Friday, June 22, 2007

Money Divides a Tribe

Here's an interesting story from today's NY Times on how the vast wealth created by their gambling operations has divided the Pequots amongst themselves even as it made them rich beyond measure:

15 years after Foxwoods opened, the family that brought the Pequots back from the brink, that repopulated an almost empty reservation and rebuilt its economic soul, says the tribe has cast it aside in recent years.

After years of infighting, the Haywards say they have been demoted, fired, pushed out of jobs. Several say it has gotten so bad that they are thinking of moving away from land they fought to reclaim.

The Haywards described the tribe as deeply troubled. They say they worry, for example, that too many young Pequots, their own children included, are increasingly idle and drawn to drugs because they are given lots of money at an early age.

“It’s going to break up,” Loretta Libby, 76, who has spent most of her life on the reservation, said of her tribe. “We are breaking up.”

But things aren't all bad:

Even with its disputes, life on the Pequot reservation resembles the Magic Kingdom compared with the grinding poverty that afflicts many Native Americans. They typically confront unemployment rates of about 40 percent and per capita incomes of less than $13,000, a fraction of what a Pequot might spend on a car.

The gated community here, near the tribe’s $18 million golf course, features rambling homes, manicured lawns and driveways filled with luxury cars. Under the tribe’s profit-sharing system, each member 18 and older, working or not, receives a monthly payment that averages about $100,000 a year, tribal members say.

Tribal leaders make more. One tribal council member, in a court filing several years ago, said she had made as much as $1.5 million in a year. Each Pequot is also guaranteed a job, free medical care, day care and tuition at any private school or college.

So, gambling has brought this small tribe, which didn't even really exist as a tribe when the gambling idea was hatched in someone's head, unimaginable wealth even as it's divided them against each other. You will forgive me if I'm not at all sympathetic to their problems. I support gambling for Native American tribes, unequivocally. Nothing bothers me about fleecing Americans who are now living on land their ancestors took by force. What I do not support is the selfish, short-sighted and foolhardy approach the Pequot took, an approach that has universally been adopted by every other tribe that's adopted gambling. Money which could have been spent to benefit all Native Americans everywhere, including ones that live in incredible poverty in the plains States, is instead used to buy luxury cars and fancy houses, as these tribes embrace the American materalistic culture even moreso than Americans do. Also, this kind of wealth is only available to small tribes, as larger tribes have many, many more mouths to feed (so to speak) and have to use the money for needs like health care, job training, and other social services. This kind of money also attracted dirtbags like Jack Abramoff and his cohorts, who successfuly played incredibly stupid tribal leaders against each other (and insulted those leaders in the process.)

So gambling has been both a curse and a blessing for Native Americans, granting some of them vast wealth while others persist in crushing poverty, and dividing them even further against a culture that still seeks to assimilate them all to one extent or another. I yearn for the sort of tribal leaders who understand this sort of thing, but I might as well be spitting in the wind for all the good such a hope does.

1 comment:

Nat-Wu said...

It's sad that the more money tribes have, the less they understand its value.