‘It’s important to remember that these facilities are tribally-owned. Meaning, they are owned by hundreds of thousands of shareholders, tribal citizens. And that means not only do they represent the tribe, but also it’s people and Indian people in general. So that has to be a consideration in every decision that’s made, including booking the entertainment acts.’
Jason Salsman/Multimedia Producer
‘Here Comes the (Not So) Funny Tour’
OKMULGEE, Okla. — In 1976, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan authored his opinion on Bryan v. Itasca County, essentially ushering in the possibility of Indian gaming. And ever since that day bingo, slot machines, cards, race tracks and the like have “changed the game” for tribes in America by changing the economic landscape.
For the most part, tribal budgets are made up of two components: federal monies and gaming revenue. And if you don’t feel that we should maximize and focus on building and growing the latter, while the former shrinks, then you haven’t been paying much attention to the current state of the U.S. government.
A key word for folks in the Indian gaming field and for tribal governments, however, is “saturation.” How many casinos is too many? Will the well run dry? Saturation of the industry is a prominent talking point in Indian Country, and it should be. A 2014 article in the ‘New Yorker’ mentioned the continuing demise of Atlantic City and Tunica because of the abundance of gaming opportunities elsewhere.
The key is to offer variety. Sure, keep gaming as the premier focus for building and opening these facilities, but diversify the revenue streams and offer a little something for everyone. Basically the goal should be to turn these casinos, into “entertainment destinations,” and maximize profits.
By and large, we have seen tribes do this. The two largest tribes in the Tulsa metro have arguably the top entertainment destinations. The Cherokee Nation first, with its Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and our very own Muscogee (Creek) Nation most recently with the completed renovation and expansion of the River Spirit Resort Casino.
Both facilities have numerous similarities. Both include a resort hotel. Both have branded themselves with nation-wide names, Hard Rock with CN and Margaritaville with MCN. They have both brought in top-notch restaurant chains that cater to and attract all kinds of people that have zero interest in gambling even $1. And both offer the grandest stage for entertainment, aside from the Bank of Oklahoma Center or Chesapeake Arena, in Oklahoma.
The list of acts that have played and have scheduled to play Hard Rock’s The Joint and River Spirit’s Paradise Cove is a who’s who in the entertainment industry: Tony Bennett, Vince Gill, Don Henley, Brad Paisley and a host of other major recording artists have graced the stages. And all these acts fill the seats with people that have bought tickets and visit the concession lines. The more people that visit, the more money that’s spent and made for these tribes.
But sometimes how much money you earn, isn’t as important as HOW YOU EARN IT. It’s important to remember that these facilities are tribally-owned. Meaning, they are owned by hundreds of thousands of shareholders, tribal citizens. And that means not only do they represent the tribe, but also it’s people and Indian people in general. So that has to be a consideration in every decision that’s made, including booking the entertainment acts.
If you Google any of the names that I listed earlier or others that have played these facilities along with “Native Americans,” there’s not much to see other than occasionally they have performed at other tribally-owned facilities. But that’s not the case with Adam Sandler, who will bring his ‘Here Come’s the Funny Tour’ to Paradise Cove on April 18.
If you Google “Adam Sandler Native Americans” the first result you see is a headline from April 2015. It simply reads, ‘Native Actors Walk Off Set of Adam Sandler Movie After Insults to Women, Elders.’
Insults to women and elders? Know many Natives that will let that slide? The movie referenced is Netflix original, “The Ridiculous Six,” which has since been critically panned and labeled a flop. But it caused a whirlwind of controversy in Indian Country, with Natives from coast-to-coast once again angered and feeling the sting of inaccurate stereotypes and unfair appropriation.
Among the jokes setting the actors off included Native women’s names such as Beaver’s Breath and No Bra, an actress portraying an Apache woman squatting and urinating while smoking a peace pipe, and feathers inappropriately positioned on a teepee.
Actor Allison Young, a Navajo Nation citizen, told ‘Indian Country Media Network,’ “We talked to the producers about our concerns. They just told us, ‘If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave.’ I was just standing there and got emotional and teary-eyed. I didn’t want to cry but the feeling just came over me. This is supposed to be a comedy that makes you laugh. A film like this should not make someone feel this way.”
David Hill, a Choctaw Nation citizen, told ‘ICTMN,’ “We understand this is a comedy, we understand this is humor, but we won’t tolerate disrespect. I told the director if he had talked to a native woman the way they were talked to in this movie—I said I would knock his *** out.”
Think maybe this proves Natives were emotional about how things were portrayed? And Natives forgive, but they don’t forget. Many I’m sure will have strong feelings about Sandler appearing at our premier entertainment destination.
I don’t have any idea what the process is for identifying and selecting entertainment for Paradise Cove. I was in communication on March 28 with SixPR, who handles the public relations for River Spirit, to get clarification on the decision-making process and have not been given an explanation or statement as of press time.
But my guess is that this simply slipped by and that’s unfortunate because a lot of tribal citizens will see this as a bad look. Maybe in the future we can vet the talent with a little more awareness, and controversies will be considered when selecting who has the privilege of performing at our wonderful venue.
It’s not impossible. Tribal officials at a Coeur d’Alene casino in Idaho canceled Ted Nugent’s concert, when they learned he had made disparaging remarks about Native Americans. You just have to pay attention.
I hope we do better. I want Paradise Cove to sell out every show, but not at the expense of the dignity and respect of the people that it represents. Unfortunately it’s probably too late in this case. I’m sure there will be tons of folks that are fans of Sandler that pack the place. But for a lot of Indian people, this will be the, ‘Here Comes the (Not So) Funny Tour.’