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Casinos no salvation for native Americans

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To get to Sedona you travel through a lush, winding canyon, its juniper and cypress trees lining a pleasantly gurgling stream. Then you emerge into brilliant sunlight and clear blue skies and into this exquisite little town over which rugged red rock pinnacles and buttes - Cathedral Rock and Courthouse Butte and Chimney Rock and Coffeepot Rock and others - keep dramatic sentinel.

This stunning setting and benign climate have attracted artists and sculptors from across the country and abroad. A woman sitting next to us at breakfast said she and her husband were visiting for a day from New York, bought a house on the spot, folded up their New York business and have lived here ever since.

But before you reach this hidden and prospering modern Shangri-La, you must traverse long miles of bleak and desolate desert constituting the tribal lands of the Navajo nation, swept at this time of year by gusty winds that overlay with a thick sediment of dust its little settlements of trailer homes and battered cars and lean-to roadside stalls selling Navajo rugs and baskets and pottery.

You cannot avoid comparing the reservations allocated to native Americans with the "Bantustans" awarded South African blacks by the white government in the era of apartheid. In an attempt to dampen international criticism of its racist policies, the Afrikaner regime set up tribal Bantustans to be "self-governed" by the vastly outnumbering black population. The catch, of course, was that the lands so allocated were only a slender portion of the country, were barren for agriculture, contained no minerals or other natural resources, and had virtually no infrastructure.

The Navajo reservation encompasses 27,000 square miles across parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. There are 275,000 Navajos in the United States, and the hardship of many of those who live on the reservation underlines the plight of many native Americans today. There is little future in raising sheep and goats on this barren terrain. Unemployment on the reservation runs more than 40 percent. Per capita income is running little more than $6,000 a year.


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