Deboroh Soloman of New York Times Magazine interviewed Council member David Sickey of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana to see how his tribe has handled the the relationship with Jack Abramoff.
In the interview, Humphreys was reluctant to tell Soloman how much gambling money was redirected to members of the tribe. He told her, "You’d have be buy my an eight ounce fillet for me to give up that information" and if he did, "members of the tribe would probably hang me from the nearest tree."
Here’s the interview reprinted below. You can also access it here.
You are one of the four council members of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, which was stripped of more than $30 million by the lobbyist Jack Abramoff when it tried to buy influence in Washington. Can you tell us about the repercussions for your tribe?
Here I am, embroiled in the biggest controversy to hit the Indians since Columbus arrived. It’s not exactly what we would want, national exposure over lobbying scams. We’re getting checks coming back every week from groups that Abramoff requested the tribe donate to.
You mean no politician or political group wants to be associated with you?
The Republican Party wants to frame this as an Indian issue to detract attention away from the dirty antics of the operatives in their party. They’re blaming the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
You’re referring to the law passed by Congress in 1988. As a result, your tribe opened the Coushatta Casino Resort in Kinder, La., which is said to bring in some $300 million a year.
The Coushattas and the Indians in general achieved it in a fair way using the white system.
No one doubts that, but what were your tribal councilmen thinking when they wrote so many checks to Jack Abramoff and the publicist Michael Scanlon?
We wanted access into senior levels of the government, whether it be the Department of the Interior or — Jack said he could reach into the Bush administration and had access to Karl Rove.
In his plea agreement in January, Abramoff claimed that your tribe gave him the money to keep rival tribes from building casinos in Texas. Whose idea was that?
That was his idea. Personally, I’d never thought about it before. My feeling was that any kind of gaming legislation in Texas was out of our hands. We’re in Louisiana, so I thought there was only so much we could do to affect Texas legislation.
Aren’t other tribes furious at you for trying to thwart their own efforts?
When you have any kind of business enterprise, there is going to be competition, and Indians are no exception.
Still, so many people want a casino-free America.
We like to call it an enterprise; casino has a stigma attached to it. We are a major economic engine in this region. At the casino, we employ close to 3,000 people, and the majority of them are non-Indians.
I hear the casino profits are evenly distributed among all 847 members of your tribe, including children. Can you tell us how much you each received last year?
No, ma’am, I cannot. You would have to buy me an eight-ounce fillet for me to give up that information.
Is it under $50,000 a year?
Yes, significantly less. The members of the tribe would probably hang me in the nearest tree if I disclosed that figure.
That sounds to me like a Native American slur.
Well, I can get away with it. You can’t.
You’re only 27 and weren’t elected to the tribal council until May 2003, so how many times did you actually meet Abramoff?
Only once, and I was already looking into his billings and his work — or lack thereof. So he was more comfortable with Poncho than with me. Right when he stepped into the conference room, he immediately gave Poncho a big hug.
I assume Poncho was the tribe’s chief at the time?
For media purposes, we prefer the word chairman. We’ve adopted a little bit of Anglo stuff here. There’s this stigma attached to chief; it sounds like an old relic from the past.
Since you are so forward-looking, what do you envision for the future of the Coushatta tribe?
Just to sum it up in a nutshell, Indian country is looking forward to the day when Jack Abramoff will become Jack Afterthought.
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