Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pechanga: Tribal Leaders Worry about Image

As well they should. Pechanga has hurt more people than they have helped.


Tribal leaders worry about 'wealthy Indian' image

By: EDWARD SIFUENTES - Staff WriterPerception could damage future for tribal people, leaders say
PECHANGA INDIAN RESERVATION -- Tribal leaders said Monday they were troubled by a growing public perception of American Indians as "casino-rich" special interests.Anthony Pico, a prominent former chairman of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians in East County, said tribal governments need to take a more active role in improving their image through the media. Pico, reporters and tribal public relations officials participated in conference called Native Voices held Monday at the Pechanga Indian Reservation.
"The future preservation and prosperity of American Indians will not be decided in the halls of Congress or state legislatures, nor will it be adjudicated ... (at) the U.S. Supreme Court," he told an audience of more than 50 people. "It will be decided by the voting public in the court of public opinion."
For more than 20 years, tribes have built casinos to improve the lives of tribal members, Pico said.Tribal gambling has grown to a more than $22 billion a year industry, larger than Las Vegas and Atlantic City gambling combined, said former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colorado, who spoke at the conference.Much of that revenue is generated by a handful of the more than 400 Indian casinos, Campbell said. And though members of some tribes receive large monthly shares of the revenue, most tribal people are still living in poverty and are in need of basic government services, such as health care, tribal leaders said.Pico said lawmaker's perception of casino-wealthy Indians has been used to roll back programs and policies that have helped Indian governments, which are sovereign under the U.S. Constitution, become increasingly self reliant.In California, there are 56 tribal-owned casinos that generated an estimated $7.7 billion last year. Many of the casinos, including five in North County and one at the Pechanga reservation near Temecula, have increasingly grown to mega resorts, which have drawn criticism from neighbors over traffic and public safety concerns.Sen. Campbell told the audience that American Indians have to be better advocates for themselves. That is something that does not come easy to most tribal people, he said."We are not a people that self promote," he said.Media and government relations consultants for tribes said tribes need to be more open to reporters and to the public about their culture, history and their economic plans for the future."Now is the time for tribal people to begin educating, not just the people in Congress, which is an on-going job," said Jana McKeag, a gambling industry lobbyist. "Unless we start talking to our neighbors at home about who we are and what we're doing, we're not going to get success and progress in Washington, D.C."

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