Regulatory Updates

Federal Indian Policy and Self-Determination

Steve Cadue
Steve Cadue

by Steve Cadue, Chairman
Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was enacted into law by the 100th Congress on October 17, 1988. In Section 3 of the Act, the Declaration of Policy states: “The purpose of this Act- (1) to provide a statutory basis for the operations of gaming by Indian tribes as a means of promoting tribal economic development, self-sufficiency, and strong tribal governments; ….” However, in the immediate previous Section 2, the Findings of the Act, the Congress finds that- (4) a principal goal of federal Indian policy is to promote tribal economic development, tribal self-sufficiency, and strong tribal governments; and…” It is this Section 2 (4) Findings of the Act that need to be understood, especially the statement about Federal Indian policy's principal goal.

Federal Indian policy is at the cornerstone of the foundation of the United States of America. It's where America began. Federal Indian policy is about much more than Indians, it's about America and the world. In actuality, the IGRA congressional law that governs Indian gaming provides a meaning and a purpose to all federal Indian policy beginning with the first Congress in 1789. In these formative years of the United States, much of the Congressional deliberations, policies, laws and regulations dealt with the business of Indian tribes. This is what our Indian elders determinedly told us over the ages. We must never forget these teachings.

Indian gaming is an Indian initiative. Indian gaming is not a happenstance. Indian gaming began with a need for a better tribal economy and a strong belief in Indian sovereign rights. Most things begin out of necessity and a will to make things better for our loved ones and ourselves.

But, in 1975, with the enactment of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, commonly called PL 93-638, the 93rd Congress had declared another finding. Section 2 (a) “The Congress, after careful review of the Federal Government's historical and special legal relationship with, and resulting responsibilities to, American Indian people; and (b) The Congress further finds that-(1) true self-determination in any society of people is dependent upon an educational process which will insure the development of qualified people to fulfill meaningful leadership roles;” Congress soon began to eliminate funding for PL 93-638 Indian self-determination. True or genuine self-determination cannot be achieved without economic wherewithal. Indian tribes are dependent upon the true fulfillment of the federal trust responsibilities and obligations of the United States. And it is not just the financial commitment but one of a greater obligation of the United States and that is honoring of treaty agreements and constitutional mandates with our Indian tribes.

Indian gaming grossed $20 billion plus last year and is growing. This is a significant contribution to our nation's economy. Indian gaming works due to skilled management, dedicated workers and providing customer satisfaction. But, most importantly, Indian gaming works due to the sovereignty of Indian tribes coupled with federal Indian policy. This combination nourishes genuine Indian self-determination.

The 110th Congress has now convened and significant changes are forthcoming. The Democratic party has gained majority control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada is the Senate Majority Leader and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is Speaker of the House. I recently attended the swearing-in ceremony of the new congresswoman from Kansas, Nancy Boyda, Democrat, and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. As I always have, I took every opportunity to discuss federal Indian policy with both of the congresswomen. Exercising every opportunity to discuss
federal Indian policy with congressional representatives is each of our Indian leader's individual responsibility and obligation. Federal trust responsibility and obligations between our Indian tribes and the Congress is reciprocal. It is also important for the many Indian gaming business partners and vendors to provide input to the Congress of the positive contribution of Indian gaming to our nation. A good example is the National Indian Gaming Associate annual visit to the Congress and this program should be strengthened.

Our Indian tribal gaming leaders need also to be in consultation with their regional, state and national Indian organization leaders to help each other reach common goals. We have come so far and we are rightly proud, but the future is even brighter.

Steve Cadue is Chairman of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas. He can be reached by calling (785) 486-2131 or email