No Friend of Indian Country
Recent events in Montana concerning gambling on Indian reservations underscore the oppression American Indians endure in our state. Gov. Brian Schweitzer recently said, “I’m a friend of Indian Country, but I’m not a friend of gaming.” I guess we can safely assume he’s never driven through Browning, never witnessed the bleak living conditions suffered there, or maybe he moonlights as a good old Montana casino owner, and he is just protecting his family investment.
In reality, he’s protecting his Montana casino buddies by playing on the old hat fear that gambling is evil and brings in bad elements like the mafia, prostitution, and drugs; that it is best confined to inhospitable places like the Nevada desert. Maybe after the Schweitzer boys bust a few more novelty shops in Whitefish, after they baseball-bat a few more centuries-old craps tables, they will truly clean up Montana.
Current Montana “casinos” are pathetic. You walk into one, and after puking a lung from stale smoke, the attendant asks if you’d care to join the “Player’s Club.” Are you kidding? Real clubs have a president, voting, and some sort of communication between the members. If a “Montana Casino Player’s Club” had any such privileges, I would imagine the first order of business would be to improve the rigged payout percentages on the machines, or maybe lynch a few casino owners for slash-and-burning the older Montana establishments to get at the liquor and gaming licenses for their new “casinos.”
Schweitzer is “a friend of Indian Country” because his ancestors stole it all. The least he could do is let American Indians in Montana run a real gambling business; they could do a far better job of it. Montanans would not have to leave the state to experience a real casino, and the money would stay closer to home.
Private Land but not Exclusive Club
Over the last few months I’ve been following an issue that strikes a chord with a lot of folks here in Big Sky Country. It’s an issue that’s getting bigger as wealthy out-of-staters discover Montana and decide to buy up huge chunks of it for “trophy” getaway homes.
Let me be clear – I’m a big believer in private property rights. Owning and caring for private property is one of our greatest American rights. It’s the foundation of Montana’s family farms and ranches.
But I, like many others, have a problem with folks from other places buying up Montana’s agricultural land, fencing it off and locking it up forever. That land is available only to an exclusive club, blocked to workaday Montanans who pay their dues to the state and understand the western value of sharing the landscape with neighbors.
What used to be traditional hunting and fishing grounds for generations are fast becoming off limits for folks looking to put some meat and fish on the table. As ordinary Montanans, enjoying, accessing and working the land is fundamental to our heritage. We work hard, build our communities, and put our kids through school hoping they can stay here to enjoy what is so special about Montana.
Remember how easy it used to be to ask a landowner for permission to hunt and fish on private property? Even before Montana was a state, hunters and fishermen have respectfully used their neighbors’ land. If you’re lucky enough to take an elk from your neighbor’s property, you might give him a backstrap. That’s the Montana Way.
I want to extend a warm welcome to all people who want to call Montana home. We’re among the luckiest folks in the world to be able to share this state.
But we’re not an exclusive club.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
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