Tiguas Fight for Sovereignty

El Paso Metro

A federal judge has ordered the Tigua Reservation’s Speaking Rock Casino closed by November 30th.  The decision is now headed for the Court of Appeals in New Orleans.  Meanwhile, the Tigua Reservation has engaged a strong public relations campaign to shore up public support for the Casino. The economic impact of the Speaking Rock Casino is indisputable:

  • Direct Effect: Cash disbursements of $250 million dollars;
  • Indirect Effect: Ancillary generation of $823 million dollars in value-added activity;
  • Employees: Speaking Rock employs 785 people;
  • Payroll: Maintains a payroll of $49 million dollars.

In November of 1993, the Tiguas opened Speaking Rock.  The primary goal of the Casino operations was to improve the economic conditions of the Pueblo members.  It has succeeded in creating employment, operational surplus for the Reservation, expanded housing, economic diversification and direct cash benefits to the area.  Over $150 million dollars have been directly contributed to the area economy aside from the payroll.

Unfortunately, the decision by a federal judge to close Speaking Rock by November 30th seems on a fast track to permanence.  The Tiguas have been asking for public support and have been lobbying the state delegation for proactive assistance.

Some state representatives met with the Attorney General’s office and reported no progress.  The spokeswoman for their office stated that casino gambling was illegal for all “Texans”.  That sentence reveals what has been the State strategy all along, namely, that the Tigua Indians are Texans with no special status.

The position of the Reservation is that they are, in fact, a sovereign tribe and, as such, have a different status.  Their existence is a consequence of federal recognition of separate status.  They are not Texans but Tiguas who occupy a reservation in Texas and as such are not subject jurisdictionally except to a specific co-equal relationship with the United States government.

The issue is fundamentally a political one that goes back to the origins of this country and its treatment of native peoples.  Without belaboring the historical policy of genocide by the United States government of native tribes, the outlook confronting the Tiguas is simple.  They can fight for sovereign rights and align themselves with “Indian Country” or attempt to find accommodation within the policy of the State of Texas.

Accommodation is not working.  Therefore, the Reservation is faced with fighting a political battle to retain their sovereign status.  According to some political observers, there is little choice.

The Tiguas need immediate, consistent and highly visible political public action in order to gain the political support necessary to defeat the policy of the current Republican Governor and Attorney General.  This means marches, pickets, a letter writing campaign and strong lobbying efforts in Austin against racist double standards.  Such visible actions must take place at the state building in El Paso and Austin.

It is not clear what additional steps Governor Alvidrez and the Tribal Council will decide to take at the 11th hour.

One thing is certain, the closing of Speaking Rock will have an enormous negative economic impact in the lower valley.  In the context of a recession and a diminishing border consumer market, the closing will contribute to a tripling of unemployment in El Paso.