Pamunkey Indian Reservation Casino: A Debate between Morals and Money

As the Pamunkey Indian Reservation has received federal recognition as a tribe since February 2016. The talk of the town has been should they obtain their casino license?  If the Pamunkey Reservation were to build a casino it would be the first and only casino in Virginia.  However, this causes a large debate.

If they Pamunkey Tribe were to start a casino it could have grand economic benefits for the reservation.  Many natives and non-natives a like are all for it, and believe it could be a great thing for the reservation.  However, just as many people oppose this idea.  Including former Pamunkey Tribe Chief, Kevin Brown, Virginia government officials such as House speaker William J. Howell, Senators Timothy M. Kaine and Mark D. Warner, and Governor Terry McAuliffe.  All these people believe that the installation of a casino in Virginia will cause people to abuse casino gambling and the greed and slander that goes along with it could be detrimental to the community.  Former Pamunkey Tribe Chief Kevin Brown expressed his opinion on a Pamunkey casino here: “I have seen firsthand the greed and evil a deal like this can bring out in people and have changed my position regarding gaming as a viable endeavor for the tribe at this time.”  However, his tribal council and many Pamunkey Tribe members opposed him on this.  Brown also had this statement about his council regarding this issue: “Bob Gray, Brad Brown, Warren Cook and Ivy Hill, assisted by our former attorney, Mark Tilden, have taken it upon themselves to attempt to overthrow your traditional Government of a Chief & Council.”  Which this opposition eventually led to Brown losing his job as Chief.  Despite Virginia government official’s opposition they have stated that if the Pamunkey Tribe so chooses to go through with building a casino, they will not stand in their way.

Now this is a very heated debate with both sides having valid points and concerns.  It essentially becomes a battle between morals and money.  Which depending on what your morals are decides where you stand on this issue.  Having a Pamunkey Reservation Casino would no doubt be very beneficial to the Pamunkey Tribe, bringing in millions if not billions in revenue for the reservation.  Which would do a tremendous good for the reservation’s economy and the Tribe as a whole.  Not to mention being beneficial to Virginia’s economy as well by attracting more people to visit the state and stimulate the economy.

On the other hand there are some moral issues that need to be taken into account.  A casino could possibly be a negative influence on the community, as it encourages people to risk losing money they may or may not have.  Thus, there is a possibility of creating poverty because of this.  There is a possibility of an increase in crime, drugs, and alcohol usage centered around the casino.  These just being a few examples of negative affects from the casino.

Ultimately it comes to the point of “are the risks worth the reward?” and “do the positives outweigh the negatives?”.  No doubt a Pamunkey Tribe casino would have great economic benefit; however, there is also no doubt that there could be some serious consequences because of it.  These are questions that nobody knows the answers too, and they are decisions that only the Pamunkey Indian Reservation can make.

All information and quotes came from The Washington post article Pamunkey Indians wanted to open Virginia’s first casino, letter shows. 

Ag Industry: An Answer to Native American Issues?

As I mentioned in my last post, the first step in converting a developing country into a developed one is progressing the country’s agriculture system into a self sufficient one.  Get to the point that the country can produce enough food to feed its own people, then further improve it to the point of exporting crops for cash.  Once a country begins exporting crops and making a profit from it, this gives them money to further develop, better their economy, and better the lives of the people that live there.  It’s the first step in a long process; however, it’s a crucial one.  There are very few developed countries in our world that have skipped this step.

I believe when trying to improve Native American Reservations we need to look at them as we would a developing country.  First step would be fixing their agriculture production.  Making sure that they are being as efficient and productive as possible (check my last post to see methods of doing so).  Once we have Native Americans producing the most they can they will have a highly profitable export, that can bring in substantial amount of revenue for the community.  With this revenue and the increased production of agricultural commodities, agricultural processors will either move in, or could possibly even be started by Native Americans.

Now you might ask, why would processors want to move in?  Well the answer is simple.  With Native Americans producing large quantities of crops the processors are going to start losing money transporting the commodities long distances.  To cut costs, as well as time the economical thing to do would be to start up processing plants in or near reservations.  Of course these plants, would need people to work in them, thus creating jobs for Natives, further stimulating their economy.  As they become more productive and their economy grows perhaps more production companies will move in.  Again creating more jobs and benefiting the Native economy.  This start up in production will cause more non-native traffic to travel through reservations even if it’s all due to business.  This will increase opportunities for other businesses to open such as restaurants, motels, grocery stores, etc.  Again further stimulating their economy.

Due to this increase in money that is circulating through the reservation, we now have funding to fix many of the other problems that remain in reservations, such as education, health care, and alcoholism.  Native youth now have careers to look forward to, and hope for a better future.  This will greatly reduce suicide rates, as well as gang activity.

Now this is all just a theory, but it’s a start.  And I believe it’s a feasible one.  All of the problems in reservations that are continually discussed could be fixed  just from a little extra money from a few little plants.

Amending the Wrongs Done to Native American Agriculture

If you take a glance at my last blog post you can get a quick history lesson of Native American agriculture.  How they progressed by domesticating wild edible plants and animals and adopting sustainable farming practices to regressing to hardly no farming at all by 1960, due to the colonization of America by the Europeans.  We gave them marginal lands, forced our practices upon them, yet didn’t give them the necessary education and technology to be efficient in modern agriculture.  This caused a dramatic decrease in the amount of farming done by Native peoples.  Often times having whole reservations without farming.

However, in the past several decades we have started trying to assist Native peoples in being more productive commercial growers.  Such as the establishment of two acts that protect and enhance Native American agriculture and natural resources.  These being the American Indian Agricultural Resource Act and the Protection of Indians and Natural Resources Act.  Each of these acts protect Native American agricultural land and natural resources.  The Agricultural Resource Act does so by implementing programs to enhance Native rangeland and agricultural land, increasing Native management of lands, and opening federal positions for Native Americans in the fields agriculture and natural resources.  The other part of the act increases education opportunities in agriculture and natural resource fields of Natives through scholarships, extension outreach, and training programs.  These acts along with others have caused an 88% increase in Native American farmers between 2002 and 2007 and according to the USDA census of agriculture Native Americans produced 1.4 billion dollars in agricultural commodities in 2007.  This is great news for the Native American community, but we can’t stop there.  Still only 75% of Native American agricultural lands is being farmed.  With only 50% of that meeting its full production capability.  Not to mention 1.1 million acres of Native lands could be farmed but never has.

Due to these issues, we need to increase government support through acts like the Ag Resource act, and increase agriculture educational opportunities and jobs for Native youth, perhaps buy more agricultural lands for Natives to farm, have an increase in interaction of consultant and support organizations such as Cooperative Extension and Natural Resource Conservation Service with Native growers, and perhaps include government grants giving Native growers the most up to date technology and information so they can be as efficient and have the largest profit margin possible.  If we can fix the Reservations broken agricultural system I believe this could put Native Americans on the road to recovery in the United States.  After all the first step in converting a developing country into a developed one is converging their agricultural system from a subsistence one to a commercial one with high profit.  I believe the same idea could be applied to the American Indian Nations.

The History of Native American Agriculture

Agriculture is and always has always played a huge role in the wealth, health, and prosperity of Native American peoples.  Early on Native Americans progressed from hunting and gathering towards farming.  Often planting some of the wild edibles they harvested in their own  gardens.  Native Americans in North America are given credit for the domestication of many crops we know today such as corn, squash, beans, tomatoes, potatoes, tobacco, as well as several types of berries.  These people had a great knowledge of the land and soil health and were the first ones to practice the idea of sustainable agriculture.  Using food scraps and wastes as fertilizers and organic materials, they rotated crops and farmland, used no-till practices and used intercropping methods such as the three sisters.  Planting squash to shade out weeds, beans to fixate nitrogen, and corn for the beans to climb.  It has often speculated that Native American corn yields were far greater than the European wheat yields in the same time periods.  Not only did they grow crops, some Natives even domesticated animals such as wolves and turkeys.

Upon European contact, Natives taught colonists many of there agricultural practices and traded grain, fruit, and animals with them.  Europeans took many things back to Europe with them such as tobacco, corn, and turkeys and adopted many of their cultivation practices such as the Three-sisters.  The Natives also received crops and livestock from the colonists such as wheat, horses, cattle, and hogs.

The Eastern and Western peoples lived in harmony for a short time until the eastern colonists started the age old tradition of biting the hand the fed them. They started pushing the Natives west, and after the United States were formed broke up tribes and tried to eliminate Native traditions.  By doing so they also forced the European practices of farming on the Native peoples.  Pushing them away from no-till and intercropping, towards plowing and row crops.  Flooding many of there agricultural lands through dams and some Native novelty crops that would be lost forever with it.  This continued to modern day, with continual lack of support from the colonists.  They would push the practices on them without giving them the tools and technologies necessary for them to efficiently use these “modern practices”.  They broke up Native agricultural lands into sections and gave individuals the titles, that they often sold or leased to white farmers because they did not have the education and technology necessary to commercially farm.  Thus, moving whole Native populations that were known for farming to none of them farming at all.  However, in recent years certain government grants and acts have been implemented to try and encourage Natives to farm once again.