Sherman Alexie Keeps Crowd in Stitches, Praises Student Activists

Photos by Jack McNeelA dapper Sherman Alexie on stage in Spokane, Washington.
Photos by Jack McNeel
A dapper Sherman Alexie on stage in Spokane, Washington.


Sherman Alexie could make a very good living strictly as a humorist — he’s that good. A large crowd in Spokane recently laughed themselves to tears through an hour and 45 minute routine on subjects ranging from his books being banned, body hair, funerals, gay marriage, basketball, his family, and more.

Nobody was spared as Alexie interacted with the crowd and his own family members, and he laughed at his own “inadequacies”. “When you’ve been married 20 years you have to spice things up. I’m getting older. I’m middle aged — 47. I’m at the age now that I need more foreplay than my wife. Honey, if you listen to some of my worries and fears for the next 15 minutes I’ll be ready.” The crowd exploded in laughter and Alexie joined right in.

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“This last year I feel like I’ve aged dramatically. I have more body hair than any Indian guy is supposed to have. I keep thinking one of my grandmothers lied. One of my grandmothers was getting it on with a Jesuit. I can just feel it. I’m like a little bit Catholic,” he laughed and the crowd roared.

“The hardest part are the random hairs. I’m getting ear hair. I’m getting gray nose hairs. You can’t hide them because it’s dark in your nostrils. It doesn’t matter what color you are as a human being, nostrils are all the same. Our nostrils are really multi-cultural.”

The dialogue continued, the stories getting wilder as he progressed and a bit more “colorful.”

His book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian was recently challenged by a school board in Meridian, Idaho. “People would stand up and testify against my book. One woman was like, ‘these children come from our wombs!’ It’s funny but it’s sad,” Alexie said. “Apparently she thought we didn’t know that! I think we need to have ‘The Talk’ with Meridian.”

Alexie explained that “an amazing, courageous student, Brady Kissel,” testified at the meeting and had a petition signed by 350 students asking that the book not be banned. Another young lady raised enough money to purchase enough money to buy 350 of the books, which they distributed at a city park in Boise.

“The craziest part of it is that as they were distributing the books one of the parents called the police and said kids were distributing pornography in the park,” Alexie explained. The police arrived, checked it out, and left. Sherman’s publisher heard of this and sent an additional 350 copies to be distributed free.

RELATED: Idaho Students Get 700 Free Copies of Challenged Sherman Alexie Book

This novel won the American Library Association’s 2009 Odyssey Award as the best new audio book for children and young adults.

The two young ladies were on hand at the event in Spokane. The author had them stand for well deserved applause.

Alexie himself was in town to support the Salish School of Spokane, a school dedicated to teaching Salish to youngsters. It’s the native language of local tribes but few elders remain who still speak fluent Salish. Money raised this night will go to support the school and Sherman donated his time to attract a large crowd.



Casino Battle: Why the Opposition to Spokane Tribe’s Anti-Poverty Plan?

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

The Bureau of Indian Affairs issued a final report in February endorsing a large, off-reservation casino and hotel development for the Spokane Tribe in eastern Washington, but observers of Indian gaming say this doesn’t quite mean the tribe can start up the earth-movers.

The project requires both federal and state approval, and only five tribes across the U.S.—including the neighboring Kalispel Tribe, which is opposing the Spokane on this project—have been granted such two-part permission for off-reservation gaming in the 25 years under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

In addition, the Spokane’s quest to build a casino close to the city of Spokane, which has nearly 500,000 people in its greater metro area, has encountered strong opposition from groups that say what’s good for the Spokane would be bad for them. This includes the Kalispel, whose Northern Quest Resort & Casino is less than four miles away on trust land, and local business groups that fear the new casino could destroy the regional economy if it endangers the area’s largest employer, Fairchild Air Force Base. The Spokane Tribe’s property is about two miles from the base, which has raised concerns about encroachment of flight paths, potentially making Fairchild vulnerable to a future round of base closures by the federal government.

The BIA, in its final environmental impact statement, gives lengthy rebuttals to the encroachment issue, noting that Fairchild officials—as well as the United States Air Force—participated in joint land-use planning efforts and concluded the Spokane’s casino and hotel development does not pose a significant safety threat to the base. In addition, Spokane Tribal Chairman Rudy Peone and others say Fairchild is short-listed as one of the bases that could house the new Boeing KC-46 military aerial refueling and strategic transport aircraft. Supporters of the Spokane’s casino see this as a vote of confidence against closure.

Opponents of the proposed casino in Spokane County government and regional business say the BIA has not fully addressed the encroachment concerns and plan to keep fighting, likely lobbying new Washington Governor Jay Inslee or the Department of Interior’s Secretary-nominee Sally Jewell, who is the chief executive officer of the Seattle-based outdoor gear retailer, REI. They say 5,000 jobs at Fairchild are too significant to the local economy to risk for a casino project. “Communication now is really critical for people who want to get their voice heard,” says Rich Hadley, president and CEO of the pro-business group, Greater Spokane, Inc., which opposes the Spokane’s

The project would include retail space.
The project would include retail space.

proposal. Hadley and Spokane County officials previously stated that the 30-day comment period on the Final environmental impact statement, which ended March 4, was too brief. After a request from Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, (R-Washington), writing on behalf of the county, the BIA has extended the comment period to May 1. The Spokane Tribe wrote the agency to say it did not oppose the extension.

Still, Hadley said opponents will likely focus their attention on Jewell (if appointed) and Inslee. So, “when you think about who do you communicate with, you are probably naming them,” Hadley adds.

Ben Stuckart, president of the Spokane City Council, counters, “I really think a lot of the opposition boils down to economic encroachment. I don’t think that’s ever a reason to oppose a project that will bring jobs and alleviate poverty.” The city council split four to three to oppose a new casino. Spokane’s mayor, David A. Condon, is also an opponent.

Examination of the proposal—for which gaming would grow to 2,500 electronic gaming machines, 50 table games and 10 poker rooms—now goes to the BIA’s Office of Indian Gaming and, ultimately, to the Assistant Secretary—Indian Affairs at the Department of Interior, before the feds release a Record of Decision, an open-ended review process which is expected to take months. The proposal is for more than just a casino. The Spokane Tribe Economic Project also includes a 300-room hotel, several restaurants ranging from fast food to fine dining, a standalone big-box retail site along with a shopping mall, a 10,000-square-foot tribal cultural center and a tribal police and fire station.

The big issue for the BIA will be weighing benefits to the Spokane against harm to the Kalispel, several observers of Indian gaming say. On the benefit side, the casino will rescue the tribe’s economy, says Peone, citing roughly 50 percent unemployment in recent years and reduced funding to tribal services as once-robust timber contracts have shriveled. So has income from two small casinos—among the first in Washington—in the decade since Northern Quest has opened on the outskirts of Spokane. The Spokane Tribe’s two casinos are each an hour’s drive or more from the city. “It’s a no-brainer,” Peone says of gamblers going to Northern Quest. “So we really had a lot of cuts.”

On the harm side, the Kalispel have risen from dire poverty thanks to Northern Quest, which has recently undergone a $210 million expansion. The tribe, which has closed its enrollment at roughly 425 members since the casino opened, has constructed a wellness center and helps members with housing, health care and education. It also is robustly funding language preservation and other initiatives.

The Spokane Tribe, “should be encouraged,” that the BIA endorsed the full Class III gaming-plus-hotel-plus-retail option in the final environmental impact statement, says Ron Allen, longtime chairman of Washington’s Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and chairman of the board of the Washington Indian Gaming Association. But, he adds, “When a tribe already has a casino and they want another location, a better location, the bureau takes that into serious consideration.” Also, Allen says, protection of a gaming tribe’s debt load is a significant and fairly new consideration for the BIA when weighing the risks of another tribe’s entry into the market.

The Kalispel Tribe, which did not agree to interviews for this story, has made protection of its revenue stream from Northern Quest a central argument against the Spokane Tribe’s proposal.

In a prepared statement, the Kalispel cite the conclusions of two third-party market-analysis firms: “[If] the Spokane Tribe is allowed to move forward with their proposal, it would devastate our tribe’s ability to provide services, such as health care and education, to our members, and we submitted comments to the BIA demonstrating that harm.”

Northern Quest is the Kalispel’s only method of funding tribal services, Chairman Glen Nenema has pointed out in letters to the BIA. He and others note the Kalispel reservation is small, remote and that much of it is a floodplain, severely restricting commercial opportunities.

Patrick D. Rushing is mayor of the city of Airway Heights, located between the Kalispel’s Northern Quest and the Spokane Tribe’s 145-acre site. He is enthusiastic about both projects. He says he’s optimistic about the chances of a new casino, citing a December 11 and 12 visit by Interior’s Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs, Kevin Washburn. “He went out and looked at the Kalispel Tribe’s reservation and all of the improvements that were made and went through Northern Quest and saw all this nice stuff. The next day, he went out to Two Rivers and Wellpinit [on the Spokane reservation] and on to the Chewelah casino and could see the vast difference,” Rushing recalls.

In its impact statement, the BIA devoted an appendix to addressing the Kalispel contentions that a new casino will reduce its revenues by as much as 50 percent and will not expand the market. A report by the New Orleans–based Innovation Group in the final Environmental impact statement disputes this, offering many examples around the country of a new casino entering a market and all casinos seeing increased revenue.

Peone vows that the Spokane will develop the site with or without gaming. “We recently had our 132nd year since we’ve been placed on the reservation. I view that as survival. We’ve been here for thousands and thousands of years and we will remain. We will survive.”



Spokane commissioners oppose tribal project

Originally published Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Associated Press

Spokane County commissioners, freed from an agreement that previously prevented them from commenting, have passed a resolution opposing the Spokane Tribe’s plan to build a big casino complex at Airway Heights, near Fairchild Air Force Base.

 SPOKANE, Wash. —

Spokane County commissioners, freed from an agreement that previously prevented them from commenting, have passed a resolution opposing the Spokane Tribe’s plan to build a big casino complex at Airway Heights, near Fairchild Air Force Base.

The commissioners on Tuesday afternoon voted unanimously to oppose the project in large part because they fear it could imperil the future of the base, which is Spokane County’s largest employer.

“We are literally being asked to gamble the 5,000 current jobs provided by Fairchild on a project that may provide significantly fewer than that,” Commissioner Todd Mielke said in a news release. “If we guess wrong, it will take decades for this community to recover.”

Air Force base officials have not taken a position on the casino, which would be about a mile from the base.

Leaders of the Spokane Tribe didn’t immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

The Spokane Tribe is seeking rare federal approval to build the casino in the city of Airway Heights, miles from the boundaries of its reservation. A decision is expected in the next 45 days.

The project is opposed by the Kalispel Tribe, which already has a large and successful casino in Airway Heights.

In 2010, the city of Airway Heights reached an agreement with Spokane County commissioners in which the commissioners would remain silent on the proposed casino in exchange for payments to the county of $120,000 a year from casino revenues to deal with impacts. But the two county commissioners who supported that deal have since left, and the new commissioners threatened to sue if the agreement was not torn up.

The city of Airway Heights released the county from the agreement last week, and county commissioners wasted little time in voicing their opposition. The commissioners’ position will be sent to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the state of Washington, which all must approve any proposal for off-reservation gambling by the Spokane Tribe.

Casino supporters say the project will provide revenues to lift many members of the Spokane Tribe out of poverty, and provide some 1,200 jobs in the region.

But opponents, including many Spokane area political and business leaders, worry the proposed casino is too close to the base and may prompt the Air Force to restrict operations or even close the base in the future because of encroachment issues.

Airway Heights continues to support the casino project.