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Utah Judge Rules Tribe a Sham

UT Judge Rules Tribe a "Sham." Are Tribal Exceptions Good?

A federal judge in Utah just ordered a $63,000 civil judgment against four people claiming to be chiefs of an American Indian tribe in eastern Utah. The men conducted tribal meetings at a fast-food restaurant and claim hundreds of tribal members. They won't recognize federal or state laws, issue their own drivers' licenses and have filed numerous lawsuits against Utah authorities for ignoring their purported sovereignty.

The group/tribe calls itself the Wampanoag Nation, using the name of Mashpee Wampanoag Nation, a Massachusetts tribe who greeted the Pilgrims in 1620. Yesterday the judge ordered the men to stop pretending to be American Indians and pay Uintah County damages. He called their tribe a "complete sham." Officials with the federally recognized tribe declared that the Utah men were obvious impostors.

Given some of the benefits extended to Federally recognized tribes, it's understandable the men might want to claim ancestry. Are tribal exceptions like gaming, good for everyone? To see a little bit about it,


Benefits extended to members of tribes recognized by the US include: communication on a "government-to-government" basis with leaders of the tribes, medical and dental care, grants and programs for education, housing programs, aid in developing tribal governments and courts, resource management, and other services depending on need and interest.

One of the most visible tribal exceptions could be as close as your nearest casino: Indian Gaming.

Those in favor of Indian Gaming consider the thriving construction of casinos as a means of realizing the goal of full Tribal sovereignty, while opponents warn tribal leaders about the cultural costs of these operations. The two sides wonder whether or not casinos and culture can, in fact, co-exist peacefully — and still more wonder whether encouraging the growth of the gambling industry is good for the country or fair at the bottom line.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), passed by Congress in 1988, provides a source of income for tribes. Though Tribes have the power to tax their members, with unemployment high and taxable income low, tribes turned to gaming as a source of revenue. The IGRA was a Congressional attempt to strike a balance between the rights of tribes to engage in activities mostly free from state jurisdiction as well as the interests of states in regulating gaming activities within their boundaries.

In 2006 revenue from gaming was about $25.5 billion. Gambling on tribal lands employs about 327,000 people, and according to recent reports, led to about $80.7 billion added the U.S. economy and $11.7 billion generated in taxes. 228 tribes use gambling revenues to fund tribal governments and support social services, about 34 percent of tribes distribute direct payments to tribal members. Considered sovereign governments, tribes do not pay corporate income taxes on tribal revenue or property tax on reservation land. Those who live and work on reservations do not pay state income or property taxes, purchases made on Indian lands are tax-free.

Is this plan best for all involved? Does gaming provide a tempting pay-out that keeps tribal leaders wealthy and keeps tribal members dependent? What does a reliance on gaming do to tribal culture? To the surrounding culture? Are we gambling a rich cultural history on a pull of the slots? And what about that tax situation. . .?


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