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Tribal leaders worry about 'wealthy Indian' image

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  • Robert Schmidt
    http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2007/09/25/news/californian/4_01_349_24_07. txt Tribal leaders worry about wealthy Indian image By: EDWARD SIFUENTES - Staff
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 26, 2007
      http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2007/09/25/news/californian/4_01_349_24_07.
      txt

      Tribal leaders worry about 'wealthy Indian' image

      By: EDWARD SIFUENTES - Staff Writer
      Perception could damage future for tribal people, leaders say

      PECHANGA INDIAN RESERVATION -- Tribal leaders said Monday they were
      troubled by a growing public perception of American Indians as
      "casino-rich" special interests.

      Anthony Pico, a prominent former chairman of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay
      Indians in East County, said tribal governments need to take a more active
      role in improving their image through the media. Pico, reporters and tribal
      public relations officials participated in conference called Native Voices
      held Monday at the Pechanga Indian Reservation.

      "The future preservation and prosperity of American Indians will not be
      decided in the halls of Congress or state legislatures, nor will it be
      adjudicated ... (at) the U.S. Supreme Court," he told an audience of more
      than 50 people. "It will be decided by the voting public in the court of
      public opinion."

      For more than 20 years, tribes have built casinos to improve the lives of
      tribal members, Pico said.

      Tribal gambling has grown to a more than $22 billion a year industry,
      larger than Las Vegas and Atlantic City gambling combined, said former Sen.
      Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colorado, who spoke at the conference.

      Much of that revenue is generated by a handful of the more than 400 Indian
      casinos, Campbell said. And though members of some tribes receive large
      monthly shares of the revenue, most tribal people are still living in
      poverty and are in need of basic government services, such as health care,
      tribal leaders said.

      Pico said lawmaker's perception of casino-wealthy Indians has been used to
      roll back programs and policies that have helped Indian governments, which
      are sovereign under the U.S. Constitution, become increasingly self
      reliant.

      In California, there are 56 tribal-owned casinos that generated an
      estimated $7.7 billion last year. Many of the casinos, including five in
      North County and one at the Pechanga reservation near Temecula, have
      increasingly grown to mega resorts, which have drawn criticism from
      neighbors over traffic and public safety concerns.

      Sen. Campbell told the audience that American Indians have to be better
      advocates for themselves. That is something that does not come easy to most
      tribal people, he said.

      "We are not a people that self promote," he said.

      Media and government relations consultants for tribes said tribes need to
      be more open to reporters and to the public about their culture, history
      and their economic plans for the future.

      "Now is the time for tribal people to begin educating, not just the people
      in Congress, which is an on-going job," said Jana McKeag, a gambling
      industry lobbyist. "Unless we start talking to our neighbors at home about
      who we are and what we're doing, we're not going to get success and
      progress in Washington, D.C."

      -- Contact staff writer Edward Sifuentes at (760) 740-3511 or
      esifuentes@....
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