Potawatomi Books, Gary E.  Mitchell]


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Potawatomi tribal programs have held their own since the inception of the bingo operation on Sept. 1, 1987, and have benefited from the gaming operation.

Tribes enter the gaming business in the hopes of changing the economic situation on the reservations. The leaders of the tribe want to change the tribal members' dilemma of struggling from day to day.

But every time a sign of hope comes to the reservations, some new policy/political tactic comes along to derail progress, leaving the tribes in a semi-dependent state.

For the last eight years, bingo has succeeded in keeping the tribal programs afloat, kept people employed and enabled needed services to reach the tribal people. But it is questionable whether this can continue if the cutbacks get too drastic.

Politicians in Washington, D.C. have this mistaken illusion that every tribe in the United States has millions of dollars flowing from gaming operations, and as a result of this reasoning, are ready to make huge cuts in federal aid to Indian tribes.

There is no doubt that tribes such as the Pequots and Shakopee Sioux do have that kind of money coming into their tribes, but that is an aberration. Their circumstances are different than, say, a tribe like the Potawatomi. They have small tribal memberships (like 250 plus), great locations and have had established operations for a good number of years.

In contrast, the Potawatomi have a large tribal membership (4,000 plus), have only a good location and no casino yet. The state of Kansas saw to this. The legislature did a great job of dragging its collective feet for three years in agreeing to mandated tribal-state compacts.

The only thing this tactic accomplished was to enrich lawyers on both sides.

For the tribe, it meant losing out on needed revenues to improve the infrastructure of the reservation. For the state, it meant losing millions of taxpayer dollars fighting the tribes over what federal law already allowed.

Of course, these types of tactics are nothing new to Indians, but are expected behavior.

All too often, battles previously won must be fought again, and that is the funding dilemma facing the tribes today. Until the day comes when casino gaming can get established, the programs need the federal assistance, and it is way too early to implement new initiatives.

Indian tribes who historically have had less political clout and pull are the first on the hit list when it comes time for politicians to cut the budget. This reasoning, of course, doesn't apply to the pork-barrel projects of individual congressmen.

Congress wants to cut $1 billion from the Interior Department's proposed $7.7 billion 1996 budget, but yet are more than willing to tend to their own congressional district's needs.

For example, the House approved $1 million for an administration building for the Blue Ridge Parkway in the district of Rep. Charles Taylor, R-NC, who sits on the subcommittee that wrote the bill.

And there is $2 million for the Saratoga Monument in the upstate New York district of Rep. Gerald Solomon, chairman of the House Rules Committee.

The Senate also included $6 million for continued construction of the Natchez Trace Parkway in the home state of Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. He is on the subcommittee that wrote the bill.

In this proposed budget, some Indian tribes will have to eliminate entire schools from their reservations. Education is the key to all future hopes of the Potawatomi tribe, as well as other tribes, and the congressional answer is to eliminate the funding. Amazing reasoning!

Tribes could live with the cuts if they were across the board, but too often, only the poor people have to make the sacrifice.

Ada Deer, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, said, "The Senate had dealt a devastating blow to American Indians. In the 1950s, termination (of tribes) was the official policy; it was termination by legislation. Here we are in the 1990s, and we have termination by appropriations.

While this information provided by Linda Kanamine in the USA Today edition of Aug.15, 1995 is disheartening to many tribes and is only in the initial planning stages of the budget, it still is a prime example of how the tribes can never rest from government tactics.

First published in the Topeka Capital Journal Thursday, September 21, 1995

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