By Eve Baron
Native Americans have been in the news quite a bit in the last few years›striking it rich with casinos; making hefty political campaign contributions; prompting inquiries into the affairs of cabinet members; bringing Las Vegas to its knees; striking fear into the hearts of upstate New York property owners; opening luxury resorts. Some tribes have made great strides in eradicating poverty and developing their communities independently of the federal government. A few, through careful planning and prudent diversification, have achieved awe-inspiring success.
But the fact remains that fewer than one-third of the 500 Indian groups in the United States operate casinos; even fewer operate casinos that function in the black; and only about 30 tribes run casinos that make over $10 million per year. Fifty-one percent of reservation Indians live below the poverty level, and fewer than 10% graduate from college. Median income for Indian families is 60% of total U.S. family income, and nearly 40% of the Indian population is under 20 years old.
Despite the range of economic conditions in Indian country, the few success stories engendered by gambling have sparked a shift in the federal policy climate›one that has negative implications for all tribes. Legislators now call for means testing for moneys specified by treaty rights, seek to make changes to the federal gaming legislation to give more power to states, and want to levy taxes on Indian enterprises›policies that would reduce sovereignty for all tribes and seriously undermine the freedom of tribes to pursue development options. The greatest failure in this policy (deemed “self-determination”) would be to assume that all tribes have the capacity to pursue self-determination equally.
This issue of Planners Network examines some of the differences among tribes in regard to their capacity to plan effectively and to exercise sovereign rights. We also examine some of the differences in perspective among indigenous planners in regard to indigenous planning. We see views from the Saint Regis Mohawk in New York State, where lingering questions about the authenticity of the formal government are as critical a challenge to effective planning as the severely polluted land and water. The Oneida in Wisconsin, who had early successes with gambling, have built a planning center and GIS facility that helps other tribes around the country. Their planners are passionately involved in the task of defining indigenous planning. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians have had their own vision of the future in place for 30 years and have used strategic planning to capitalize on their assets. Indian groups in New Mexico face new challenges to sovereignty now that the state and the region experience new pressures from migration and competition for resources. These are just a few of the new challenges and new directions in Indian country.