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Opposing Casino Gambling is Not Racist
By Doug George-Kanentiio
Nov 18, 2006, 09:54
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There has been a growing movement among New York State residents opposed to the expansion of casino gambling which, for now, occurs exclusively on Indian territory.

While New York's constitution prohibits casino gambling within the state's jurisdiction Native lands are in an odd place-exempt from most state laws yet not in federal trust.

During the Cuomo administration there was great pressure exerted upon the then governor to introduce casinos into New York. Cuomo elected not to seek an amendment to the constitution but to use a legal back door: have the Indians do it.

Cuomo had another reason. He had to try and find a way to resolve the Iroquois claims to most of central and western New York, claims which were sustained by federal law and judicial rulings all the way to the US Supreme Court.

Cuomo adopted a strategy, carried on by George Pataki, of using casino compacts in exchange for surrender of Iroquois lands and sovereignty.

He was also determined to undermine the Iroquois Confederacy's longstanding opposition to casino gambling by using a well established tactic in dealing with troublesome natives. He would create his own Native leader and empower that person to open a casino, defy the other Iroquois nations and set in place actions which would lead to the ultimate loss of all Native lands and the fatal compromise of our status as treaty governments.

Cuomo found the weakest link in Arthur Raymond Halbritter, an Oneida who never masked his extreme hostility towards the Iroquois Confederacy. Halbritter had no use for traditional Iroquois values as he was a Seventh Day Adventist. He did not speak Oneida and refused to take part in those rituals which are the essence of Iroquois culture. He was aggressive, ambitious, intolerant and desperate to make a personal fortune whatever the cost.

In short, he was the embodiment of all things the traditional Iroquois is not.

In 1993 Halbritter was outcast by the Iroquois Confederacy but he did not care for he had Cuomo as an ally. His casino, and it is his casino, opened that year and has continued to generate untold wealth for Halbritter and his family. Untold because he has never given the Oneida people a forensic audit of the profits made by Turning Stone; those Oneidas who have asked were stripped of their benefits as Oneidas with some evicted from their territory homes.

But the lack of basic human rights on Oneida territory never bothered anyone else. As long as the casino created jobs most area residents kept quiet. Until they were notified they were defendents in the Oneida land claims followed by the gradual realization that their taxes were subsidizing the casino.

Then the opposition started.

While some were explicit in their use of race to condemn the Turning Stone Casino others knew it was more complicated than it appeared.

Those who did their research saw the casino for what it was, a scam meant to enrich a small clique of people, very few of whom were Oneidas. They also realized the casino sucked the local economy dry, contributed to increases in crime, thrived on those with fixed incomes and destroyed the regional eco-system.

These people also knew that Iroquois law prohibits commercial gambling. They saw the contradictions, they asked the right questions. They knew they were on the right trail when Halbritter began to use his PR machine to hurl accusations of racism against them. Any critic faced the same charge including the media. The result was an extreme reluctance by the media to investigate Halbritter and his enterprises. This was exactly what he wanted.

But it is not racist to say no to a casino. It is not racist to compel regional and state politicians to seek other ways of securing economic growth. It is not racist to insist that the Oneida people have the same human rights as American citizens. It is not racist to demand the media do its job and tell the truth of what is happening with the Turning Stone Casino profits. It is not racist to oppose a casino because it exploits those most economically vulnerable. It is not racist to stand against petty dictators who abuse their own people. It is not racist to state the obvious.

I hope more New Yorkers will support the restoration of traditional, democratic government among the Oneidas. Then, and only then, will the Oneida people return to a condition of stability, honour and dignity.

George-Kanentiio, an Akwesasne Mohawk, resides on Oneida Territory. He is a co-founder of the Native American Journalist Association and the author of two books on Iroquois culture. E-mail him at Kanentiio@aol.com.

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