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Carlson: Trust, Verify

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Former Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman and Casino Executive (1994-2006) David Matheson, is back in a seat of prominence, his old job as Casino executive, after five years of acrimonious litigation full of charges and counter-charges the press shouldn’t repeat because there were no verdicts and no real conclusions.

Any observer of Native Americans, or anyone who has business or political dealings with tribes as an entity quickly learns the internal politics of any tribe are as Byzantine and as complex as any politics anywhere. If one has not been raised in that culture one cannot begin to understand the machinations.

Even if one could understand the complexities of the various family and clan relationships, one would need a scorecard to comprehend the inner workings, which family is up and which is down, why some view an education in the college’s of the white conquerors as a negative not a positive, why children can be raised by an entire village successfully, why the native religion can absorb the teachings of the Jesuit missionaries.

Suffice it to say to outward appearances the Matheson family is back in the saddle of real power. Whether that is at the expense of some other powerful family, which is now out, who outside can say? Those that do know won’t say, one can bet on that.

One can also say most Native Americans are acutely aware of public perceptions; more so than other minorities because in many cases they have been victimized by the hokey Indian stereotypes that exist in our culture.

David Matheson has over the years proven to be a savvy operator. He obviously is a survivor and one can wager though outward appearances may be he cares little about public perceptions in fact he is acutely aware of how important they can be.

Matheson, in many respects, is a rarity among Native leaders, but one of those is that he is a Republican. Most Native Americans have tended to identify with Democrats. Indeed, the first Native American ever elected to the Idaho State Senate, a Coeur d’Alene Tribal member by the name of Chief Joseph Garry, was a Democrat.

Matheson, though, aligned with Republicans early in his career. When Ronald Reagan’s vice president, George H. W. Bush, was elected to the Presidency in November of 1988, Matheson headed for D.C. Initially he was appointed as a special assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Eddie Frank Brown, who soon realized that Matheson had the talent and ability to manage the entire 14,000 employee Bureau of Indian Affairs. Matheson also was obtaining his Masters in Business Administration from the University of Washington (1989).

After 14 months at Interior, Matheson was named by then Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan, in May of 1991, as the Deputy Commissioner of Indian Affairs for Administration, the second most powerful position within Indian Affairs. Almost all accounts give Matheson high marks for his management. No one who has met or dealt with David Matheson questions his intelligence or competency.

For that reason, and because almost all Republicans invoke their sainted Irish president, Ronald Reagan, constantly, we want to remind Matheson that the truest and wisest words the Gipper ever uttered were: “Trust but verify!”

How does that relate to today? Quite easily.

With Matheson having been reappointed to his old job as Casino executive director on August 9th, he has the opportunity to start anew with, as the tribal press release said, a “second chance” to do well by all who depend upon the Casino’s success.

A great start for the casino and the tribe would be embracing true transparency with regard to tribal gaming revenues. Matheson was among those who campaigned hard for the voter initiative expanding Indian gaming to include slot like machines, and he knows one of the keys to the vote was the pledge to return annually five percent of the net revenues to surrounding school districts.

Of late there have been serious questions raised as to whether the tribe was really doing so. And the tribe is taking the position of saying “trust us, we’ve delivered on the pledge.” I’m sorry, my friends, that doesn’t fly anywhere anymore.

To restore both the Tribe’s credibility and his own, Matheson has to put the Casino in the forefront of truth-tellers by hiring independent outside auditors to review the annual gaming receipts, then verify what 5 percent would be, and then the Tribe can distribute it as they see fit, but with full disclosure of the amounts.

There’s a lot more action needed on the “verification” piece of Ronald Reagan’s wise injunction. One hopes Matheson and current Tribal leadership recognize sound advice when it is offered.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris Carlson served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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