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“The New Buffalo”?
Digital History ID 728

Author:   Bill Clinton

Annotation: A 1988 law, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, triggered a boom in casino gambling on Indian reservations. Today, 188 Indian tribes operate 285 gambling facilities in 28 states. Indian gaming generates $7 billion in revenue annually. The most successful operation is run by the 500-member Mashantucket Pequots in Connecticut.

Yet contrary to what some non-Native Americans believe, gambling has not ended poverty or inequality. Roughly forty percent of gaming revenue goes to eight nations. Many reservations continue to be plagued by poverty, chronic unemployment and the country's highest rates of disease, and early death.

As the United States enters a new century, Indian Country consists of 56 million acres, 314 reservations and about 1.4 million people living on or near tribal land. Altogether, 554 tribes recognized by the Federal government. Despite some genuine gains (the number of Native American lawyers has risen ten-fold in two decades, to about a thousand today), poverty and inequality persist.

On many reservations, unemployment is more than thirty percent. The high school dropout rate was almost forty percent, more than three times the national average. Nearly a third of all Native American families with children live in poverty. In 1995, over thirty percent of Indians employed on reservations earned less than $10,000 a year in 1995.

In July 1999, President Bill Clinton briefly visited the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. He became the first sitting president to visit an Indian Reservation since Franklin Roosevelt visited a Cherokee reservation in North Carolina in 1936.

The Pine Ridge reservation, the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre, is the poorest place in the United States. The unemployment rate is 73 percent and sixty-three percent of the residents live below the poverty line. The 25,000 Native Americans who live on the reservation's 3,100 square miles have no banks and no public transportation. The reservation has only 62 miles of paved roads and male life expectancy is less than 57 years. A fifth of the homes do not have running water.

Document: My neighbors, my friends, miakuye oyasin, We are all related....

No American president has been anywhere in Indian Country since Franklin Roosevelt was President. That is wrong, and we're trying to fix it....

But I ask you today, even as we remember the past, to think more about the future. We know well what the failings of the present and the past are. We know well the imperfect relationship that the United States and its government has enjoyed with the tribal nations. But I have seen today not only poverty, but promise.

And I have seen enormous courage...

We have in America almost 19 million new jobs.... For over two years, our country has had an unemployment rate below 5%. But here on this reservation, the unemployment rate is nearly 75%. That is wrong, and we have to do something to change it, and do it now....

You have suffered from neglect, and you know that doesn't work. You have also suffered from tehtyranny of patronizing, inadequately funded government programs, and you know that doesn't work. We have tried to have a more respectful, more propert relationship with the tribal governments of this country to promote genuine independence, but also to give more genuine support.

Source: “Remarks by the President to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Community,” Pine Ridge, South Dakota, July 7, 1999

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