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COMMENTARY–Protect Indian Self-Reliance Once and for All

The future of Indians and Indian gaming is back in the hands of the voters. On March 7, Californians will vote on a matter of economic survival to California Indian tribes , Proposition 1A.

A yes vote on Proposition 1A assures that California Indians can continue to have limited gaming on their tribal land. This gaming provides jobs, and tribal government revenues, which will reduce welfare and fund Indian education, housing, cultural preservation, senior and health care programs.

Last year, California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 5, the Indian Self-Reliance Initiative. But Prop. 5 was overturned with a lawsuit financed by Nevada casinos. Now Proposition 1A has been put on the March ballot to resolve this issue and establish that Indian gaming on tribal lands is legal in California.

For more than a decade, Indian casinos in California have provided education, housing and health care for Indian people, as well as jobs that have taken Indians off welfare.

Today Indian gaming on tribal lands benefits all Californians by providing nearly 50,000 jobs for Indians and non-Indians and producing $120 million annually in state and local taxes. After generations of poverty, despair and dependency, there is hope. On reservations with casinos, unemployment has dropped nearly 50 percent; welfare has been cut by 68 percent and, in some cases, eliminated entirely.

Benefits More Than Reservation

My tribe, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, is one of the more than 90 federally recognized California tribes which supports a yes vote on Proposition 1A. These tribes represent more than 90 percent of the Indians living on reservations in California.

Tribal government gaming benefits San Diego County by providing more than 4,000 jobs for mostly non-Indians. With a more than $80 million annual payroll, tribes pay more than $15 million in state and federal payroll taxes, spend more than $90 million on goods and services purchased from more than 2,000 local businesses , all of which is taxed at the federal and state level , and have donated $3 million yearly in community charitable contributions and sponsorships.

As a tribal leader, I have seen firsthand how Indian gaming has transformed the lives of California Indians. Gaming has replaced welfare with work, despair with hope, and dependency with self-reliance. And it has generated the tribal government revenues to bring government services for our reservation, electricity, water and sewage systems, roads , social and welfare programs.

Simple Constitutional Amendment

Proposition 1A is a simple constitutional measure that allows Indian gaming in California, clearing the technicality which the state Supreme Court used to void Proposition 5, and the will of the voters.

Proposition 1A does the following:

– Protects Indian self-reliance by finally providing clear legal authority for Indian tribes to conduct specified gaming activities on tribal lands;

– Shares Indian gaming revenues with non-gaming tribes for use in education, housing, health care and vitally needed services;

– Provides revenues to fund impacts to local communities near Indian casinos, programs for gambling addiction and state regulatory costs;

– Creates strong state regulation and oversight, including on-site inspections and access to all financial records, in addition to existing tribal government oversight and regulation by federal government agencies such as the Department of Justice, FBI and the IRS.

– Provides for tribal cooperation with local governments and for tribal environmental compliance.

The issue is simple. If Proposition 1A is not passed, Indian casinos in California could be shut down and the jobs and economic benefits they provide will be lost. This would be devastating for California Indian tribes, our employees, the local economy and for California’s taxpayers. If Indian gaming in California were shut down, the only real winners would be the Nevada casinos who already take in more than $7 billion annually from Californians.

We are asking San Diegans to vote yes on Proposition 1A so we can keep gaming on our reservations. We thank you for your past support and need your help now to protect Indian self-reliance once and for all. Please help California’s Indian tribes take this final step to make Indian self-reliance a reality. On March 7, please vote yes on Prop. 1A.

Pico is chairman of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.

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