The latest gold rush

The Gold Rush of 1849 certainly had its lasting effects on California, and so will the new one.

The original strike created tremendous wealth for a very few miners and entrepreneurs and led to the near-genocide of a race of people and the poisoning of its environment. Hoping to brutally evict the American Indians, authorities put bounties on the Indians’ scalps, and thousands were slaughtered, leading to a near-extinction of a culture. And the environment that the American Indians worshipped was poisoned by dangerous levels of mercury, sulfuric acid and cyanide poured into rivers.

But now is the second coming of a rush to riches, and look who’s on the other side of the coins now: It is the American Indian tribes of California and their profits from legalized gaming. This has led to near-full employment for tribe members and, more importantly, a sense of self-esteem that is invaluable (see “High-stakes standoff”).

The fundamental goal of recognizing the sovereignty rights and compacts agreed to with the state was to ensure tribes could end welfare and provide meaningful economic development on the remote reservations given the tribes decades ago. But what seemed so fortuitous just a few years ago is now looking like a possible political liability.

The politicians who supported sovereignty and gaming have botched up the budget so badly that the big bag of money the Indians now have is simply too tempting. As the roles have reversed and the white man has entered a time of need, the Americans of European decent are doing what they’ve always done: They’re going back on their promises to American Indians.

Tribal nations once were rich in culture and history, but those were almost wiped out by the white man. Now that the tribes are rich in monetary things and are re-forming a culture, perhaps the government should just keep its hands off.