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Indian youth show support for Prop. 5 at education meeting

By John G. Taylor
The Fresno Bee

In a purification ritual, a stick of burning sage traced the outline of each of 160 parents and students at the Indian Youth Conference Friday at California State University, Fresno.

It passed over one girl's backpack, which bore a ribbon and a button. "Proud to be an Indian," the ribbon said. "Yes on Prop. 5" was the button's message.

"Some of the things of this Earth are a mystery," said Michael J. Raymond as he led chanting and drumming in a prayer circle that linked all participants.

But based on interviews with students and parents at the conference, there's no mystery to Proposition 5.

"Gambling means I can eat real steak, not 'Indian steak,' " said David Alvarez, director of a Yaqui Indian center in Fresno. "You know what 'Indian steak' is? That's bologna and bread."

Joseph Jernigan, a Yaqui Indian and 16-year-old student at Gateway High School in Clovis, has never lived on a reservation. But he has been doing his homework on Prop. 5.

"The money does really benefit Native Americans. The anti-Prop. 5 commercials leave out so much of what they're doing," he said. "Some reservations are rundown. Some are prosperous. The Native American culture means a lot of sharing."

Prop. 5 would alter state law and allow tribal casinos to keep the slot machines they currently have. The machines have been under threat of seizure from authorities, who say they don't conform to state or federal law.

The 80 tribes supporting the proposition say they need the initiative to preserve gambling, which has brought them from poverty to wealth during the past 10 years.

"They've already taken so much away from us. We should be entitled to offer gambling," said Bernice Brown, a 17-year-old Buchanan High School student and Cherokee Indian.

Opponents contend Prop. 5 would allow Native Americans to reap huge profits without paying taxes or adhering to environmental and labor laws.

Literature endorsing Prop. 5 greeted the Fresno County high school students and their parents who came to this daylong series of workshops on college education.

The event was co-sponsored by Fresno State's American Indian-Keepers of the Flame & Tewaquachi-American Indian Association; the University of California, Fresno, Outreach Services; the Central California Educational Opportunities Center; and Educational Talent Search.

The symbols that began the conference - incense, chanting, offerings of bits of tobacco leaf - were meant to convey a sense of empowerment and personal responsibility.

That connection spilled over in comments about Prop. 5.

"Gambling is fine as long as you're over 18 and you have the money," said Isabel Barrera, a 15-year-old Roosevelt High School student and Yaqui Indian.

But Jernigan said, "I don't like the gambling thing. That's what makes people poor." The teen-ager said another route needs to be found for tribes to build homes and hospitals and create jobs.

However, Alvarez said pouring money into slot machines feeds the Native Americans' future.

"Proposition 5 is about self-reliance, sovereignty, privilege, a constitutional right, the freedom to debate and negotiate," Alvarez said. "When outsiders control gambling, they have control over our lives."

Link to: California's Modern Indian War