By Sean Cruz
Some sell snake oil, some sling the venom….
The two shiny-suited Lake Oswego hucksters fronting the recent attempt to build a foreign-owned private megacasino at the former greyhound track in Wood Village have announced that they—like the clap—will be back.
A 2-to-1 defeat at the polls would usually kill off most expensive, grandiose political schemes, particularly one as poorly thought out as the Measure 75 campaign was, but the Wood Village Casino zombie lives.
The promoters smell the sweet scent of hundreds of millions of dollars in the distance, even if nearly all of that fortune is money siphoned off from existing businesses and that comes at onerous social cost.
They are counting on a single element to work eventually in their favor: Indians. To be precise, they are counting on attitudes towards Indians and the threat of more Indians to motivate voters to choose to make the promoters rich.
The key lesson learned in the recent Measure 75 campaign was that no privately owned casino can possibly be built in Oregon without mustering up the votes to pass multiple constitutional amendments and to force other substantive changes in state law, although many voters probably misunderstood these prohibitive legal realities.
Since the Wood Village Casino complex creates nothing of new value to Oregon beyond the short-term construction jobs needed to build it, the promoters realize that they can make no compelling argument to persuade Oregon voters to grant them an exclusive license to enrich themselves on fiscal grounds alone.
As the M75 campaign demonstrated, their strategy in the future will be to mount an organized effort to dredge up anti-Indian resentments and to leverage that hostility into votes.
There is no other path to the place they want to lead Oregon.
The core of their business plan will continue to depend upon instigating and increasing hostile attitudes among the general public towards Oregon’s indigenous populations in general, against its nine Confederated Tribes in particular, and by conjuring up the threat that other Indians might build a casino north of the Columbia River in Southwest Washington.
This strategy is shamefully consistent with the history of the state.
The Oregon Territory was founded as a whites-only paradise. The Oregon Provisional Government authorized land claims to white settlers of 640 acres apiece for free, while early law and actual practice barred non-whites from land ownership and even from residing in the Territory.
The pioneers swarmed into Oregon and took all of the best, most productive land, destroying food sources that had sustained Native people for thousands of years in the process, introducing lethal new diseases and murdering any Indians who stood in the way.
Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Act in 1850, offering free 160- and 320-acre tracts of land to white settlers only, years before the tribes were forced at gunpoint into treaties ceding the land. By the time the Act expired in 1855, white settlers had laid claim to 7,437 patents covering two and a half million acres of free land in Oregon.
These patents formed the foundation of many Oregon family fortunes, and the state’s founding fathers enshrined those racially discriminatory practices and attitudes in the Constitution itself.
Later generations passed the Dawes Allotment Act in 1887, the Surplus Land Act of 1901, and the Termination Act of 1954, all for the purpose of transferring Indian land and resources into white ownership. During this entire period, the federal government subjected Native American children to forced removal from their families and sent them to boarding schools en masse.
Extermination of the race was seen as a side benefit to these policies.
But reciting these facts merely annoys many people, nearly one third of the electorate in the last election cycle, as the M75 vote illustrates.
We can expect to see a lot of money spent on snake oil, on misinformation and on the usual mudslinging when the Wood Village Casino promoters ramp up their next campaign, but what will characterize their efforts more than any other single aspect will be the venom.