Out of America: Tribal vision sets its sights on loose change
Known for his commentary on international relations and US politics, Rupert Cornwell also contributes obituaries and occasionally even a column for the sports pages. With The Independent since its launch in 1986, he was the paper's first Moscow correspondent - covering the collapse of the Soviet Union – during which time he won two British Press Awards. Previously a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and Reuters, he has also been a diplomatic correspondent, leader writer and columnist, and has served as Washington bureau editor. In 1983 he published God's Banker, about Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge.
Wednesday 28 April 1993
It is not a church. Nor can it be counted among the archaeological or natural attractions of the 'Four Corners' region, where the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet in a vista of canyons, jagged escarpments and snowcapped mountain ranges scarcely matched upon the face of this earth.
No, the centre of all the activity is a grey-white building like a warehouse glistening in the brilliant desert light, instantly distinguishable from the dingy homesteads dotting the bare hillsides around it. Outside, a hundred or more cars are clustered beneath signs reading 'By tribal edict: No alcohol or firearms.'
Inside, row upon row of mostly ageing citizens sit transfixed in front of slot machines, drowning their losses in Coke and Sprite. It is, in short, that burgeoning variant on the US craze for gambling, a 'tribal gaming facility' - in plain English an Indian-run casino; the latest attempt by the world's most affluent country to make amends to its original inhabitants.
Nowhere more than here in the south-west do you feel the country's ambivalence about its Indians. Pride in the vanished native civilisations whose traces are to be found in the great national parks near by, of Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon and Canyon de Chelly, is one thing. The wretched circumstances of their living descendants, for ever a reminder of the indignities, lies and brutalities visited upon them by the settlers in the second half of the 19th century, are quite another.
Few suffered as cruelly as the Ute. 'We shall fall as the leaves from the trees when winter comes,' Ouray, their greatest chief, predicted as he vainly tried in the 1860s to reach a peaceful accommodation with the intruders. 'The lands we have roved for countless generations will be given to the miner and the plowshare, and we will be buried.' And in all but the most literal sense, the Ute have been buried.
Once their territory encompassed the bulk of western Colorado and eastern Utah, an area larger than Britain. But a succession of treaties, each broken after a new gold or silver strike, hemmed them back into two reservations. The one in Colorado is a strip, roughly 15 miles deep and 140 miles long, just north of the border with New Mexico. Even that has been divided. The eastern portion, belonging to the Southern Ute, is administered from a dismal township called Ignacio. Towaoc and the 307,000 acres that surround it are the derisory kingdom of the Mountain Ute.
Time and a guilty conscience have produced some small redress from the conquerors. Indians have become 'Native Americans'. Potentially valuable energy and water rights have been returned; an agreement last week gave the Ute greater control over ancient burial and religious sites on long-lost lands on Colorado's western slope. For the most part, though, life is still the misery of a threadbare existence on the margins of the tourism industry - now the south-west's largest source of income - and of an unemployment rate of up to 50 per cent (depending on whether you believe federal statistics or the tribal leaders).
Of a once nomadic, free-ranging culture, there remain only sour 20th-century symbols; tawdry encampments of mobile homes moored on breeze blocks, and junkyards of automobiles rusting gently into the semi-desert landscape.
And even those resource rights are a mixed blessing. Once, environmentalists and the American Indian made common cause in their defence of a vanishing natural heritage. No longer. A dollars 600m (pounds 380m) project to dam two local rivers, and divert water to irrigate the arid Ute lands, is being fought through the courts by conservationists. Development is held hostage to the Colorado squawfish, said to be in peril because of earlier human tampering with the region's fragile river system. The conquerors continue to believe they know best.
Set against all this, I suppose, the casino is a godsend. Colorado is no different from the 17 other states where, under a 1988 federal law, Indians run gambling operations. Incontestably, they provide jobs and money. The staff at Ute Mountain Casino are mainly native; the punters losing their money are predominantly white - another tiny repayment for the injustices of the past.
The new buildings sprouting around the casino suggest fleeting hope that poverty is not eternal. But the sadness of the place is inescapable. Dutifully, I dropped dollars 5 worth of quarters in a video poker game. As I drove back to the town of Cortez and the white man's West, a forlorn sign informed me I was leaving the land of the Ute: 'We hope you enjoyed the scenery.' Even with the casino, they don't have much else.
Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'
Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance
Actress sees off speculation about her face in an amazing way
Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online
- 1 Nokia no more: Microsoft drops once-ubiquitous mobile name – in favour of its Lumia brand
- 2 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 3 Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 Paralysed man Darek Fidyka walks again after treatment by British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis
Ottawa shooting: Canadian soldier dies after being shot at National War Memorial – with one gunman killed inside parliament
Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
Isis releases first video showing the stoning of woman accused of committing adultery as her father shouts 'don't call me Dad'
Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
Diwali: What is the festival of lights and how is it celebrated around the world?
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
£21500 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...
£20000 - £22000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful and w...
£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a quailed Teacher ...
£40 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experience SEN Te...