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While the 1980s started out on a rough note, the decade eventually ended on a fairly positive one for the Potawatomi.
President Ronald Reagan ushered in a new era of Indian policy. In his "aw shucks" approach, Reagan made massive cuts to the Indian program funding.
Some tribes suffered, but others like the Potawatomi decided to do something positive about the situation.
As noted in earlier articles, the bureaucracy was safe from such threats and even from the actual cut-backs.
People in government are protected by Civil Service laws and layoffs are rare. Of course, the tribes don't enjoy such protections.
What usually happened in announced cutbacks like this was the Bureau of Indian Affairs just passed the cuts on to the tribes. After this little bit of paperwork was completed, they sat back and blamed it on the wicked Republicans, or whatever wicked party was in power at the time.
A real problem for all tribes is reliance on "soft money," such as federal grant dollars, and it was painfully evident during these years. When the money doesn't come in on time, wholesale layoffs occur, and this was a yearly event for the office staff.
This led to a lack of continuity in tribal business functions.
For years, this was the standard operating procedure for the tribe. The bureau would give the yearly lame excuse about funding delays and a chain reaction started with the layoffs. More than anything, this impacted on services to the people.
Trust money, money left over from the early land settlement claims, was used to make up for the deficits and became an easy bail-out for the economic problems.
In 1986, for instance, a larger "withdrawal" occurred, amounting to about 322,000 dollars, money that was used for incidental, everyday living expenses but a sign that showed a shaky financial situation for the tribe.
But one problem with going to the well too many times was the danger of its drying up, or in this case, breaking the system where future generations would have no money for business development. In essence, the real danger to a complacent tribal government was to spend all the tribe's savings on trivial bills and the like.
Many tribal governments sat around and cried about being the victim of an unjust system, but of course that didn't pay the bills. Something had to be done.
That is why the tribe turned to more soft money ---gambling in the form of bingo. It, like federal dollars, was something hard to depend on, but there was no choice if the tribe wanted to reach financial sanity.
In the past, many management companies had come to the reservation and run the bingo operations for the tribe. While it is always easier to let someone else run a business, it was a losing proposition from the start. Company after company would start up bingo, but these business relationships usually ended up on a sour note.
Eventually, the tribe decided to run the business, and it did. The new operation provided jobs, subsidized the tribal programs and gave the tribal government more options than it ever had before.
It was just because members of the tribe believed in themselves for once.
And guess what? Those tribal programs for the first time in years never had to take that annual layoff.