Tribes seek ways to share wealth |

Tribes seek ways to share wealth

Associated Press

** FOR USE WITH AP WEEKLY FEATURES ** Smithsonian Institutions National Museum of the American Indian (NAMI), is the home to some of the most important collections of Native American Art and artifacts in the world. " NAMI" will exhibit items that speak in other ways of contemporary Indian experience, instead of treating Native Americans as exotic curiosities. (AP Photo/Smithsonian Magazine)

WASHINGTON – Wealthy American Indian tribes, including many that have made millions from gaming, are exploring ways to share their wealth with poorer tribes, tribal leaders said Monday at the opening of a new Smithsonian Indian museum.

Large tribal gaming or business operations, they said, are developing a plan to buy at least 10 percent of their goods and produce from other tribes.

“It’s long overdue,” said Michael Thomas, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequots in Connecticut. He said the tribe has been reactive up to now, responding to tribes that have products to sell but not seeking Indian-made or harvested goods like produce, beef or paper products.

Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians in California, said the wealthier tribes will work with the National Congress of American Indians to use their purchasing power to boost the Native American economy around the country.

He said they hope to adopt a plan over the next several months.

The issue has been raised before, as a means of evening the divide between poor tribes in remote rural locations that are struggling to survive and those more centrally located that operate successful casinos.

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Thomas and Mohegan Tribal Chairman Mark Brown, who both represent southeastern Connecticut tribes with successful casinos, were among a large contingent from the state that planned to participate in Tuesday’s opening ceremonies for the National Museum of the American Indian. Both tribes contributed $10 million to the museum for its development, as did the Oneida Tribe from New York.

During a news conference on Monday, Brown, Thomas and other Indian leaders said tribes with gaming operations have been criticized unfairly for pursing casino enterprises that enabled them to pay for health care, education, social services and other benefits for their members.

Those benefits, they said, spilled over into nearby communities.

“We literally rescued a region that was dependent on defense spending,” said Thomas, referring to job cuts a decade ago at nearby Electric Boat in Groton. “Those people would have been without jobs, they would have been without benefits.”

Instead, he said, they got jobs at the casino or other area businesses that benefited from the increased tourism.

Local community leaders, however, have complained that the casinos put a large drain on local services, including police, fire and schools.