On Thursday, Feb. 6, the Anthropology and Sociology Department invited Muhlenberg alum Ted Gordon ‘06, Ph.D., to discuss Native Activism and the tribal casino movement. Gordon, who completed his Ph.D. at the University of California, Riverside, focused his discussion on the Cabazon tribe, a small group of Cahuilla. The Cabazon tribe, comprised of 12 adults, opened a poker club in a double-wide trailer, and three days later a SWAT Team arrested them.  This led to the 1987 Supreme Court case California v. Cabazon, which resulted in a win for the Cabazon, securing the rights for all native nations across the United States to open casinos. 

Gordon posed a question to the audience, “Why does Native activism matter?”  His main point highlighted how marginalized populations can see structures invisible to those in power. To support this idea, he presented Sandra Harding’s Standpoint Theory, which demonstrates how women, for example, can see things men aren’t able to see. Native populations are the outside minority, providing different political structures and ways of governing. 

“Why does Native activism matter?”

The tribal casino movement is just one example of Native activism, which has been seen in environmental justice during the recent Dakota Access Pipeline protests in 2016.  The protests were led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who opposed the installation of the pipeline because it threatened native lands. In addition to the Native Sioux, 300 tribal governments sent support to North Dakota, which was the largest gathering of Native people in 100 years. The Dakota Access Pipeline protests show that native people are a powerful force who will band together to fight for the respect that the United States government does not always show them. 

Gordon’s talk drew upon the recent purchase of the Sands Bethlehem casino by Wind Creek Hospitality in May 2019.  Wind Creek is affiliated with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who currently reside in Alabama. Despite the Indian Removal Act, the tribe remained there throughout the era of Jim Crow laws.  During this period of time, everything was framed as either white or black, but the Poarch Band created a gray area, dividing lighter-skinned and darker-skinned natives between white and black schools, respectively. In a period of time where everything was black and white to the South, Natives presented another narrative.

The main takeaway from Dr. Gordon’s presentation is the persistence of Native nations, and as Gordon described them, they are “indomitable”  because they have withstood military and forced assimilation, yet they are still here and active.  

After the Q & A, Anna Hatke ‘21 described, “Coming out of this lecture, I have a better appreciation for the perspective of Native activist groups and how they handle issues surrounding territorial rights and environmental issues.”  

“To add a component of history and an understanding of the US that includes Native Americans. Many narratives, such as most of what we are taught in high school, does not include them.”

Dr. Benjamin Carter, Chairman of the Sociology and Anthropology Department, discussed how the department brought Gordon in for several reasons, one of them being the intersectionality of the tribal gaming movement, which is connected to media & communication, religion, business and many other departments of study.  The main goal of hosting this event, Carter said, “was simply to add a component of history and an understanding of the US that includes Native Americans. Many narratives, such as most of what we are taught in high school, does not include them. So, there is some basic information about Native American presence and activism. This is one example of the important role that Native Americans play in the US today.” In the future,  Dr. Carter hopes to bring more events that engage multiple departments across campus.


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