“Our people are vulnerable to COVID-19 and our most consistent revenue generator, land-based casino gaming, has disappeared virtually overnight.” —Gary Davis
An opinion piece published today in USA Today by Native Business Founder, Publisher and CEO Gary Davis (Cherokee Nation) underlines the “slow, inadequate relief” from the U.S. government to Tribes impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With Indian Country’s most consistent revenue generator, land-based casino gaming, wiped out amid the crisis, Tribes face bleak economic prospects.
Davis spells out how the trust relationship between the federal government and Tribal Nations is designed to complement Tribal economic development efforts that foster self-determination — “not supplant the funds owed to us by our treaties and compacts with the federal government.”
Davis states: “It is critical that in this time of suffering, America does not forget her commitments to Native American people. We have certainly not forgotten the sacrifices of our ancestors, our elders, our families, and we are not remiss regarding the looming plight of our descendants.”
Just as the article calls out the federal government for not honoring its trust relationship with Tribal Nations amid the COVID-19 crisis, it’s a call to action to Tribal governments to diversify their economies.
“It is our leaders’ responsibility to develop a modern, diversified portfolio of business that insulates our tribal economies from future risks like pandemics,” Davis states in USA Today.
While land-based gaming has revived and sustained many Tribal economies nationwide, Davis corrects the common misconception outside of Indian Country that gaming is nearly unanimous across Tribal lands.
The article points out: “This is a mischaracterization I encounter frequently talking with people outside Indian country. As of 2018, fewer than half of America’s 574 federally recognized tribes operate casinos, and their revenues are uneven based on location. In 2018, 19% of tribal casinos controlled 75% of Indian gaming revenue.”
For all Tribes, and particularly those reliant on revenue from land-based operations, now, he says, is the time to look for new economic revenue streams. Davis highlights financial technology as a business opportunity. “The internet is particularly attractive to geographically isolated tribes, who, for the first time, can use the web to reach beyond the boundaries of their reservations to offer products and services to the world,” he states.
Davis concludes: “Given the United States’ trust responsibility to the indigenous nations of this land, Congress should act quickly to deliver promised funds to tribes impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as a priority. Meanwhile, tribes should continue to use their sovereignty, resources and all inherent competitive advantages, paid in full by our ancestors, to diversify into innovative industries that won’t be devastated by shelter-in-place orders and economic downturns.”
Read the article on USA Today.