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HYPOCRISY: California Indian Tribes Cancel Their 2020 Pow Wows Due to Coronavirus, Keep Casinos Open

san manuel casino


BY BRIAN HEWS • August 8. 2020

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, who, along with other Indian Tribes in California, have no problem opening their casinos during the coronavirus, defying Governor Newsom’s request for a temporary closure.

On their website and in their advertising, they boast that everything is safe and outline the steps they have taken to keep patrons of their casinos from contracting the coronavirus.

But apparently those good hygiene practices used to lure gamblers into their casinos does not work at San Manuel events tribal members attend.

Two days ago, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians announced that they were canceling their annual pow wow stating, “this [cancellation] is the best and most responsible decision as we want to protect the health and safety of our Tribe and our guests.”

Several other tribes that have opened casinos have followed San Manuel and cancelled their pow wows while at the same time keeping their casinos open and likely spreading the virus.

Much like Newsom’s order, San Manuel was acknowledging that stopping the relentless spread of the coronavirus is urgent, yet they keep their casino open.

In a statement, the San Manuel Pow Wow Committee  wrote, “It is with a heavy heart that the Pow Wow Committee has made the decision to cancel the 2020 San Manuel Pow Wow. We feel this is the best and most responsible decision as we want to protect the health and safety of our Tribe and our guests who travel from throughout North America for the annual event. We look forward to hosting Native dancers, drum groups, vendors, spectators and honored guests to celebrate the very best of Indian Country in 2021. We will announce the dates for the 2021 San Manuel Pow Wow soon.”

Tasha Cerda, Mayor City of Gardena and Chair of California Cities Gaming Authority, a joint powers authority,  told HMG, “The Governor issued a statewide order to shut down indoor entertainment venues claiming it was critical to flatten the curve.  COVID-19 cases are spreading fast, straining, and overwhelming the healthcare systems in Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties and across the state, hospitalizations have more than doubled and deaths have nearly tripled.  Despite the Governor’s order and the need to protect Californians, the gaming tribes have refused to abide by the Governor’s order, refusing to close their gaming casinos.”

“Yet to protect the health and safety of their community elders and other tribe members from the threat of the COVID-19 virus they are canceling their pow wows? This while demonstrating a complete lack of similar concern for all other Californians entering their venues?  In Southern California, an individual entering a tribal casino will intersect with individuals from at least six other counties spreading the COVID-19 virus throughout the state.”

Cerda finished, “If ‘we are all in this together’ to combat the COVID-19 pandemic then it must be more than just a slogan we must have the gaming tribes in this together as well.  The gaming tribes must respect the health and safety of others and close their casinos just like they cancelled their pow wows.”

Kyle Kirkland, President of the California Gaming Association, told HMG, “Not surprisingly, wealthy tribal casino operators have decided it’s unsafe to gather at their outdoor annual pow wow, but it’s safe for their employees and customers to gather every day at the indoor bars, restaurants and slot machines at their casinos. This is the height of hypocrisy and yet our state has not enacted its authority under the compacts to protect the health and safety of the public.”

Kirkland was referring to the State’s Gaming Compact, which states under section 8.4.1 (d), “in exigent [urgent] circumstances (e.g., imminent threat to public health and safety), the State Gaming Agency may adopt a regulation that becomes effective immediately. Any such regulation shall be accompanied by a detailed, written description of the exigent circumstances, and shall be submitted immediately to the Association for consideration.”

The “Association” is made up of representatives from both the tribal casinos and state regulators, so Newsom could submit a regulation that would close the casinos and at least force a vote for everyone to see.

Kirkland continued, “Thousands of bars, restaurants and other indoor entertainment venues across the state are closed–crushing the livelihoods of hardworking Californians–and the reality is that the only way all California businesses can open sooner is if everyone, including tribal casinos, does their part. As a result, the pandemic continues to spread and the futures of all Californians and their families will be irrevocably hurt for years.  It’s appalling indifference by both the tribes and senior elected officials to the health and safety of the public and the hardship suffered by thousands of small businesses across the state.”






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