By PATRICK LAMBERT
FORMER PRINCIPAL CHIEF
I want to tell you a true story. One that I’m sure everyone of us can add to the credits, and visualize our own role in its unfolding. I won’t try to include everyone that has had a staring role in this story but I will mention a few from my perspective that has been instrumental in reaching this point in our story.
First I want to point out that it is our nature to commemorate and honor important dates in our lives or in our shared history. Whether those dates are birthdays, anniversaries or milestones tracked by years, we all have a need to acknowledge, remember and reflect upon dates when something important or life changing happened on a particular date.
Surprisingly enough one date just passed last week and not the first person, to my knowledge, even acknowledged it or mentioned it.
On Jan. 25, 1994, twenty-five years ago… our Tribe opened for play our very first “fully compacted and legal” slot machines! There had been some games played prior to that date but not legally; however on that date, 1-25-94, after thousands of hours of work and planning we got our first machines opened that were lawful under an approved NIGC Compact between our Tribe and the State of North Carolina!
There are so many stories leading up to that date that should be told and so many stories after that date that also need to be told and preserved. Stories that involve political intrigue, legal battles, personal sacrifice, professional efforts and successes, and above all the impacts that date has had on our community and Cherokee Families.
There are many who had a role in that first day, some of whom… are gone now. I can’t help but wonder… where would we be now without that first day. Remember the stories of our Tribe borrowing money just to make payroll for the month? Or even asking our business owners to pay their tribal Levy early for the month so we could pay our bills.
I was fortunate enough to have been on the front lines of this pivotal date in our history and have had a front row seat for the past 25 years seeing our advancements and accomplishments. Since that date 25 years ago we have had many enrolled members to step up and give it their all for our Tribe to make us a success and, unfortunately, there have been many who have succumbed to greed and excess and caused major problems for many.
I think back about the times we were arguing over who the management company for our new casino should be and the companies called, “Casino Magic” and “Grand Casinos” along with “Harrah’s” each paid $150,000 for the right to bid on the casino project. There was much political strife and the Tribal Council was split between all three for several months. There are many stories that each of us can remember from those days and how those stories impacted our Casino operations to this day.
I can detail specifically from a legal perspective how we got to where we are from the early days when we sued Governor Martin and the State of North Carolina in 1992 for bad faith negotiations, to finally entering into a Compact with Governor Hunt in August 1994, to establishing the first Certification Commission and hearings, to drafting all the original gaming, TCGE and Per Capita ordinances, to hiring our first GM in our original Tribal Casino and negotiating the original management agreement with Harrah’s to each and every expansion of the Casino Property, Compact extensions and Management Agreement renegotiations and during each of those events how the political intrigue, legal wrangling and power and reach of our Tribe grew and changed!
I feel blessed to have been a big part of all these major milestones and am most happy for the wealth it brought our Tribe. The most important thing we can do now is to find a way to preserve this wealth for our future generations but unfortunately it seems we are more bent on spending than on saving.
The older I get the more I realize that many of our tribal leaders don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow… they only concern themselves with today and how can they better feather their own nests. I think we once again need to step back and think about how much waste, fraud and abuse of our Tribal Resources is being done. But, let me warn you, peeling back that onion can leave tears in your eyes… I know. But, it has to… needs to… be done!
I do hope and pray, that for our children and grandchildren’s sake, we soon begin, or re-begin, the process of thinking ahead for several generations and look at the excesses of our Tribal Government. We must turn away from immediate gratification and self-serving interests that cost our Tribe millions and rob our children.
Someday, but hopefully not soon, those golden eggs may disappear, and we will all look back and think… did we really need to spend all those multi-millions on useless and wasted travel, cars, equipment, credit cards, time clock theft, and general waste? It is a hard stance to take, but do we really need 1000 new cars, trucks, cars, etc., plus all these credit cards with very limited to no oversight on the expenses charged? Or for land purchases that have no benefit for our Tribe or Tribal Members?
I go down that road only to prove the point that some of our leaders don’t seem to look to our past for guidance or to even acknowledge where we came from. And, certainly don’t appear to have any real plan for our future security and protection of our members tribal resources.
Was an important anniversary, 25 years, not recognized and acknowledged because the current leaders don’t even know our recent past? Or, am I just too sentimental and a 25-year milestone is just not that important?
To me that date, 1-25-94, marks a definite time we could all celebrate and look back on as a date when we began down a real path of financial self-determination. We have a real opportunity still ahead of us and it’s not too late… we can still begin the process of living like we are fiduciaries and stewards for our Children and Grandchildren’s money! We should watch every dime and save everywhere we can… Jan. 25, 1994 will always be important in my mind. It’s the day we legally began this journey in the Casino Business.
Someday I may try to tell the internal stories and the details of how events unfolded. I can share my recollections on how we came to these certain points and decisions, and I can share the political intrigue of the times when these matters were going on. It’s a story that I believe will be of big interest to many and is certainly a story important for our Tribe and our historical accounts.
In the meantime, I implore you to be vigilant, hold our leaders accountable and insist on them being good, honest and faithful stewards for our public money and Tribal resources.
Talk again soon. May God bless our Elders and our Cherokee Families.