By Bobbie O’Neill
Someone has to take the blame for Jack Abramoff’s indiscretions so why not put it on the shoulders of the Indian tribes who were clients of the disgraced lobbyist. Not many voices were raised when Abramoff took money from the poorest minority group in the nation, the American Indian, to establish a religious boy’s school for one of the wealthiest, the Orthodox Jew.Now, in the wake of the Abramoff scandal some former Indian friends have become foes. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is one of them. He has introduced legislation to take control of Indian gaming away from tribal governments and put it into the hands of the National Indian Gaming Commission.When the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed in 1988, no one envisioned the phenomenal success Indian gaming would achieve. The relatively small bingo parlors have become highly sophisticated casinos in rural America accompanied by hotel and resort communities rivaling those in Vegas and Atlantic City. This has upset many white Americans and they feel it is time rein in those “uppity” Indian tribes and put them on a leash. McCain’s Senate Bill 2078 is designed to do just that.S.B. 2078 would transfer authority for contract approvals from tribal governments to the NIGC, on the premise that unscrupulous developers or vendors might defraud or take advantage of tribes.S. B. 2078 would transfer authority for budget allocations from tribal governments to the NIGC, on the premise that tribes are incapable of making responsible choices about revenue allocations.S. B. 2078 would take regulatory authority over Indian gaming away from tribes and give it to the NIGC, despite Congress’ intent that tribes would be the primary regulators of their own gaming operations.S.B. 2078 would eliminate the two-part process for transferring land into trust for gaming purposes, forever denying landless tribes the opportunity to develop gaming programs on lands they might acquire in the future.There is a great irony in the debate over S. B. 2078. In the 1987 Supreme Court California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians decision, the court acknowledged the retained right of tribes as sovereign nations to engage in gaming without state interference as long as gaming in some form was legal in that state. State governors and attorneys general demanded that Congress limit this right so they would have more control over Indian gaming within their boundaries. Congress acceded to those demands and IGRA was born. The whole point of the compact process was to give state governments at least limited authority over tribal gaming.Now S.B. 2078 proposes to hand over regulatory authority to the NIGC, potentially rendering toothless many of the existing tribal/state compacts. If the federal government is going to control Indian gaming so completely, why bother with the compact process at all?Having introduced S.B. 2078, McCain now may find himself lost in the land of unintended consequences. He has alienated Indian tribes, his former friends and political allies. He has squeezed state governments out of the tribal gaming regulatory process. He has become the poster boy and fearless leader for all those Indian-haters who prefer their Indians poor, dependent and subjugated. He has taken his first step on the 2008 campaign trail by stepping on the necks of Indian people. Maybe he didn’t mean to, but if S.B. 2078 passes, what he meant to do won’t matter.It is time to let your senator know you oppose S.B. 2078. Your vote DOES count!!!This column has been edited for length and content from an April 14th article in Indian Country Today bylined John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association.