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Time To Move Beyond The Myth

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  • Time To Move Beyond The Myth

    ************************************************** ******************
    This Message Is Reprinted Under The FAIR USE
    Doctrine Of International Copyright Law:
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    Letters to Artvoice
    American popular culture, as Bruce Jackson, the SUNY’s distinguished
    professor at the University at Buffalo, surely knows, has always been fascinated
    with American Indians.
    So it’s no surprise that Artvoice, the alternative newsweekly, would devote
    a dozen pages to the Seneca Nation.
    For baby boomers, and those of us trailing behind them, our grade-school
    educations filled our minds with the Indians of history, who could pass into
    myth because they were long dead. Literature gave us the noble Savage while
    three decades of movies have given us the ultra cool Indian guy, as Cayuga actor
    Gary Farmer, who grew up in Buffalo, played against Johnny Depp in the 1995
    cult classic Dead Man.
    But the challenge for many of us occurs when those same peoples step off the
    pages of our collective subconscious and into our civic, social and
    political lives.
    Just ask California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was surprised to
    find modern-day tribal nations to be a savvy political force. If the Terminator
    has to shift his metaphor for Native American peoples today, how much more
    confusing must it be for people who get their ideas secondhand from media
    reports and driveby sightings of tribal developments.
    Here’s where we run into Artvoice’s headline from its June 8 cover story, “
    While the story for pages describes what would appear to be business as
    usual at any demolition site, a subtext accusing the Seneca Nation of wrongdoing
    runs counter to the reality that a court decision cleared the way for this
    demolition and that the Seneca own this land.
    If this site was being developed as, say, a Wal-Mart, would Jackson consider
    that to be less “greedy”? But even if a retail center were in the offing,
    demolition would be underway.
    Still he proceeds with gratuitous arguments that I suspect wouldn’t be
    tolerated by either Artvoice editors or SUNY if they were lodged against African
    American- or Polish American-owned businesses.
    Or, next week can we expect to read in Artvoice similar scrutiny of an Ita
    lian American developer because of his or her supposed Mafia ties?
    Yet if a developer of almost any other racial, ethnic or religious
    background posted a “No Trespassing” sign on that site and began demolition, Jackson’
    s article would probably have been presented in less racial terms.
    Only the most devout preservationist would question the likelihood that this
    site would be redeveloped. The long abandoned, apparently asbestos-filled
    grain elevator wasn’t a downtown church building that could be gentrified into
    a performing arts center by Ani DiFranco.
    Still, at one point, Jackson indicates that he might want to write about
    environmental problems that could arise from this demolition. That might be a
    story worth reporting, and a situation that federal regulators, who have some
    stake in the matter along with the tribes, should look into. But Jackson
    drives right past.
    Instead, he wants to accuse the Seneca Nation of “extortion” for practices
    common to any developer anywhere.
    The tone of this article isn’t simply burdened by the issue of race. It’s
    overlaid with the programming that most of us received in elementary school
    about Indians being poor, uneducated and characters in history books. It’s
    founded in the shock, which has clearly and understandably startled many
    residents in the Buffalo area in recent years, that tribal nations have legal claims
    to land. And just like any other landowner, they will develop some of them
    for economic gain if they can.
    Many localities around the US have benefited from tribal casinos, which
    bring jobs by the hundreds to what are often depressed local economies.
    Some tribes have built casinos that display art or used revenues to open
    museums. Maybe Artvoice could use its journalistic resources to raise a
    discussion about how the Seneca development could enhance downtown Buffalo with new
    art, architecture and landscaping. Perhaps the city, though it may not and
    should not have jurisdiction over the Seneca, could encourage the Nation to
    build on the civic-minded tradition of DiFranco’s the Church.
    Kara Briggs
    Kara Briggs is senior fellow and editor of the American Indian Policy and
    Media Initiative at Buffalo State College.
    Artvoice has dedicated dozens of pages not to the Seneca nation but rather
    to a Seneca casino in downtown Buffalo. They are not the same thing. Nor does
    criticism of the Seneca Gaming Commission amount to criticism of an entire
    The demolition of the H-O Oats grain elevators is not “business as usual.”
    There is an insufficiently mediated asbestos hazard on site—an issue that
    Bruce Jackson does not “drive right past.” He begins and ends with it, and
    notes the city’s failure to produce the environmental studies that should be done
    before a demolition like this one is allowed to proceed. Briggs is right,
    however, to suggest that this matter deserves more attention. In the wake of
    our reporting on it, it has—turn to page 10.
    Extortionist behavior on the part of developers is commonplace in Buffalo,
    as those who live here well know. This newspaper calls lots of developers
    extortionists. Politicians, too. We do it all the time, indifferent to ethnicity,
    gender and national origin. Shouldn’t we? Isn’t that our job?
    According to every scholarly study, the only casinos that benefit their host
    communities are those located on the reservation of the nation which owns
    and operates them. In every other case, except Las Vegas, casinos, no matter
    who owns them, have been a terrible burden to the host community. Buffalo can
    ill afford such a burden.
    Our opposition to a casino in downtown Buffalo is based on that economic and
    social reality.
    —geoff kelly
    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic

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