Steve Flowers’ Oct. 30 column (“A light shines on the Poarch Creek gambling casino monopoly in the Heart of Dixie”) rehashes decades-old lies as part of an effort to attack the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and Indian gaming nationwide. In so doing, he completely ignores the U.S. Constitution and more than two centuries of federal policy relating to Indian nations.
As a lifelong advocate for Indian country and as current chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, I am compelled to set the record straight.
First and foremost, the most blatant misrepresentation is Flowers’ attempt to tie the creation of Indian gaming with reparations stemming from a political scandal. In a head-turning twist, he writes that Indian gaming was “created by the Abramoff … scandal.”
However, the sad truth is that Indian tribes were not Abramoff’s partners — they were his victims.
In 2004, in the midst of uncovering the scandal, the late Sen. John McCain said: “Etched in the history of our great nation is a long and lamentable chapter about the exploitation of Native Americans. …. What sets this tale apart, what makes it truly extraordinary, is the extent and degree of the apparent exploitation and deceit.”
Flowers’ blatant disregard for facts only adds to his deceit.
Indian gaming is in no way payment for past wrongs. Contemporary Indian gaming started in the 1970s and was the product of local decision-making of tribal leaders who took the initiative to determine the future of their communities.
Their acts of self-determination were met with legal challenges from states and commercial gaming entities that culminated in the Supreme Court’s 1987 Cabazon decision, which affirmed the constitutional and inherent authority of Indian tribes to conduct gaming on native lands — free of state control or interference.
The very next year, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which imposed federal regulations on tribal governments. While the act was not written by tribes, we have an unblemished track record of complying with it. Our record has allowed us to be an economic engine for the counties, states and country we live in. Across America, 241 tribal governments have used Indian gaming to improve their communities and the lives of their neighbors.
Flowers also parrots the age-old falsehood that Indian tribes, such as the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, “pay zero in taxes,” patently ignoring the law and the facts.
What Flowers clearly has not taken the time (or interest) to understand is that the U.S. Constitution acknowledges that Indian tribes, just like the state of Alabama, are separate governments, not subject to taxation by any other sovereign government. This is a most basic principle of U.S. law.
However, despite the fact that Indian tribes are governments not subject to direct taxation, individual Indians do pay income taxes. The people who work at casinos pay income taxes, and those who do business with tribes pay taxes.
In 2018 alone, Indian gaming generated more than $17 billion in funding to federal, state and local government budgets through indirect payments of employment, income, sales and other taxes. In Alabama, the Poarch Band has generated more than $374 million in taxes to the state and federal governments.
For more than 40 years, tribes have used revenue generated from Indian gaming to fund basic tribal government operations and essential services for our communities.
In Indian communities across America, including at Poarch in Alabama, Indian gaming funds education and provides health care, elder care, emergency services and public safety. It pays for communications infrastructure, roads, water and sewer systems, community and cultural centers, and so much more.
Indian gaming also has created jobs that benefit hundreds of thousands of American families. In 2018, Indian gaming generated more than 300,000 direct jobs in 29 states. In Alabama, the Poarch Band generated 9,000 of those American jobs — a fact Flowers failed to recognize.
Tribes with Indian gaming operations also contribute to the health and well-being of others by donating hundreds of millions of dollars in charitable contributions to state and local governments, nonprofits, emergency-response efforts, and to other tribal governments and native communities.
Over the past decade, the Poarch Band has contributed over $80 million to charities and has reinvested more than $500 million to drive economic development within the state of Alabama.
While the blatant misrepresentation of the facts espoused by Flowers saddens me, I am uplifted by the true story of Indian gaming and the work of the Poarch Band in Alabama. It is a story full of hope, hard work and a commitment to sharing.
Ernest L. Stevens Jr. is chairman
of the National Indian Gaming Association.
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