Becoming a federally recognized tribe is a monumental victory in the eyes of the Shinnecock people. Upon hearing the relief with which some Shinnecock members spoke about the decision, it was difficult not to get swept away in the current of emotion surrounding Tuesday’s event. The ruling ends a 32-year journey for our neighboring Indian nation; and they are about to embark on a venture no less perilous than the first.
In the media attention of the Bureau of Indian Affairs rendering a decision, talk of the possibility of the Shinnecocks building a casino nearly eclipsed the chain of events which inspired the coverage in the first place. Or perhaps, in the eyes of the media, the idea of a casino makes the issue worth covering.
There is an important discussion to be had. A casino will have large consequences both good and bad for the community in which the gaming facility is built. This, however, isn’t the only topic which should be vetted. There is a looming issue that deserves a thorough and thoughtful investigation.
Today there are a limited number of tools available to Indian nations to economically advance their reservations. Constructing a casino is just one means toward increasing the quality of life for a nation’s people. The origin of gaming on Indian reservations was haphazard and the right to operate a casino was later battled out in many courts around the nation over several decades.
In recent years, casinos have become a means of reparations to Native American people, though the arrangement tends to attract the interests of developers from outside the community. Although we admit that we aren’t experts in this area, we feel the government should explore more substantive means of economic relief. Many people gripe about casinos appearing in their communities, but in a way Native American tribes are forced into exploring this option out of necessity and a dearth of other choices.
Tuesday’s verdict also highlights how the Shinnecocks must continue to negotiate and validate their identity within mass American culture. Countless Shinnecocks said they already knew their people and had a deep sense of culture, but the Nation wasn’t legitimized in the eyes of the government (and in some cases, their neighbors) until Tuesday. After thousands of years of fighting to maintain their way of life, it appears this will be an eternal struggle for the remaining Native American population in our country. We congratulate our Shinnecock neighbors on receiving federal recognition and wish them well on the next leg of their journey.