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Jul 20, 2009 3:23 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Upstate tribe a role model for Indian gaming success

Jul 20, 2009 3:23 PM

No Handouts

While Mr. George and other tribal officials would not discuss how much the tribe earns from Turning Stone, several area publications cited financial documents that were apparently leaked in 2002 that showed the tribe brought in about $70 million in annual profits. And yet jobs remain important to the Oneida tribe members, because, despite tens of millions of dollars in profits, there are no handouts for the Oneida people.

While some other suddenly cash-flush tribes have simply divvied up the massive revenues and distributed them to tribe members, no strings attached, the Oneida have instead used their income to build up social programs, aiding tribal members without letting them become reliant on tribal handouts.

“We have a responsibility to provide for our members,” Mr. George said. “But we don’t just give anybody anything. If you’re just given something, you won’t take care of it. If you’re just given a large per capita [payment], you wouldn’t work.”

Some money is given. If an Oneida wants to build a house on the tribe’s 17,000-acre reservation, he or she will receive up to $50,000 to cover a down payment from the tribal housing program. To overcome the difficulty Native Americans face in getting mortgages, the Oneida’s housing program also guarantees any mortgage loans to its members, effectively providing the collateral that most homebuyers gain when they purchase property. But the individuals have to secure the loans on their own. No tribe member has ever defaulted on a home loan, Mr. George said.

Turning Stone’s large revenue stream has meant that tribe members don’t have to contend with many of today’s most inflationary living costs. Paying for college education is not a concern. The tribe has set up a broad college scholarship program, which pays the tuition and room and board costs for any of its young people who go to college, as well as providing money for books and a living stipend for full-time students. Graduate degrees and doctorates are also paid for.

To date, Mr. George said, the tribe has put more than 260 of its youth through four-year colleges, many more through two-year or trade schools, and dozens through law school, medical school and master’s degree and doctorate programs. Many of those graduates return to the Oneida reservation to work for the tribe’s various social programs, tribal government or at the resort.

“The scholarships program is very important to us,” said Mr. George, a weathered 74-year-old with long, jet-black hair tied back in a tight ponytail. “It was a conscious decision by our people to go that route. If we had done large per capita payments to our people, we wouldn’t have the money to do the scholarships, and that was more important—to give our kids the desire to go to college and do for themselves. It’s like the old proverb: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”

Preserving Heritage

The Oneida also provide comprehensive health care for all its members. Medical, dental and vision coverage are all provided at no cost. The tribe runs numerous health services as well, from pre-natal care to nutrition guidance to drug and alcohol assistance programs.

“In the long run, it saves us money and makes our people happier,” Mr. George said.

The benefits the tribe offers has brought many of its members, 
who the tribal elder said were “scattered to the four winds,” back to the Oneida reservation, making it a 
bustling and healthy community 
and fostering pride in the tribe’s heritage.

He acknowledged that without the resort revenues, none of the 
tribe’s social programs could have been as comprehensive or successful. 
As a federally recognized tribe, the Oneida had been drawing from Bureau of Indian Affairs funding for 
many of its programs—a route Shinnecock leaders have said is their foremost interest in securing federal recognition.

That funding “never comes close to meeting the needs of a tribe,” Mr. George said. “So now we provide, through education and basic assistance. It’s worked well for us.”

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