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Navajo-Hopi Observer | Flagstaff, Arizona

home : opinions : editorials February 6, 2016

1/25/2011 3:07:00 PM
Are casinos really the answer to the Navajo Nation's future?
Wells Mahkee Jr.
The Observer

"Only when the last tree has withered, and the last fish caught, and the last river been poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money."

- Cree proverb

Since the opening of Fire Rock Casino back in November of 2008, the opening of the Flowing Water Casino in New Mexico, along with the proposed opening of the Twin Arrows Casino near Flagstaff, the Navajo Nation - one of the last few remaining tribes in the Southwest that had staunchly resisted the temptation of gaming - has been criticized for once again "selling out" to the allure of the Almighty Dollar.

Over the past few decades, many tribal nations have prospered greatly as a result of Indian gaming. Our Pueblo neighbors to the east - Acoma, Laguna, Sandia, Santa Ana, San Felipe, and many of the Pueblos north of Santa Fe, N.M. seem to have benefited greatly as a result of gaming. Some have expanded their facilities to better accommodate additional gaming for additional revenue and bigger events in order to attract more people for even more revenue. But who ultimately pays for such expanded growth?

While proponents of gaming, such as former Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., continue to tout the benefits of gaming, there seem to be an equal number of individuals who are against gaming in any shape or form. But in the midst of one of the worst recessions in recent history, is gaming really such a bad idea? In late December, Shirley stated that economic development meant jobs for Navajos and revenues for the Nation to meet the needs of the people.

He stated in a recent article regarding the proposed opening of the Twin Arrows Casino near Flagstaff, "We're moving forward as a nation, a government and as a people. [Many] families are going to be in a position to put food on the table, to put shoes on little feet ... to pay for the utilities - that's what [gaming] means to my people."

Opponents of gaming, on the other hand, contradict what Shirley has stated. "Gambling is an addiction just like alcohol," one person defiantly asserted. "The fallout will be social problems where there are already numerous social ills from drugs and alcohol and violence. Why does the Navajo Tribe think there will be no consequences only dollar signs (sic) ... This is not a good idea."

Another person lamented, "The Navajo should learn a lesson from their Hopi brethren who have resisted entering into [gaming] in recognition that it does nothing but take advantage of the human weaknesses of others. Aside from a few people who have money to waste in gambling casinos these parasitic businesses do nothing but drain money from people who, for the most part, cannot afford to lose that money and it's loss creates a host of social problems not unfamiliar to the Navajo."

These certainly are legitimate concerns that probably should have been addressed prior to approving the casinos, but in retrospect, it does seem as if though the positive currently outweighs the negative ... or does it?

Is Navajo gaming destined to become yet another maligned social ill, much like alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence - yet another "problem" to be pushed to the wayside and ignored in the hopes that it will eventually just go away? Or should the Navajo Nation stand proudly and reaffirm their stance as a progressive people, able to maintain that delicate balance between two very opposite worlds?

Only the Almighty Dollar knows for certain.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Article comment by: Juniper B.A.

Looks to me like the only person bothered by Casinos on the Navajo Reservation is the Editor of this Article. Development of Businesses brings jobs to the communities, look at it as a good thing. Also, our Tribal Leaders don't seem to Bothered by the Casinos & spending Tribal Funds on gambling. Look at where The REDW Tribal Finance & Leadership Conference i being held this Year, LAS VEGAS, NV. How about That, go figure!

Posted: Saturday, October 22, 2011
Article comment by: Indigenous Citizen

Who runs the casino? Who builds it? Who finances it? Outsiders, that's who. Everybody gets paid BEFORE the funds reach the people. And, the casino promoters from "Off the Rez" benefit way before anyone else does. Look at who runs the Dine' casino department, is that person a Dine'? Twin Arrows Casino land was bought with "Navajo" Relocation funds, an elite faction has formed to dictate the terms of our existence for us....apparently.

Posted: Sunday, October 16, 2011
Article comment by: Sheryl Nelson

I wouldn't say casinos are the answers to the Dine People. Casinos are companies that seek out for money. No casinos ever built is because of good ethics, its because money is being sought out. (greed) The Pima tribes all have casinos and yes they do have good education programs and elderly support, and they even give money back to the people (per caps). If you have ever lived on the Pima reservation you can clearly see that the people are not progressing but maintaining what they are being given for free. They get money for free without the work and it allows them to think why try. Its a great way to keep people in one spot for a period of time without the want for progression. Why would they work hard for money when its given to them. Gambling is a bad addiction and should not be allowed in the world, not just from the Navajo Nation. But the way things are is that Vegas started along time ago and to change it would be hard and probably cause a lot of distruction, but Casinos on the Navajo Nation is just occuring and to stop it before its to far ahead into the game is a good idea.

Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Article comment by: Jess Gamlin

Hahaha!!! Cry babies... All of you! Well for me and my butt im going to the Casino. since you all have an idea on how to run a Nation...run for office and change this land. All im saying is im getting entertained... While you grow white hairs on how to figure out, how to stop a moving freight train of economy. Good luck. Peace out girl scout!!

Posted: Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Article comment by: Johnny Walker

W E M L, money,money,money money....is what this great nation is build on. So what are you going to do...let it slip thru your hands? Just get in the game...and we will see if the Navajo government will start dipping their hands into it. But, if notice that things are really picking up on the Pima reservation...new homes..eldery programs...education grants...activities for the youth...upgrading the law enforcement...Fire department...etc. etc. etc. For the People!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted: Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Article comment by: Robert Orlando

I remember when they introduced NYS lottery and said it was the answer to funding education. Somehow, it didn't work out so well.

Posted: Thursday, February 3, 2011
Article comment by: george pistoff

IF, (an we use that word with force) individual Indian landowners and Tribes were guaranteed full/fair "market" value for their leases(R.O.W.s) from corporations/Gov't. extracable resources(coal,gold,oil,coal,powerlines etc) for reasons unknown are undervalued(appraisals) while in/on reservations. the so-called Cobell settlement is about those issues yet the Government attornies used it to put large sums of money into Indian "education"? Wasn't that provided for in treaties? The Gov't set aside huge money to solve the problem of "fractionated" landownership a problem created by them.Cobell herself receives 2 mil!? Indians should be rich due to settlement! then perhaps we wouldn't need gambling it's easy come easy go, everyone dips into that money.

Posted: Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Article comment by: Bill Edwards

YES!There are a lot of negatives associated with gaming, yet if you visit the Navajo Rez you will see that it, like most all other reservations are really third world countries. Gaming is a way out, if the funds generated by gaming is used to finance other business ventures. Just making the best of a bad situation.

Posted: Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Article comment by: Delilah Pinto

I totally agree with Johnny Joe and Jay Marno. Building casinos is not the answer to better lives on the reservation. We just need to get off our butts and stop depending on others. Gambling is not NATIVE.

Posted: Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Article comment by: Wilbur Nelson

The Navajo Nation must decide, as of yesterday, not to follow the path that too many tribes have, which is to develop Gaming as a process for "economic diversification", not as "a means to an end, but as an end to means" or as one piece of the total tribal economic development inititiative. (or pie)

That is the Navajo Nation will need to plan, immediately, and develop Travel Centers, Strip Malls, Conveneince Stores and an assortment of retail stores within these sites, to offset the current mindset of too many tribes, which is: that a local Casino will 'save' the so called existing tribal economy. This will create the lasting jobs and true ecoomic development, as envisioned by Navajo leaders or in other words, "putting the money where thier mouths are".

Posted: Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Article comment by: johnny joe jr

What an idiot. Just by looking at his writing, you can see that people are just STUPID. What a idiot. Go to school because,clearly, you hanging on a breast of the government with your brain capacities.

Posted: Monday, January 31, 2011
Article comment by: Johnny Joe

Well, you have better do something, because the Government is slowing going to release all tribes from thier breast and you'll be on your own.....to help balance the budget...they help with 100's of millions of dollars....only time, when the country will say enough allready...let them work for themselves......mark my words!!!!

Posted: Monday, January 31, 2011
Article comment by: K Andrews

It's so amazing that the Navajo are being criticized because they are using their sovereign immunity to better their people, yet you don't see anyone picketing Las Vegas or Atlantic City. It is only a bad idea when Natives try to do it. It is a never ending jealousy that the immigrants in this country seem to pose upon popular opinion. If only they knew what Natives actually had to go thru in order to get to this point. Natives experience a broken culture. Stolen from their families, forced to speak a language that is not theirs and assimilate into a culture they never wished to even enter. And because that "generally" does not happen anymore, Natives should just be over it? This is not a simple repair or fix. A bandaid aint gonna take care of this. This has been passed on from generation to generation. But we should just stay at the bottom of the barrel? Live on rundown reservations and proceed with being the "drunken Indian"... well no. We have experienced hardships that very few cultures can attest to. And now there are issues because we are rising up? We are treating our ails and better our people's lives? We are living the same, and at times better than our white neighbors? Well itís about time. Recovery is still occurring, but what we have recovered from this far is simply amazing. But we will keep pushing forward. To all Tribes, their number one asset is their people.... If that means that Natives are going to conduct in the same business that the white man has been doing for years to better our people, then so be it!!!!

Posted: Monday, January 31, 2011
Article comment by: Jay Marno

Anyone who has frequented Indian casinos, or who lives in communities that have Indian casinos in them understands that the vast majority of people playing slot machines cannot afford to lose the money they are losing. The design of the rapid play (loss) machines is intended to appeal to the addict by making small payments over time while the "player" is continually losing. These small "jackpots" are intended to stimulate pleasure centers in the brain like the feeling one gets when they find a $20.00 bill on the sidewalk. The Hopi are right on and there is little good that can be said for Indian gambling casinos which promote gambling addiction, increased crime, family neglect, substances abuses and economic deprivation by these "players" who do not make anywhere near the amount of money they are losing per hour. Slot machines account for aproximately 85% of the gross revenue ofa casino so the extent of the evil is easy to see.

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