Native Wellness for the New Millennium: The Impact of Gaming

By Napoli, Maria | Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Native Wellness for the New Millennium: The Impact of Gaming


Napoli, Maria, Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare


The challenges confronting Native people have been studied over the years. Their plight in dealing with alcoholism, colonization, poverty and health and mental health problems still exists outnumbering all other minority groups in the United States. For decades, Native people have relied upon the federal government to provide services, which were often not sensitive to Native values. During the last decade, gaming has given Native people have an avenue to enter higher education, develop tribal enterprises, tribal courts and health and mental health programs that meet the needs of their communities. Most importantly, Native people have reclaimed their independence. Since gaming is new to tribal life there are drawbacks and limitations. Nevertheless, the benefits seem to outweigh the limitations. This article will focus on how Native gaming has contributed to restoring balance and wellness in Native communities.

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Over the centuries, Native people have maintained wellness in their communities though a lifestyle of balance. This balance branched over many areas of living such as food, housing, clothing, recreation, celebration, medicine and family support. Food gathering through hunting, farming and fishing, making clothing and household necessities through weaving and sewing, and trading with other Native communities for goods, aided in providing the staples of life. Health was maintained though herbal and spiritual healing. Family support was maintained through ceremony, extended family and honoring the place each person held in the community to maintain balance.

Colonization upset this critical balance through its mission of genocide, boarding schools and the removal of people from their homelands. Federal policies for the 1800's that deemed tribes as "wards of the state" stripped tribes of their land and resources. When tribal sovereignty was achieved, tribes received no resources to increase the quality of wellness in their communities.

   "The tragic irony for American Indians was that when they had resources,
   they were to be controlled, and when they no longer had those resources
   they were left on their own. Either way represented a loss for the Indian
   people. This pattern is now being challenged with the advent of gaming and
   casinos on American Indian reservations" (Gerdes, Napoli, Pattea and Segal,
   1998, p. 21).

This paper will explore how Native gaming is beginning to change the life of those tribes by offering the opportunity to restore culture and language through education, health, employment and the rise of political power. There are differing opinions regarding the benefits of gaming among tribal nations. Many feel that gaming is moving Native people away from traditions and is a detriment to Native lifestyle. Some of the drawbacks of gaming such as gambling addiction, crime, and emphasis on money and materialistic living have been expressed. For these and other reasons, tribes such as the Navajo nation have decided against gaming, feeling that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Although gaming has its drawbacks, this paper will focus on how gaming has enhanced the quality of life and wellness for Native people as we move into the new millennium.

Native Gaming

   "In 1987, the Supreme Courts confirmed that Indian tribes had the authority
   to operate gaming establishments on their trust lands without having to
   comply with state laws and regulations. To resolve outstanding issues
   between tribes and states and to provide oversight, Congress passed the
   Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988." (http://www.access.gpo.gov, p. 4).

Native gaming is active in twenty-eight states across America sustaining a $9.6 billion industry that is growing three times faster than non-Indian gaming (Useem, 2000). Of the 556 federally recognized tribes, 361 have no gambling operations and of the 195 that do, 23 percent account for 56 percent of revenues, (Useem, 2000) and 10 percent of gaming tribes are losing money (Paige, 1997). …

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