willing to impose a tax that would go towards these projects? In other words, are the citizens of this county willing to correct past injustice in order to bring about much needed healing and reconciliation with the people from whom this land was stolen?

4. Of course, it’s about Race. The problem with the discussion of race and racism with regards to Indian casino stems, in part, with the current taboo against talking about race and racism as we claim to be living in the post-Civil rights era of color-blind racism. Today, there is racism but no one claims to be racist. When Greg Sarris talks about the history of his tribe – the taking of their land and the present-day consequences of that thievery – that is a racial issue. When we consider these historical consequences, we are talking about a racialized social contract constructed by Western philosophers that produced moral and epistemological explanations for the projects of colonialism and imperialism.This contract continues to be recycled into the present as its beneficiaries fail to see and acknowledge the humanity of the "Other." The "Other" in the midst of this controversy – The Federated Tribe of Graton Rancheria – challenges us to face this history; were it not for our short historical memory and lack of willingness to deal with the deep work required to do so – we wouldn’t find it so daunting and scary.

By: Leny Mendoza Strobel, American Multicultural Studies Department, Sonoma State University

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