Saturday, February 6, 2016

Neil Bluhm and the Casino Bid: Why the Racist's Playbook Doesn't Change

"The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn't shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Someone says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdom, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing."

- Toni Morrison

As any number of First Nation tribes -especially those on the east coast- can attest, when
Casino Developer Neil Bluhm  tries to hedge his bet
bigots and/or those who stand to obtain financial gain find us standing in their way, the Racist's Playbook comes out. The funny thing with this playbook: unlike football play books, the plays and methods don't change and haven't changed in a couple of hundred years. Yes, there have been modifications here and there due to things like the end of slavery, the New Deal, the Civil Rights Movement, etc., but fundamentally the plays are all very predictable, simply because of the fact that they have worked time and time again.

Here's how the game is played:
1) The US entered treaties with the many and various Native tribes, nations and bands as well as set aside reservations and territories for these communities to occupy. 
2) The US Army dishonored most of these treaties and went about slaughtering thousands of people.
3) For the tribes remaining, the US went about administratively ruling these communities as "Non-Indian" thus rendering the treaties null and void allowing them to take possession of tribal territories.
4) In the 20th and 21st Century, tribes labor to jump through the hoops of receiving federal recognition.

5) Greedy realtors and casino developers fight to block their ability to obtain status and if they do, they fight to get it rescinded.

When a tribe stands in your way, you go to court and claim that they are not really Indians. A particularly easy move if the tribe is not federally recognized as a sovereign community. This happened to the Mashpee tribe in the 1970's with a land suit over the tribe's territory and the challenge issued by greedy realtors and attorney's who used racialist tactics to try to prove that the tribe didn't exists and the Wampanoags were in fact not really Wampanoags or Indians at all, citing the number of Black people who had married into the tribe (with little to no mention of the whites), simply because of the 'one drop' rule (1/16 Black ancestry wipes out your claim to any other ethnicity, making you legally Black, according to American racial laws). The Mashpee tribe thus embarked on an arduous, 30 year task of applying for and receiving federal recognition as a tribe in 2007. 

Neil Bluhm, a Chicago casino developer, stood before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission Nov. 5 telling commissioners a Mashpee Wampanoag casino was likely to be challenged in the courts and may never open. Bluhm himself, has an application pending to build a competing $677 million casino in Brockton. In true Robber- Baron tradition, Bluhm is helping fund Preserving Taunton’s Future Inc., a nonprofit set up to accept donations to fight the decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior to take 151 acres in Taunton for a casino and 170 acres in Mashpee as the tribe’s initial reservation.

The complaint filed Thursday alleges that Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn worked around a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, known as the Carcieri decision, by “broadly interpreting the phrase now under jurisdiction.” The secretary also “creates for the first time an unprecedented, ungrammatical and illogical reading as to who is an eligible Indian and what is a reservation under the (Indian Reorganization Act),” according to the complaint.
The Carcieri decision called into question the Department of Interior's ability to take land into trust for tribes recognized after 1934, the year of the Indian Reorganization Act. The Mashpee tribe was federally acknowledged in 2007 but the complaint even calls that into question, saying it came at a time when the Bureau of Indian Affairs lacked transparency. In other words, the basis of this complaint is that Mashpee was inaccurately and erroneously ruled as a Native American tribe. Shades of dealing with George Benway and the great Mashpee land theft of 1976!

The Pamunkey Indians of Virginia, who just received their federal recognition in 2015 -the only one of the 11 organized tribes in the state to receive recognition- immediately had their status challenged by Stand Up For California. The U.S. Department of the Interior Board of Indian Appeals recently rejected a challenge from an anti-gaming group on the West Coast. The board said the nonprofit had no standing in the case. As part of the dismissal, the board noted: “The Assistant Secretary concluded that the Tribe had submitted ‘voluminous and clear documentation’ that his experts viewed as ‘truly extraordinary,’ and which he concluded ‘easily satisfies’ the regulatory criteria” for acknowledgment as a tribe. The decision means the 2015 federal designation will remain for the Pamunkey. The tribe, whose 1,200-acre reservation is east of Richmond, has 200-plus members.

The true war is not about land or identity, it's about white supremacy and the inhibition of economic development for people of color.  

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