Indians Converge on Capitol to Protest Gambling Raids
PHOENIX (AP) _ Hundreds of Indians and supporters converged on the state Capitol on Wednesday to protest a crackdown on reservation gambling that they say is drying up their tribes’ economic lifeblood.
″We’ve been oppressed and we won’t take it any more,″ Gilbert Jones, vice chairman of the Yavapai tribe at the Fort McDowell reservation outside Phoenix, told the rally.
Rallies at the Capitol and at the federal building climaxed a two-day march from Fort McDowell, where Yavapais thwarted a federal raid on their casino May 12.
Indians blockaded FBI agents in a casino parking lot in a tense standoff that ended only when agents agreed to leave more than 300 seized video gambling machines behind in trucks. Another 750 machines at Fort McDowell and four other reservations were removed.
The marchers heaped scorn on both the federal government and Gov. Fife Symington, who has refused to negotiate an agreement that would legalize the gambling machines on Arizona reservations.
″It is the start, the start of the end to the erosion of our sovereignty,″ Jones said.
About 200 Indians and supporters walked 10 miles the first day, then were bused to a church near downtown to join others who arrived by bus to finish the march.
The Fort McDowell standoff dramatizes disputes in Arizona and other states over a complex set of federal laws and regulations that allow some gambling on reservations.
A 1988 law allows tribes to offer little-used traditional Indian games and popular bingo session without limit. Indians also can run casino-style games - roulette, poker and video machines simulating a variety of card games and slots - but there are limits.
It must be a kind of gaming allowed in some form off the reservation and the tribe must negotiate a compact with the state allowing the gambling.
To Indians, the dispute is an issue of sovereignty and economics. The machines bring in millions of dollars a year on reservations where unemployment is usually high and outside income extremely limited.
The casino and bingo hall at Fort McDowell brought in $19 million in the last six months, most of that from the machines.
The Arizona raids coincided with publication of rules implementing the 1988 law. The raids were ordered by Linda Akers, U.S. Attorney for Arizona, who has been warning the tribes since last fall that a crackdown was coming.
The Republican governor, who wasn’t notified in advance about the raids, negotiated the deal that got 25 to 50 FBI agents and U.S. marshals through the blockade at Fort McDowell. The Indians agreed to a 10-day ″cooling-off period″ which ends Friday.
In return, Symington promised to discuss their demands for a state compact allowing gaming. The talks are scheduled for Thursday, and the administration has portrayed the governor as unwilling to soften his opposition to reservation gambling, leading to worries of a new confrontation over the seized machines.