Tribal Gaming and Casinos

Students in the Fall AIS 230A course at the University of Washington are studying American Indian tribes and casinos, relying on a research framework from the Sycuan Institute on Tribal Gaming at San Diego State University.  Including ideas from cultural theorists such as American Indian author/activist Vine Deloria, Jr., each student researched one unique tribe and also created team projects about casino-related economic development, culture, and politics.  Here are the final “Ted Talk” presentations by each team.  And the final individual papers will be posted here after the quarter ends.

BIG NEWS!  This research will be part of larger presentations at the American Indian Workshop at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands from May 21-25, 2014.  Here are the shortened descriptions:

Activist Strategic Communications and American Indians: “People Are Not Collateral Damage

“Who will find peace with the lands? The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things. Who will listen to the trees, the animals and birds, the voices of the places of the land? As the long forgotten peoples of the respective continents rise and begin to reclaim their ancient heritage, they will discover the meaning of the lands of their ancestors. That is when the invaders of the North American continent will finally discover that for this land, God is red.” (Deloria, 2003)

Today’s networked citizen is a beacon of critical consciousness, as seen in Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and today’s Idle No More movement.  Indeed, social networking is transforming small activist groups, previously on the margins of formal networks, into powerful agents of change. Once-silenced American Indians are indigenous digital-activists, utilizing memes, texts, video, and social media as platforms for storytelling. In this research by undergraduates at the University of Washington, we examine how the tribal media of activism harnesses the power to engage audiences about indigenous issues of sovereignty and sustainability in ways that encourage deeper thinking and create behavior change.

The Law Giveth and the Law Taketh Away: Tribal Law and the “Indian’s Right to Game”  

When asked by an anthropologist what the Indians called America before the white man came, an Indian said simply, ‘Ours’.”  (Deloria, 2009)

Laws affecting how American Indian tribes operate gaming operations offer no black-and-white verdict. This paper, part of a project by undergraduate students at the University of Washington, focuses on two policy and legal topics: First, an analysis of U.S. tribal casinos compares mandates of membership; specifically, how are individual tribes determining who, exactly, is a member? Second, we look at which sovereignty rights were ceded for gaming. The message focuses on the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in the hope that gaming would improve the quality of life on reservations and strengthen tribal governments by using gaming revenues to aid tribal and non-tribal members  We find that tribal gaming continues to be discussed in terms of legal disputes, controversies, and historical revisions.

The “Language of Things” from Gaming Cha-Ching: How Tribal Casino Profits Fund Self-Representations                                                                                                                                                        

“Before any final solution to American history can occur, a reconciliation must be effected between the spiritual owner of the land – American Indians – and the political owner of the land – American Whites. Guilt and accusations cannot continue to revolve in a vacuum without some effort at reaching a solution.”   (Deloria, 2003)

Much is written about the material culture of tourism and how consumers crave souvenir post cards, t-shirts, and coffee mugs. Add to this list the indigenous “language of things” that includes tribal casino artifacts of nostalgia that ignite public understanding of colonial truth. As part of a three-prong research project by undergraduate students at the University of Washington, we posit that tribal museums and cultural centers focus on a unique cultural discourse, with language and communication ‘reworked’ in the context of American Indian remembrance, resistance, resurgence, and replacement. Our study includes analyses of how indigenous tourism reframes gambling from its sinful, seedy reputation to a vibrant, restorative tribal commodity. Similar to Las Vegas casinos, tribal gaming establishments operate gift shops and resort activities; however, the embedded narratives by American Indian nations are often historically accurate and framed so that non-Natives might better understand tribal collective and public life.

Students, here’s how this credit looks on your resume:

5/14  American Indian Research Workshop, University of Leiden/Netherlands.  Researcher for three papers:

  • Activist Strategic Communications and American Indians: “People Are Not Collateral Damage”
  • The Law Giveth and the Law Taketh Away: Tribal Law and the “Indian’s Right to Game”
  • The “Language of Things” from Gaming Cha-Ching: How Casino Profits Fund Tribal Self-Representations


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