How Safe Are We on Indian Land?

By Raquel Vasquez
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Cabazon Indian Tribe Photo courtesy of the Cabazon Mission Band of Indians

So you pack your favorite bikini, lbd, and some cash, off to the California deserts to party at an Indian reservation Casino. Maybe you’ll take in some casino fun, poolside action, and a possible concert or event. Good times, what could possibly go wrong? A lot. A lot could go wrong, and nobody will ever know.

California is the nation’s largest Indian gaming state with total revenues of $7 billion annually. Those staggering numbers came after a battle. The Riverside County didn’t like the Indians bingo games, and the California vs Cabazon Band of Mission Indians case was born. It was 1987 in the Supreme Court. The Cabazon argued that California gaming laws were civil regulatory laws, and that the tribal lands would not in fact fall under the lawful jurisdiction of the state. And here I thought these casino’s were an agreed business endeavor with the growth and economy of the Indian tribes in mind, just to find out they fought for it. After the supreme court hearing, Congress stuck their sticky beak into it and created the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

The National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) was formed and voila, instant business gambling tycoons were established. Yeah right. I wonder who was really running the game back in the late 80’s. These dudes that deemed themselves the “law” of gambling spread out over 24 states on Indian reservations. In 1995 gaming revenues totalled over $4.5 billion, with an additional 300 million in food sales, merchandise, and hotel accommodations. That was in 1995, so by today’s standards there shouldn’t be one poor Indian.

Have you been to any of the Indian reservation casinos on the outskirts of LA? Just a few hours drive and you can gamble your entire paycheck away and smoke till you can no longer speak. They have decent food, rooms and plenty of booze. But what happens if you get into trouble out there? This isn’t something you ask yourself before you go on a little staycation. Who’s responsible?

You May Find Yourself Wishing You Were on LA Land
Photo by Parimal M. Rohit

The Indian reservation casinos hire their own private security companies. Who knows if these guys live on a reservation or not. I doubt it. These security guards are typically from the nearing county neighborhoods. A security guards only qualification requirement is a guard card. A guard card can be earned with an online course and a credit card. These weekend warrior types typically wanted to be a policeman or deputy sheriff, but somehow ended up a security guard. These are fun facts and are not unique to indian reservation casinos. I guess to each his own. Some people like numbers, some like cars, some like design and color. Some like a job that has a hunt and capture aspect with power playing and authoritative opportunities. It takes a “type.”

If you google any kind of word web trying to find some dirt on the lay of the land, plenty comes right up. Starting with some severely gruesome details written in the Los Angeles Times as far back as 2007, brutally facing the fact that they had a big problem on their hands.

A white man was physically abusing his family. The tribe had no jurisdiction over the non Indian man, and the local and state authorities didn’t have jurisdiction either because the victims were Indian. Indian women are victimized at an astonishing rate, and apparently a conviction depends on the color of your skin, whether you are Indian or not. The laws are relaxed here and the criminals know it! As of today, misdemeanor crimes are handled by the tribes themselves. If a crime is committed by a non Indian, on a non Indian, the state is assumed to pick up the case. Swipe to  “On Indian Land Criminals Can Get Away With Almost Anything.” The Atlantic Newspaper 2013. “If You Commit a Crime Can You Escape Prosecution by Fleeing to a Native Reservation” Huffington Post 2012. The stories go on and on.

You May Find Yourself Wishing You Were on LA Land
Photo by Parimal M. Rohit

With all of this grey area of law and who enforces it, who watches the enforcers? In the meantime young and not so young adults unsuspectingly go to gamble, drink and attend events on Indian reservations. The truth of the matter is the Casino events are not secured by the Riverside Sheriffs, or the Cabazon or any tribe police. The Casino events are secured by privately hired security guards. They carry loaded weapons, batons, and newly added taser guns. They are licensed to hold these weapons by the California State Bureau of Investigations. However, since they are working on an indian reservation, it’s out of the bureau’s jurisdiction. Or so an employee was quick to say on the phone. “The state has no jurisdiction.”  Turns out the Cabazon Police Dept has jurisdiction. Have you ever tried calling the Cabazon Police Dept? Good luck with that. It’s one recording after another, select one number after another.

There is an official Riverside County liaison between the two agencies that said “they don’t like to talk to anybody.” It must be nice not having to talk to anybody. If you need help while you’re on an Indian reservation, the Riverside Sheriff’s Department cannot help you. If you call them during an incident at a public event center on an Indian reservation they say they will respond. This doesn’t sound very promising. But what if the hired security are bully’s and they decide to detain you? Who’s going to stop them? These are just men with a “guard card” holding loaded weapons, batons and taser guns. There are plenty of law enforcement agencies to bust the patrons, but who watches the hired security?

You could spend days on the phone listening to recorded messages and get referred to yet another jurisdiction. There’s the Bureau of Indian Affairs Police, there is the Tribal Law Enforcement, and don’t forget the Tribal Liaison Unit. If you go to the TLU’s website it paints a vibrant picture with its bland words. They used words such as resentment, strained, lack of trust, and misunderstanding of jurisdiction of Indian Country.

When I had mentioned that criminals are aware of “open season” to get away with crimes, so are bully security guards and their employers. They know they can get away with anything. Nobody is watching them. And like the liaison said, the Cabazon Police don’t like speaking with anyone. The poverty rate of Native Americans is 25%. The unemployment rate is high. If these statistics sound scary, it’s because they are. There are safe casinos in Los Angeles. The Gardens Casino, Commerce Casino, Hustler Casino, Hollywood Park Casino, Larry Flynt’s Lucky Lady Casino, The Bicycle Casino, and the Crystal Casino, all safe and sound in Los Angeles. Get your gamble on. 

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