Havre Daily News
Several members of the Rocky Boy cultural commission oppose a recent decision by the Rocky Boy tribal council to allow alcohol sales at a casino planned for Laredo. They also oppose a new casino for Rocky Boy.
Tribal council chair John “Chance” Houle said today the concerns of the elders may influence restrictions placed on the casino, but won't change the council's mind because the tribe needs the extra revenue.
Houle said today that council members who voted in favor of allowing alcohol sales take into account the opinions of elders. The vote a week ago was 6-2.
“I knew it was going to be a pretty controversial decision,” Houle said today.
He said council vice chair Bruce Sun Child and council member Kenny Writing Bird are both ceremonial leaders and both voted to allow the casino to pursue a liquor license.
Cultural commission members said Rocky Boy was founded so people could carry on traditional living, and that drinking alcohol and gamling are contrary to that.
“According to the old-timers, these are not supposed to exist here, gambling and selling of liquor,” commission member Duncan Standing Rock said. “We are being drawn away from the main parts of our lives as being able to practice our culture, our religion. It's slowly leaving us because of these distractions.”
The Rocky Boy tribal council voted a week ago to amend an alcohol ordinance that prohibits the sale of alcohol at Rocky Boy to allow the casino to obtain a liquor license. Council members Jonathan Windy Boy and Rusty Gopher voted against the change. Windy Boy said selling liquor at Rocky Boy goes against tribal history and could encourage drinking among young people.
Cultural commission members who could be reached by phone Thursday and today echoed Windy Boy's concerns.
The commission is made up of five elders who help decide issues related to cultural preservation. Members examine excavation and building projects to determine if they threaten a cultural site. They handle other questions of cultural preservation forwarded to them by the tribal council.
The tribal council did not ask the commission's opinion about the new casino or plans to obtain a liquor license.
“To allow the passage of a liquor license, that goes against everything” the reservation was founded for, commission member Lloyd Top Sky said. “By all means, if you want to make money, they should find other means of trying to make money.”
Members Videl Stump, Top Sky and Standing Rock said they hope the council will approach elders for their opinions. Stump and Standing Rock said it might be a good idea to have a tribal council seat reserved for an elder, as it once did.
Houle said he plans to hold a meeting with Rocky Boy senior citizens sometime this month. He said he will add the liquor license decision to the agenda.
“Hopefully that's when we get some of the elders' opinions,” Houle said. “It's not going to be reversed, because of the economics, but there are some controls” that can be put in place.
Houle said he has suggested that drinking be limited to the sports bar in the casino, which will contain some gambling machines as well. The rest of the casino would be alcohol-free.
Other safety measures could be a shuttle for customers who have been drinking, as well as a separate entrance for the bar and a guard to help keep alcohol consumption contained to the bar, he said.
But several cultural commission members said they won't be satisfied with compromises. None had plans to directly oppose the decision and said they'd leave it to the people to decide whether to demand a vote or public hearing.
Stump said situations like this one remind him that elders need to be active in sharing their understanding of cultural practices and sharing their opinions. Stump and his wife, Ruby, teach traditional games and sit on the board of the Traditional Games Society. Stump said he hopes more elders can get involved in teaching the culture passed to them from the previous generation.
Construction on the 350-machine casino and 65-unit motel is set to begin on April 1, Houle said.
A 30,000-square-foot casino was orignally planned for Laredo. It was recently scaled back to 15,000 square feet when project partner NORAM expressed a concern that proposed federal legislation could put new limits on Indian gambling.
Houle said the square footage was increased this week to 20,000 square feet. A truck stop is planned in a later phase of the project.