Guest Column, Duane A. Beyal: Instead of boring political speeches, let's have games with cash as prizes
By Duane A. Beyal
Special to the Times
Her face peered at the table, her eyes just high enough to give her a view. Her bony finger gave the dealer the signal to hold or deal.
The cards flew and the table full of players at Fire Rock casino– a Hispanic guy, a black guy and several Navajos — groaned, flipped their cards to the dealer or gave a high five to someone standing next to them.
She was unperturbed. She played on. The players anted in. The dealer shuffled the cards and laid them out.
She was an old woman seated in a wheelchair. She was not your usual casino card player. Just to see the table she had to stretch her neck. She wore the classic Navajo attire — a scarf, turquoise and silver necklace and a full skirt laid out over the gleaming metal frame of her wheelchair, the two wheels on each side as proud as the armrests on the throne of a queen.
She was among the crowd of mostly Navajos at Fire Rock one day. Perhaps part of a senior citizens group. The others in the mass of people were just as entranced in their slot machines of varying colors, designs and chimes. Many stood and watched. Others ate in the snack bar or restaurant. But at the first of the month they besiege the casino and its staff. Most spend part or all of their monthly check from the government.
The same clogged thruways and venues filled with Navajos are evident in the streets of Gallup. Traffic heading in from the reservation is nonstop. On Saturday, the flea markets are hopping. Rio West Mall’s parking lot is full. Walmart is impossible to navigate, every check-out lane marked by long lines of shopping carts piled high with merchandise. All the eating places in town are also busy, some requiring a wait for a seat.
But the people keep coming. The Navajos descend on town armed with the ultimate weapon: their wallets and purses.
In one store, a woman waited patiently as a clerk prepared her request. Then the clerk counted out a cool $2,000. The woman calmly picked up her pile, stacked it neatly, then placed the wad in her brown purse with silver buttons, leaving quietly and heading out to the town.
The fuel for the full casino, the reason for all the shopping chaos in Gallup is obvious. In a generally low-income area, the almighty dollar drives the droves to town. This is especially pronounced during the current income tax season. Bring your W2s, claim your dependents, qualify for the Earned Income Credit! At Walmart, everything from flat-screen TVs to bags of potatoes were going fast.
As the new Navajo Nation Council settles in to office, we hear the usual vague pronouncements, watch the usual maneuvers, and wonder if anything will change. With a non-elected president in office and the promises of the 24-member council still to be delivered, what will our leadership do to generate a passion among the people similar to the income tax and end-of-the-month splurges?
When will we see crowds at the chapter houses and the council chambers? Where are the big box stores on the reservation? Why is everyone running off to the border towns? The reason is simple enough. There is nothing out on the rez where you can spend your millions.
Of course, change comes tough to a barren bureaucracy. And turning words into action is a conundrum. As dismal as the leadership in the U.S. Congress is, our form of government modeled on the U.S.’s lags far behind.
But maybe participation by the Navajo people in their government could be generated by a few simple changes. Have a raffle every week at the chapter houses. Maybe give away a double-cab dually, a giant flat-screen TV, a herd of sheep or case of Spam.
Instead of boring speeches in the council chambers, we could have games with cash as prizes. That appears to be the main game anyway. Why not put in out in the open? This way, we would not need presidents or council delegates, just managers. Instead of state of the nations or elections, all we need is to select qualified managers for all our gaming activities at every chapter and in Window Rock.
As for the grandma playing 21 at Fire Rock, I did not see her win during the brief time I watched. But her eyes shone brightly and her finger did not stop sending the dealer directions. Good luck to her, I thought as I walked away, and good luck to us all as we start with a new council.