Sacramento Attorney Howard Dickstein’s opinion page piece in the Feb. 17
edition of Capitol Weekly (“Tribal sovereignty: A dynamic concept upheld by
the courts for generations”) completely misrepresents the high regard the
vast majority of American Indian tribes have for their legal status as
Dickstein speaks of sovereignty as a commodity to be bartered with local and
state governments in exchange for the right to engage in government gaming
on Indian lands. Indeed, Dickstein has historically held to such a legal
position in his representation of a handful of American Indian tribes. But
Dickstein’s opinion and the position of those tribes he represents are far
removed from the vast majority of tribes in California and throughout the
country. That includes my tribe, the San Manuel Ban of Serrano Mission
The vast majority of this nation’s 562 federally recognized tribes regard
our sovereignty as sacred and inherent. Without sovereignty, we would cease
to be Native Americans.
My ancestors fought and died to protect sovereignty. To suggest we should
give it away for the right to operate slot machines is ludicrous and
sacrilegious. I am offended and angry that anyone would make such a
suggestion, especially an attorney for Indian tribes who professes top be an
“expert on tribal sovereignty.”
No expert on tribal sovereignty would make the blatantly false statement
that “gaming has transformed tribal realities overnight,” generating
economic progress on tribal reservations.
Without sovereignty, tribes could not operate government gaming on Indian
The U.S. Constitution recognizes as sovereign entities federal, tribal and
state governments. The responsibility of working together rests not only
with the tribes, federal and state governments, but state-charted municipal
and county governments as well.
Dickstein states, “Sovereignty should not be a barrier to cooperation
between tribes and local governments.”
Well, it’s not. There are some 220 tribes engaged in gaming on Indian lands.
The vast majority are working with state and local governments for the
benefit of all people, Indians and non-Indians.
This nation’s indigenous peoples are, at long last, lifting themselves from
generations of poverty, neglect, despair, all products of a failed system of
American Indians have achieved this success through a position of strength,
not weakness. We are scaling the walls of a social and economic abyss by
exercising our sovereignty, no relinquishing it. We have planted the seeds
to grow new economies and stronger governments not by holding our hands, but
grasping our own destiny.
All of us–Indians and non-Indians alike–have the opportunity to create an
era of mutual understanding and respect. We can only succeed as equals. I
owe it to my ancestors to accept no less.
Chairman, San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians