Indian tribe sovereignty

By Macomb Daily Editorial Board
The Macomb Daily
100 Macomb Daily Drive
Mount Clemens, MI 48043
PUBLISHED: December 6, 2004

The issue: A tribe is using its sovereignty to circumvent restrictions on building a hospital in Macomb County.

Our view: This time, expanding American Indian sovereignty has gone too far.

American Indian “sovereignty” is on the verge of being used to bypass state regulations on building new hospitals.

Whether those regulations are sensible is not the point in this case.

Rather, what amounts to a legal fiction is on the rampage in this country.

The latest scheme would use the so-called sovereignty of a 450-member, Utah tribe called the Goshute to circumvent state restrictions and facilitate the building of a 350-bed hospital in Macomb County. The site would be declared tribal property and placed in a federal trust.

Don’t think it can’t happen. New reservation land is popping up all over to accommodate American Indian-owned and operated gambling casinos. Why not hospitals?

For the past 20 years or so, various tribes have been opening casinos to the point that states whose voters had long since banned them changed their minds in self-defense. It happened in Michigan. The northern reservation casinos led to the Detroit casinos.

California has so many casinos now that the gaming gross is almost as large as that of Las Vegas.

This outrageous American Indian sovereignty business started in the 1960s when a federal judge ruled that Michigan tribes didn’t have to obey state commercial fishing regulations. The sovereign privilege had been granted in 19th century treaties, he ruled.

It didn’t take long for smart folks to realize this was a legal loophole you could drive a truck through.

To make matters even more bizarre, many tribes make little or no effort to determine whether members or would-be members actually are descended from American Indians.

Inevitably, a tribe here and there has been hijacked by outsiders who seize control and use the sovereign privileges for their own ends.

The Indian casinos essentially are self-regulating, which has led to instances of the involvement of organized crime and others who need to launder money.

Then there is the convenient fact that as members of a sovereign nation-within-a-nation, the Indians and their reservation enterprises don’t pay taxes. In Michigan, some have made voluntary payments to local governments, which apparently are contingent on not having any non-Indian competition.

And new tribes have been formed or discovered. President Bush has felt compelled to put a stop to this sort of expansion.

Of course, there can be a political price to pay for getting in the way of this lucrative charade. The tribes consider themselves beyond the reach of U.S. laws, including those banning financial contributions to the electoral process by foreigners. They have donated some $150 million so far and are becoming a major special interest group. And their sovereignty doesn’t stop them from voting.

Anyone who suggests all of this is absurd can be subject to accusations of racism and of making personal attacks on American Indians.

How long will we let the various tribes, when it suits their purposes, act like this?