Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Thursday, July 10, 2003  

Gambling with Indians

Rick Heller at Smart Genes has beed musing over the wacky world of the politics of being Indian. The story of a made to order tribe has inspired him to write fiction about the topic.

In the latest installment, a lawyer convinces Camberwell University's Native American student group to sue for land recovery in the name of an extinct Indian tribe. This tale was inspired by the true story of Foxwoods the fabulously successful Connecticut casino located on the Mashantucket Pequot reservation. According to the book Without Reservation by Jeff Benedict, the present day Mashantucket Pequot's are a reconstituted tribe made of up relatives of a woman who was the sole resident of the reservation when she died in the 1970's. She herself was only part-Indian, and its doubtful whether she had any Pequot ancestry at all. Her surviving relatives only came together to claim tribal status when the prospect of land claims and gaming revenue became apparent. They were represented by a good lawyer, Tom Tureen , and took advantage of a climate of remorse over what had historically been done to American Indians in general.

I first heard of the casino about ten years ago. I was dating a woman whose uncle was a minister at a church in Connecticut. He was up in arms about the new casino that had opened in a neighboring town. His church had suffered a break-in shortly after the casino opened, the first ever during his ministry. He suspected a gambler who'd been cleaned out by the casino and needed some money to get back home. I'm not a fan of casino-based development, because casino's don't create wealth, they simply transfer wealth [of] gamblers to casino owners . That may not be such a bad thing is the owners are formerly-poor Indian tribes. The Pequot case is dubious, though I'm told they've created a nice museum with some of their profits.

In looking into the Native American Casino issue, I've also come across an interesting newspaper, Indian Country, which claims to be "The Nation's Leading American Indian News Source." I note that many tribal people actually prefer the term American Indian over Native American.

As someone of Native American ancestry, Rick's subject engenders the ambivalence I often feel about Indian issues in me. The Pequot story is reasonably rare. However, profiteering Indians who convert funds intended to lift reservations out of poverty to their own use are not. If I had a grand for every tribal leader who has enriched himself, his family and his friends at everyone else's expense, I could score some nice Northwest Portland real estate.

My ambivalence about casinos is similar to Rick's. As a last resort, in areas where there are neither natural resources nor service industries that can exist without them, I guess casinos are justified. But, I place casinos near the bottom of the list of businesses I want to encourage. They take advantage of people's weakness. And, the folks more likely to gamble, the working and lower-middle classes, really need the money they invariably lose. There is little help for those who become addicted. Furthermore, the skills employees learn are mainly not transferrable to other fields. (A problem with many military occupational specialties, as well.) Of most significance, casinos do not produce anything. Society is no better off for their existence. Though I don't demand that everything be utilitarian, I usually prefer businesses that provide needs over those that provide wants.

Indian Country reports the casinos are economically successful so far.

NEW YORK - American Indian casinos will take in $15 billion, 36 percent of national gaming revenue this year, a figure that will rise to 40 percent by 2006, according to a major report by Merrill Lynch.

With this increase and further expansion on the horizon, Indian gaming has penetrated the bond market, with four financings since December, the investment banking company reported

However, there are clouds on the horizon.

With stagnant markets in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, the dynamic growth in gaming is all in Indian country, wrote Merrill analyst Kurt van Kuller. But he also warned "rapid growth can be a mixed blessing." Casino bonds often come with "a gusher of revenues," according to van Kuller. But, "investors need to ponder market saturation and the impact of potential new competitors in a fast-changing environment."

I also wonder what will happen if the market for a given casino dries up. Will the tribe be just as poor as it was before the casino opened?

Writer and lawyer, not Indian chief

Being Indian in America sometimes seems more about myth than reality. One decision I've made about this blog is to focus on all people as objectively as possible. That means including material that does nothing positive for a minority group's image in some of my entries. I have also decided not to play Lil' Indian Princess dispensing alleged Native American lore for a mainly white readership. That is because I believe embracing such a stereotype is demeaning. Most contemporary Indians live the same sorts of lives other Americans do.

posted by J. | 3:14 PM

Monday, July 07, 2003  

Herbert brings it on home

One of my favorite folks, George Kelly of All About George, alerted me to an op-ed article by the always on point Bob Herbert today.

The paradox of black life in America over the past half-century is that so much real progress and such wholesale tragedy should have occurred in the same place at the same time. The task now is to reinforce the progress and bring the curtain down on the tragedy.

Herbert is talking about the dichotomy that is the reality of African-American life today. The black middle-class, even measured by white standards, is larger than it has ever been before. The economic setback of the bourgeoisie is a lack of inherited assets moreso than wages, despite the continuing income differential for all non-whites. At the same time, the proportion of African-Americans mired in poverty, ignorance and violence has, in the first two instances remained disproportionately high, and, in the third, increased astronomically.

Herbert describes that contradictory reality.

It is now absolutely normal in many circles for young black men and women (and, for that matter, little black boys and girls) to refer to one another as niggaz and bitches and ho's. Doing well in school is frequently disdained as a white thing. Doing time in prison is widely accepted as a black thing, and no cause for shame.

Few people are surprised to hear that a gathering at this party or that club degenerated into the kind of violence we used to associate with the O.K. Corral. Homicide, drugs and AIDS are carving the heart out of one generation after another, and suicide among blacks is on the rise.

He gives an example, the paralysis of a Boston toddler by gunfire when a man in a shouting match went off in front of her home.

Anthony L. Warren, who has been previously convicted of assault and is due to stand trial on a drug dealing charge, was arguing with the woman outside her first-floor apartment in a Bowdoin Street three-decker Tuesday night when the two began to shove each other, police and neighbors said. The woman started crying and Warren, 26, ran down some steps at about 11:30, crossed the street to his car, then turned and allegedly began to shoot toward the house with a revolver.

''It wasn't like he was shooting at anybody. He was just shooting,'' said Joannie Zayas, who lives across the street and watched the episode unfold. ''It seemed like he was shooting just to scare her.''

In my not particularly long life, I have disarmed two people, one white and the other African-American. In both situations, I told the young male to place the handgun on the floor pointing away from everyone. I then picked it up and removed the bullets, calling the police afterward. The white fool had taken the gun to a party in the condos where I lived to show off and as a way to gain admittance since he wasn't invited. I was never able to figure out the black fool's behavior. Looking back, I am surprised by my own response. Perhaps people are right when they say I have a lot of nerve, though I don't think of myself that way. I don't believe I would try to disarm anyone now. If anything, people are worse than they were a decade ago.

In my opinion, ending gun violence will be the hardest part of stopping the decline in civil or even reasonable behavior by too many African-Americans. (And, Native Americans. Reservations have an even greater problem with violence than ghettos.) I have encouraged legal solutions to the dilemma at Silver Rights. But, Bob Herbert is absolutely right. The movement to eliminate excessive violence among minority people must start at home.

So must efforts to stop the ignorance that leads to such behavior in the first place. A thinking person does not believe he needs to shoot someone to make his feelings known. There are other options, including explaining oneself in clear terms or severing relations with the object of one's ire rather than have the situation escalate. Teaching children critical thinking skills could make a world of difference.

Herbert is hoping the new leader of the National Urban League will confront the problems, despite the criticism that is likely ensue, and do something about them.

I mentioned Whitney Young Jr. because I had a conversation a few days ago with Marc Morial, the former mayor of New Orleans who has just taken over as head of the Urban League and is hoping to raise its profile to a level comparable to the glory days of the Whitney Young era.

He plans to lay out his agenda in a keynote address to be delivered later this month at the league's annual convention.

My suggestion: Hammer home the need to stop the self-destruction that continues to block the advancement of millions of black Americans.

Morial, the parent of a daugher who is a young adult, should be familiar with the tribulations that haunt her generation. Perhaps he and other relatively youthful minority leaders can begin the processes that will cleanse black, brown and red communities of carnage.

posted by J. | 8:56 AM

Sunday, July 06, 2003  

Summer time is blues time

Do I even need to say that it's blues time? Summer is always the ideal time to hear the best blues and jazz acts in the country and this year is no exception. I listen to and think about the blues a lot. Eventually, I hope to write a blues novel. I particularly muse about the blues this time of the year because it is when the three or four-day blues festival sponsored by the Cascade Blues Association takes place in Portland. This year it is called the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival and is July 3 through 6 at, you guessed it, Watefront Park.

The roster has included legendary acts as well as local and regional bluesmen and women, with a special focus on women. Among the big names appearing are Taj Mahal, Etta James, Steve Miller, Susan Tedeschi, Roy Rogers and Norton Buffalo. The rest of the 100 or so performers are worthy souls, too.

Whenever I talk about the blues with a general audience, I make sure to define what I mean by blues and correct some misconceptions.

Blues are a kind of music that developed in America from the various musical expressions of African Americans. The blues are an extremely flexible type of music, and various musicians have created individual styles of performing them. The blues contributed greatly to the development of jazz. . . .

The basic blues design is a 12-bar form that is divided into three sections of four bars each. Most blues lyrics consist of several three-line stanzas. The second line of each stanza repeats the first, and the third line expresses a response to the first two. Many blues lyrics reflect loneliness or sorrow, but others declare a humorous or defiant reaction to life's troubles.

Blues may have developed after the American Civil War (1861-1865) from short solo calls and wails called field hollers. Field hollers were used as a form of communication among black plantation workers in the South. In the late 1800's, country, or "down-home," blues developed in the Mississippi Delta region. These songs were sung by a male singer, usually with the accompaniment of a guitar. Blind Lemon Jefferson and Mississippi John Hurt were well-known singers of country blues.

Music historians trace the history of the blues from the late 1800s in the South to the 1900s in other regions as African-Americans migrated to the Midwest, West and North. Modern blues echoes the themes of traditional blues -- romantic relationships, the hard work of the laboring classes and the vicissitudes of fortune. Contemporary popularizers such as Keb Mo, Mem Shannon and Robert Cray have made a full circle with the music, bringing the influences of jazz and soul back to a genre that was the roots of both.

A common misconception about the blues is the music is always sad. The mood of a blues song can range from joyous to dolorous, from high as a Georgia pine to lower than a worm's belly. Blues lyrics reflect the full panoply of the human experience.

Mem Shannon has mastered the tongue-in-cheek blues song.

Been seeing these new vehicles running round
Ain't got no trunk and standing way up off the ground.

Now I know they was made for climbing mountains and driving in the snow,
But every one I see tryin' to run over me
When I'm driving to the grocery store.

I'm sick of these S.O.B.'S driving these S.U.V.'S
Tryin' to run over me when I'm in my beat-up car.
Tryin' to run over me when I'm in my beat-up car.

Hear "SUV" here.

Or listen to any album by Portland bluesman Lloyd Jones, one of the most clever songwriters and versatile guitarists I'm aware of. His career has been built on on a grasp of the variety inherent in the blues. "Trouble Monkey" is a good example.

Trouble monkey, trouble monkey that's what I got.
Trouble monkey, trouble monkey that's what I got.
I know she's trouble.
I know she's trouble, but I can't stop.
She give me the eye, then she wiggle her hip,
That's all it takes now -- I'm right back in her grip.
Trouble monkey, trouble monkey that's what I got.
I know she's trouble, but I can't stop.
(Voice) I got it bad now!
Trouble monkey, trouble monkey about to get me killed.
Trouble monkey, trouble monkey about to get me killed.
I know she's trouble, but I got to have my trouble still.

You can't go wrong visiting the masters either, whether original or covered by contemporary blues singers. Sometimes, I like to listen to "Drop Down Mama" by Sleepy John Estes, Lloyd Jones and Curtis Salgado back to back. They all do the song differently, but each does it well.

A couple of other unfounded myths are that the blues are for black people and old people only. In reality, most modern blues fans are white. The music has very strong followings in many European countries as well as in the United States. I believe it takes a mature mind to truly grasp the subleties of blues and jazz. But, by mature I don't mean old. By the time people who like music reach their late 20s or early 30s many are looking for something more meaningful than the Top 40 and discover blues and jazz.

Like I said, it's blues time. If you haven't been listening to the blues perhaps it is time to start.

Note: Some of the material in this entry is from the World Book Encyclopedia for Mac OS X.

posted by J. | 12:17 AM