Tribal government gaming brings progress to California

Nearly two decades ago when CNIGA was formed, its founders sought to create a strong, sustainable association of tribal governments that would fight for and champion the sovereign rights of California’s Indian tribes. Since then, the 62 member tribes of CNIGA have overcome numerous challenges and have helped to shape the Indian gaming industry in America.

Back then, seemingly all of California’s Indian reservations resembled third world countries. Productive tribal economies were virtually non-existent; unemployment was rampant; alcoholism and drug addiction were devastating our people. Entire generations suffered from poor health care. Our youth had little hope of graduating from high school, let alone attending college. Our culture was dying day by day.

To reverse this plight, tribal governments pursued an ambitious legal, political and legislative strategy that ultimately led to the signing of 61 compacts in 1999 and the passage of Proposition 1A. Finally, the longstanding legal quagmire with the State was resolved.

CNIGA and its member tribes have struggled through negotiations with four governors, not less than five ballot fights, and dozens of legislative battles. We have been tested, and we have prevailed.

In the last decade, we have witnessed Indian gaming flourish into a multi-billion dollar industry that has, above all else, returned the light of hope to reservations and surrounding communities. Native Americans are finally beginning to realize the great promise of America: A Better Life.

Tribes have been able to obtain the necessary resources to fund their tribal governments. For the first time in California, Native Americans are able to determine their own futures, just as Congress and President Reagan envisioned in 1988 when they enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Revenues from tribal government gaming are providing increased educational opportunities to tribal youth. Today, our children are graduating from high school and obtaining college degrees.

We have also made progress in the critical area of healthcare. Our grandparents are starting to receive the quality health care they need and deserve. Our parents are enjoying longer, healthier lives. And Native children are better equipped to fight ravenous illnesses that have afflicted our people for far too long.

By improving the health of our elders, we are making progress in the race to preserve our culture and heritage. Good health has given our elders the strength required to instruct youth about our customs, traditions, and history.

Our ancestors instilled in us the importance of compassion and the custom of sharing the harvest. It was this tradition that motivated the establishment of the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund (RSTF) in the 1999 Tribal-State Compacts.

We promised in 1999 to make contributions to a state fund that would then distribute annually up to $1.1 million dollars to each non-gaming tribe. Our goal was to help our fellow brothers and sisters whose reservations were in such desolate locations, that economic development was next to impossible.

Moreover, we also promised in propositions 5 and 1A to support local communities. Under the terms of the Compacts reached in 1999, tribal governments will pay more than $1 billion to the state of California over the life of the Compacts. A portion of that money goes to local governments where these resources are being used to hire more police and firefighters; to build fire stations and buy police cars; relieve traffic congestion and improve roads. To date, gaming tribes under the 1999 Compact have contributed $525 million to both the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund and the Special Distribution Fund.

Clearly the progress tribal government gaming has brought doesn’t end at the reservation borderline. Today, tribal governments are among the largest employers in their communities. We have created more than fifty three thousand taxpaying jobs; our business activities have resulted in the creation of at least another one hundred thousand jobs in our state.

Each year, tribal government gaming generates more than $400 million in local, state and federal payroll and income taxes.

CNIGA and its members have traveled a long road to arrive where we are today. This journey was filled with struggles and hardships, but along the way we have strived to faithfully preserve for future generations a resource far more valuable than gaming: sovereignty.

As we continue to strive for self-reliance, the challenge for tribal governments will be to balance our inherent duty to protect tribal sovereignty while still bringing real economic development to our tribal nations.

Some wonder if tribal governments can achieve both objectives. I submit that the current health of the Indian gaming industry is proof positive that we can.

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