In 1988, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which empowered tribes to use gaming to strengthen self-sufficiency and improve the economic conditions of their members. Gaming revenue has helped tribal governments improve the employment, income, education, and health conditions of Indian people.
But not all Indian people.
Due to the varying geographical location of Indian reservations, some tribes have received abundant benefits from gaming, while others have received little. Three tribes generate the overwhelming majority of gaming revenue in Wisconsin: the Forest County Potawatomi; the Oneida Nation; and the Ho Chunk Nation. This revenue benefits only the members of these tribes. It does not benefit the majority of American Indians in Wisconsin who belong to the other eight poorer tribes.
The Menominee Tribe has petitioned the federal government to approve an off-reservation casino in Kenosha. After more than nine years of analysis, the federal government recently approved Menominee's petition. Legally, Gov. Scott Walker has the power to make the final decision. He has asked for a consensus of all Wisconsin tribes before deciding.
Wisconsin's eight poorer Tribes, including the Menominee, favor the Kenosha casino proposal because of the economic benefits it holds for more than 8,700 Menominee Tribal members, and Wisconsin as a whole. The three wealthy Tribes have taken the opposite position. They, who have gained so much from Indian gaming and who have used it to raise themselves out of poverty, are refusing to help a fellow Tribe achieve the same goal.
The Forest County Potawatomi's opposition is particularly disappointing. They would undoubtedly be one of the state's poorer tribes, except for the fact that they were able to acquire off-reservation gaming lands in Milwaukee's Menomonee Valley. They acquired these lands thanks to the exact same provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that permitted the federal government to approve Menominee's Kenosha project. As a result they are the wealthiest tribe in Wisconsin, and one of the wealthiest in the entire nation.
In his letter to Gov. Walker approving the Kenosha project, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn stated: "As the federal trustee for Indian Nations, our hearts would sing to see more than 8,700 Menominee Indians follow in the successful footsteps of 1,400 Potawatomis."
It makes my heart sing to see seven of the poorer tribes in Wisconsin unhesitatingly support Menominee's effort to lift over 8,700 members out of poverty. It breaks my heart to see the three wealthiest tribes do their best to crush it.