By Elaine Bethel-Fink
Recent negative ads and mailers attacking the proposed Madera/North Fork casino are seeking to undo years of careful, respectful collaboration and planning between the North Fork Tribe and various levels of government at the local, state, and federal levels.
The attack ads come from Chukchansi and a handful of wealthy gaming tribes seeking to stifle competition and the hopes and aspirations of other tribes and communities wanting casinos of their own. The ads grossly distort the facts.
Let’s remember the facts. The Madera/North Fork project has passed successfully through an environmental review process of more than seven years, the most rigorous available under federal law. In August 2005 and October 2006, the Tribe concluded legally binding agreements with the County and City of Madera, respectively, regarding local impacts from the project. In May 2008, then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signaled his support by agreeing to a statetribal gaming compact. In September 2011, the U.S. Department of the Interior followed suit with a favorable “two part determination.”
The Interior Department’s decision confirmed that the proposed Madera/North Fork casino would be “beneficial to both of the Tribe” and “not detrimental to the local community.” The decision also highlighted the Tribe’s historical connection to the site and strong local community support.
The Madera casino, which will bring over 4,500 local jobs, $2 billion in long-term investment and economic activity, and $100 million in community funding to the region, awaits only the current governor’s concurrence. That’s why the opposition has stepped up their attacks.
Who exactly are these opposing tribes trying to stop the Madera/North Fork casino? A neighboring tribe and their team of high-priced lawyers, lobbyists, and PR operatives who throw anything they can think of to stop the people of Madera from enjoying the benefits of other casinos. Now Chukchansi has enlisted other rich gaming tribes and outside anti-gaming mercenaries to try to stop the project in a grand coalition aimed at preventing new tribal entrants into the California market.
What exactly motivates Chukchansi and the other rich tribes? Stopping competition — even if that means stopping other tribes and communities from experiencing the great economic benefits that they have enjoyed since opening their casinos.
The North Fork Rancheria vision is of an economically strong Madera where a true destination hotel and casino resort along Highway 99 will help build local tourism and hospitality infrastructure and entice thousands of visitors to stop, shop, and play locally versus simply driving by.
Make no mistake: the benefits accruing from Indian gaming are enormous and already enjoyed in communities across the state where hometown tribal casinos and governments are appreciated as integral parts of the local economy and social fabric.
As gaming tribes have thrived, many have diversified beyond casinos into retail, banking, and high-tech manufacturing and other successful tribal enterprises. Much of this ancillary development has occurred off-reservation on normal fee land taxable by local and state governments — thus further benefiting local communities.
This will be Madera’s future as well — once opposition from entrenched special interests is overcome. We have pursued Indian gaming in a constructive, transparent, and collaborative manner with a singular purpose: to build a robust local economy and respectful, effective, self-sufficient modern tribal government neighbor.
Without a casino, the North Fork Rancheria has established housing, environmental, education, elder and health care, and economic development programs to revitalize our Tribe and town. With a casino, we can extend these benefits to more of our citizens and neighbors. With Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, our seven-plus-year endeavor will be successfully completed.
The negative attacks recently unleashed will ultimately fail, but at what final cost to Madera? Every day of delay to the Madera casino project costs the local economy nearly $300,000 in lost economic output. And every cynical “Indian versus Indian” battle costs all Native Americans precious support and understanding.
It’s time for all outside and special interests to leave the Madera community and casino project alone. Negative attacks are unworthy of the special trust placed by the citizens of the state in tribes and tribal gaming. Its time to send a positive message that, working together, we can truly build better tribes and communities. That’s the true promise of Indian gaming and one all Californians should support.
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Elaine Bethel-Fink is tribal chair of North Fork Rancheria.