Native American Casinos Open on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Celebrations Scant

Most Native American casinos across the country are open today, as many federal workers have the day off to celebrate Columbus Day. But since last year when President Joe Biden issued the proclamation, today is also “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

Indigenous people march on October 10, 2020, in Boston in part of a demonstration to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Native American casinos are open today. (Image: Getty)

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a day to recognize the contributions made by indigenous people to the nation and the resiliency of Indigenous peoples. The day also honors their inherent sovereignty and reestablishes the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations to federally recognized tribal nations.

Columbus Day in the political arena has become controversial in recent memory. During his 2021 speech announcing the formation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Biden said the US must “acknowledge the painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on tribal nations and Indigenous communities.”

Now in its second year, the majority of tribal nations have opted not to celebrate the day but to reflect on and respect the past suffering of their ancestors. And while federal workers and many bankers are off today, tribal casino employees are largely on the job, as Native American resorts remain open for business.

Little Hype

Tribal casinos aren’t using Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a marketing tool to bring in patrons. A search online found only a few related promotions.

The Spokane Tribe Casino in Airway Heights, Washington, has invited tribal elders to dine at the casino for free anytime today through October 14. Each Spokane tribal elder can bring one guest to indulge in a three-course meal at the Three Peaks Kitchen and Bar free of charge. The promotion also includes $25 in free slot play.

We’re honored to invite Spokane Tribal Elders and one guest are invited to visit Three Peaks, October 10-14, for a special, three-course Indigenous Peoples Day menu and also visit the Sun Club for $25 in Free Slot Play.

— Spokane Tribe Casino (@SpokaneCasino) October 6, 2022

The Ohiya Casino & Resort in Niobrara, Ne. — owned and operated by the Santee Sioux Nation — is giving $20 in free slot play to any guest who presents a tribal identification card.

It’s Native Day at Ohiya Casino! Show your tribal ID and receive $20 in Free Play from 2pm-10pm! We can’t wait to see you!

— Ohiya Casino & Resort (@OhiyaCasino) October 10, 2022

But many of the nation’s largest and richest tribal casinos — notables including WinStar, Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods, Seminole Hard Rock Tampa and Hollywood, Yaamava’, Soaring Eagle, and Harrah’s Cherokee — are not running any Indigenous Peoples’ Day promotions.

Casino gambling plays a vital role in tribal economic sovereignty. Tribal casinos won $39 billion off of patrons last year, a record high.

“With the pandemic still at the top of mind for tribes, Indian gaming continues to show its resiliency through innovative operational advancements and the steadfast leadership of tribal regulatory authorities,” an August statement from the National Indian Gaming Commission said of the 2021 revenue.

Tribal Holiday Roots

Indigenous Peoples’ Day might have only been officially recognized by the federal government this month last year, but the holiday’s roots can be traced back to the mid-1970s.

In September of 1977, the United Nations held the “Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas.” The event was considered a major victory for tribal nations in pressuring the US and other governments into recognizing the nations and their sovereignty.

South Dakota became the first state to propose a day to commemorate tribal nations in 1989. A year later, the UN began holding discussions with tribes and US leaders to consider replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The compromise was blending the two holidays together, though some states — like California and Tennessee — commemorate Indigenous People’s Day in September to avoid conflicting with the longstanding Columbus Day holiday.

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