Opinion Columns & Blogs

John Berrey: Brownback turned on tribe


Whatever happened to the good Sen. Sam Brownback, defender of Native American rights, champion of federal-tribal reconciliation, formal state apologist for past atrocities against the Indians? I sure miss him.

Here’s what he said in 2009 on the Senate floor in presenting his commendable Native American Apology Resolution:

“I am very pleased to report that with the addition of this language in the defense appropriations conference report, we – the United States of America – will officially apologize for the past ill-conceived policies and maltreatment by the United States toward the native peoples of this land.

“With the passage of this language, we, as a nation, will reaffirm our commitment toward healing our nation’s wounds rooted in a difficult past of federal-tribal relations and work toward establishing better relationships rooted in reconciliation and forgiveness.”

Now, Brownback is suing me; my people, the Quapaw Tribe; the National Indian Gaming Commission (U.S. Department of Interior); and everyone else he can think of in a mean-spirited attempt to deny my tribe’s established right to expand our exemplary Downstream Casino Resort across the Oklahoma-Kansas line onto our Kansas federal-trust land.

The 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is very clear – the state of Kansas has an obligation to negotiate in good faith a gaming compact with a federally recognized tribe that has gameable trust land in the state. But the governor instead has falsely accused us of lying and misleading in the process to achieve this expansion, and he will sue, by golly, to stop us.

Brownback was the one who asked the Quapaw Tribe to seek its gameability ruling from the NIGC in the first place. Perhaps the governor thought the favorable ruling for the tribe was a remote possibility, and when it went the tribe’s way, well, that just didn’t sit well.

So, then, all these questions: Did Brownback’s Native American Apology Resolution mean friendly federal-tribal relations only on the federal level? But not for states? Or not for his state, now that he is a governor? Or not when a tribe has a business that might compete with his business? Ah-ha.

The backdrop for this current lawsuit is the scene in which the state of Kansas is poised to open its own casino in the southeast region, after finagling the laws to make a state-owned casino more feasible in this crowded casino market abutting northeast Oklahoma.

Whatever happened to that forgiveness for “ill-conceived policies and maltreatment” toward us native peoples? Where’s the fairness in wielding the levers of governmental power to bend the rules in your favor to prevent a tribe from engaging in fair competition – a tribe that has every right to do so? And how in the heck is this not a simple business antitrust situation?

Oh, where is Sen. Brownback when we need him?

John Berrey is chairman of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma.