October 3, 2011

Boxing Brings Big Bucks to Indian Casinos

Punch-Drunk, And Proud of It: Casinos count on boxing to bring in the  high rollers, and the ring action ropes them in

On fight night, there’s enough adrenaline and testosterone in the room to power a fleet of SUVs. This isn’t like the theater, in which patrons come to appreciate “the roar of the greasepaint” and make a polite contribution to “the smell of the crowd.” Boxing fans manufacture their own olfactory ambiance and set new decibel records each time a powerful punch finds its mark and the impact of the blow throws beads of sweat into ringside seats.

“Impose your will!” shouts one fight fan. “Jab all night!” advises another. By the number and vehemence of comments like these, it would appear that everyone observing the ringed combatants is an expert. “Keep your hands up!” “Get off the ropes!” “Hit him again, and he’ll be looking for the floor!”

If you pay big bucks to get a seat to watch two gloved gladiators duke it out, you should get to shout as often and as loud as you want. Boxing isn’t a business for the timid and that includes everyone from the fighters to their frenzied fans. “Every boxing fan should see a fight in person at least once,” says fight fan Gus Petropulos on his website, RingsideByGus.com. “Watching a fight on pay-per-view is second-rate to actually being there. From the crowds in the stands to the action of the fighters in the ring, there is nothing like it.”

Indian-owned casinos have long recognized that the magnetism of live boxing translates to dollars. Teddy Atlas, boxer-promoter and a voice of ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights, concurs. “Anywhere there’s a casino, boxing is a viable—and valuable—addition, [and] well-promoted professional fight cards are a knockout punch for all concerned.”

Google “boxing venues” and you’ll find more than 50 readily recognized sites from California to Connecticut—many casino-connected—names like the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe’s Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut; the Mohegan Tribe’s Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut; the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians’ property, the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highland, California; the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians’ Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, California; and the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Desert Diamond Casinos & Entertainment, based in the Arizona cities of Sahuarita and Tucson. Other tribal nations with a big commitment to boxing include Florida’s Seminoles and Southern California’s Sycuans.

Ropes and squared rings started showing up on Indian properties in 1992 when Connecticut’s Mashantucket Pequot Tribe added a boxing option to traditional bingo with a 10-round Top Rank bout televised on ESPN.

Just 15 years later, Foxwoods Resort Casino was celebrating its 100th fight card. Already running one of the largest resort casinos in the world, tribal decision-makers had a 4,000-seat arena constructed for concerts and premier sporting and special events at Foxwoods’s MGM Grand that can be reconfigured for boxing matches. The tribe’s commitment to the sweet science is further evidenced in its sponsorship of USA Boxing, its partnership in the Native American Sports Council, and its role as the host site for Olympic Team box-offs, which determine which fighters will qualify for the Olympic Games.

Mohegan Sun has three entertainment venues, one of which is a 10,000-seat arena that hosts major boxing events when not in use by the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. Fight cards have been promoted there since 1996. “Boxing continues to be a big draw,” says spokesman Justin Leslie. “We also promote Bellator mixed martial arts and North American Grappling Association Reality Fighting—and a lot of fans are devoted to this kind of action.”

In fact, mixed-martial arts (MMA) is packing the bigger punch at the box-office. “Martial-arts events have overtaken boxing as our number-one draw,” says Tom Cantone, Mohegan’s vice president of sports. “It’s a pop-culture world, a younger crowd, there are less rules and more-frequent fight cards, and MMA offers more action-packed excitement that the audience is looking for.”

The popularity of fisticuffs in Eastern casinos spurred a move westward, where the Fight Night banner went up in March 1999 at California’s Pechanga Resort & Casino, the largest casino in the state. Its inaugural WBC bantamweight title fight was so successful that more than 50 other cards have been held here. “We do regularly scheduled televised championship boxing,” says Robert Bledsoe, spokesman for the Temecula facility. “While we offer a variety of types of entertainment—everything from concerts to ballroom dancing—boxing is one of our most popular attractions. We schedule a fight night every few months.”

Arizona’s Tohono O’odham Nation Desert Diamond Casino jumped into the ring with its first fight card at the end of 2002, very quickly adding nationally televised fights promoted by boxing champions Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya. “We’re in the business of entertainment, and this is top-flight entertainment,” says Treena Parvello, who works in the tribe’s Gaming Enterprise unit. She says the casino is now scheduling Rage in the Cage Ultimate Fighting events.
“Ring action drops more money than any other sport or concert,” says John Montaño of the Arizona State Boxing Commission. “Gamblers show up at a casino to watch fights and stop to gamble both before and after the bout.” At one Desert Diamond weigh-in event, Bernard “the Executioner” Hopkins, who has held five titles, said: “Casino gambling may be the main meal on the table—the steady gravy—but boxing adds a level of sweetness to that meal.”

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians in Cabazon, California owns one of the state’s largest casinos and have offered boxing events since 2005. They have been joined in that strategy by their neighbors, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, who have also hosted several King of the Cage fights involving up-and-coming MMA fighters and former UFC champions. These matches, which started in southern California a decade or so ago, feature a wide range of combat fighting techniques—everything from jiujitsu, wrestling, judo, karate, kickboxing, Muay Thai and Tae Kwon Do. Each MMA fighter often pits various martial-arts styles against their opponent.

The most exotic form of pugilism on display at a casino is also one of the oldest, and most controversial. Bare-knuckle boxing, last sanctioned in the U.S. in 1889—when the fighters squared off for 75 rounds—over two hours—returned recently to Arizona’s Yavapai Nation Fort McDowell Casino, overseen not by the state boxing commission, but by the tribe itself. The 37-year-old scrapper who won that bout told the website BadLeftHook.com in 2001: “It ain’t back-alley or barroom brawling.”

The national Association of Boxing Commissions felt differently, calling it “abhorrent, barbaric, egregious, in contravention of a multitude of boxing laws and regulations and, perhaps, criminal…violating just about every rule in the book.”
But no matter the final form for future fisticuffs, rest assured that Indian casinos have reached out to fight fans and found them receptive. As long as ring attractions continue to bring in the crowds, pugilists will still lace ’em up and let ’em fly.

Read more @ Indian Country Today Media Network.comSupreme Court May Have a Different Opinion About Cobell - Indian Country Today Media Network.com.

March 24, 2012

Reading History in Regalia: Three Stories of History and Culture Through Pow Wows

Filed under: Navajo Nation,News Alerts,Pow Wows — Tags: , , , , , , — Donna Laurent Caruso @ 2:50 pm

You can see many different types of regalia when you go to New England pow wows. Indian Country Today Media Network recently interviewed three distinctive dancers, each with their own rich cultural history, to learn the background of their regalia: why, where and how did they acquire their patterns, colors and materials?

The Moccasin Flower and the Pine Tree

Jill with her baby Reading History in Regalia: Three Stories of History and Culture Through Pow Wows

Jill with her baby

Jill Cresey-Gross’s Abenaki ancestors lived in the present day states of Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and north central Massachusetts. Today, there is a resurgence of Abenaki culture and pride throughout New England.

“We were never a traditional pow wow people,” Jill told ICTMN, “and my parents were not involved in pow wows, but I got interested in the late 1980s.”

Some of that period clothing is seen in the pow wow regalia worn today by Jill and others in New England circles, including “trade cloth,” a woolen-like cloth cut in traditional rectangles for wrap skirts, side-tab leggings, hoods and pouches that are then decorated with “trade silver” and “trade beads.”

“I beaded a big spray of pine and a pine cone on the wrap skirt” (the pine tree being of highest importance to her people). “Further, although my beadwork is not exactly like what would be worn in the eighteenth century, I appliqued the Wabanaki double curve design, and in a much larger scale than what my ancestors would have done. I also use sparkling, contemporary beads rather than (simulated) trade beads.”

Jill, noting that her mother loved the moccasin flower (also called the pink lady slipper, an orchid unique to the northeast woodlands) appliqued the orchid to her accessories.

On the other hand, Jill enjoys competition pow wows but those have specific dress guidelines and tribal requirements to place and to earn winnings. Therefore, when she competes, she will often fancy dance. “I bought my first fancy dance shawl second-hand and then beaded all the accessories” to make it her own.

First Light, Water, and Cranberry

Actor, model, teacher and dancer Annawon Weedon also lives in Massachusetts, but south of Jill on Cape Cod, a place with an entirely different landscape and story.

When ICTMN caught up to him, he had just returned from Newcomb, New Mexico where he had been asked to dance for the Cheschilly family of the Dine/Navajo Nation. “Anyone, from kids on up, understand when they look at my regalia and watch me dance that I come from a land of fresh water ponds and rivers as well as land alongside the ocean.” (Annawon’s breechclout features a beaded canoe, and he will often wear a wampum sash; he also dances a canoe dance). “And this is what the Cheschilly family wanted me to bring to them. Four hundred square miles of their reservation had recently burned by wildfires.”

Annawon Weedon Reading History in Regalia: Three Stories of History and Culture Through Pow Wows

Annawon Weedon

Unlike Jill’s family, Annawon’s family has been dancing for generations. “I come from three tribes,” he explained, “Pequot and Narraganset from my Dad and Mashpee Wampanoag from my mother. In our culture, we follow the mother so I am considered Wampanoag.

“Rather than ribbons and fabric I prefer to use the old materials such as porcupine quill, shell, natural dyes, and hand woven fabrics. I watched my dad break the pattern of emulating western styles, a pow wow style that spoke of Native pride but didn’t show who we are as individual tribes.”

Annawon’s father’s generation may have at one time worn plains-style headdresses, and even today the Eastern War Dance and Massachusetts native dress style may not be an acceptable part of competition pow wows.  “I want to carry his intentions forward, no matter what, even though we are sometimes publicly ridiculed and asked to leave certain (western) pow wows.”

A 2010 Sacred Paddle canoe trip taken by Annawon and many others commemorated the particular “trail of tears” of Massachusetts’ natives by following the same course taken in the fall of 1675 by over 500 native people, most from the first reservations on this continent, who were removed from their homes, shackled, and ordered at gunpoint to Deer Island, a barren island in Boston Harbor. The people were left without food or shelter and were shot if they even built a fire. Over half died of exposure and starvation. Today, after a long struggle to preserve the death site, which now hosts an enormous waste water treatment facility, Massachusetts’ natives hold an annual ceremony.

One fact many were not aware of that happened during the 2010 Sacred Paddle continues to haunt the dancer: “The Coast Guard pointed machine guns at us and turned us further out into the harbor where we might all have died. They said we were too close to the airport runways in our dugout canoes.”  This occurred after the participants had done a Sacred Run of twelve miles from Natick, the former sight of the Indian Praying Town, to Watertown, paddled miles up the Charles River in traditional mishoons and a war canoe, and passed through the locks to Boston Harbor.

Some insults only enforce staying true to one’s commitments. A canoe figures prominently into Annawon’s design.

“The double curve design I put on either end of the canoe is attributed to the fiddlehead fern, a fern unique to my homeland. The triangles depict the ocean but also fresh water ponds. The wool’s cranberry color also tells our story since cranberries are unique to our homeland.  Actually, the cranberry could be considered the entire story. The yellow trim represents that we are People of the First Light, we are first on the continent to greet the sun. Yet, my regalia looks similar to the way we dressed in the seventeenth century.”

Migration and living culture

Lorena Novak Reading History in Regalia: Three Stories of History and Culture Through Pow Wows

Lorena Novak

A bittersweet story is behind the reason that Lorena Novak’s kuspik (the traditional dress of her Inupiaq/Alaska family) was fifteen years in the making. “When I went back to Alaska where I was born and where my mother was born and lived, I took note of the clothing that people like my aunties wore every day.”  

Lorena’s parents had met when her father was stationed at Elmondorf Air Force Base in Anchorage and her mother worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Their cultural differences were highlighted when the family moved to her father’s native Massachusetts for work. “One primary difference,” Lorena said, “was that my mother was used to having a huge extended family around, even in the city.” Lorena’s mother returned to Alaska after the divorce and then, sadly, passed away when the children were still young.

So, Lorena was in her twenties before she re-connected to her Inupiaq family. There was a grand homecoming. “A party of fifty people showed up at the airport when my sister and I first visited,” Lorena said.

Today, Lorena takes an annual migration of her own to Alaska from Massachusetts with her husband and daughter to stay connected to her mother’s people.

“I just didn’t want to go to Massachusetts pow wows in deer skin or ribbon dresses, even though people advised me to do that.” To learn about her ancestral clothing, as well as to dance in it in her home state, Lorena said, “There was a lot of my going to Alaska and observing and asking.”

Eventually, she made her own clothing. “My sister and I found a pattern for the traditional kuspuq and made it ourselves. The cotton and trim for it can fortunately be found around here. Then, little by little I added my own things, such as the fur rough and whale bone accessories. I did have to buy my mukluks, which are the bottoms of the traditional footwear, and kamik, which is the top of the mukluk and is of moose or caribou. My kuspik has a hood. There are different stories about that — it is a big hood to protect from mosquitoes while picking berries and it keeps the bugs off the neck and ears.”

Those who attend New England pow wows and notice Lorena can learn more about Alaskan culture. “I love that I can support contemporary Alaska Native artists,” Lorena says after explaining that the purchased accessories she wears include a story teller’s bracelet of ivory and baleen, a bone necklace, and a walrus vertebrae pendant.

The flexibility and freedom of the New England pow wow is an opportunity for these dancers to teach tribal history and identity — as well as to display their personal passions. Their stories are woven through their regalia.

Read more @ Indian Country Today Media Network.comMore Than Frybread Mockumentary Going Rez to Rez - ICTMN.com.

October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Passes, Tribes Begin Assessing Damage

As the Eastern Seaboard sorted out the devastation from the worst storm in U.S.–recorded history, tribes affected by the winds, tidal surge and rain of Hurricane Sandy assessed damage and called for assistance.

Parts of New York City and environs were devastated by the storm, which left millions without power and killed nearly 50 people, the Associated Press reported. A fire in Breezy Point, Queens, destroyed 80 houses, and the southern half of Manhattan Island, where the Lenape once lived, was without electricity. The transit system was shut down indefinitely, and both the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Con Edison, the main utility company, called it an unprecedented disaster.

Reports were trickling in from the Shinnecock Indian Nation, Mohegan Tribe of Indians and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, all members of the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET), and the Lenape tribes of Delaware and New Jersey were also still checking in with one another late Tuesday.

“Widespread power outage, downed utility lines, and mobile phone towers out are making communications difficult for some tribes,” USET said in a press release on Tuesday October 30.

On Sunday the Shinnecock Indian Nation, Mohegan Tribe of Indians and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation had declared states of emergency. The Shinnecock Indian Nation was completely evacuated after losses of power, Internet and cable even before the storm hit on Sunday.

“Shinnecock, out on Long Island in New York is reporting all power is down, damage to several homes, and homes that are still standing have flooding,” USET said after the storm. “Shinnecock is also requesting a large number of generators, fuel and food.”

Several Indian Health Service clinics were closed, USET said, though inland clinics from Seneca up to Micmac were open.

More updates were coming following an afternoon conference call with the Tribal Assistance Coordination Group (TAC-G), a group of U.S. Government agencies that cooperate on emergency management for the 560 federally recognized tribes as well as American Indian, Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiians, and Native Pacific and Atlantic Islanders, USET said.

The Shinnecock reservation is on the water in Southampton, Long Island, less than a mile from the beach. The tribes of Delaware and New Jersey may have fared a bit better because they front the bay, not the ocean directly, said Pastor John Norwood, a tribal council member of the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape.

“When we heard it was coming, our tribal council began immediately canceling our weekly events,” he told Indian Country Today Media Network. Aside from some basement flooding, he added,“we haven’t had any damage to our facilities.”

The three communities around Delaware Bay comprise the Nanticoke-Lenape, a confederation between the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation in New Jersey, the Central Delaware Lenape Indian Tribe and the Nanticoke Indian Tribe, the latter two in Delaware. About 4,000 enrolled members stood to be affected, Norwood said, 2,000 in New Jersey and 1,500 in the two Delaware communities.

“The community in New Jersey is on the bay closer to the mouth of the Delaware River, kind of away from the New Jersey Atlantic Ocean coastline but is on the Delaware Bay,” he said. “We’re all pretty close to a coastline but it’s the bay. So we’re not right on the ocean itself.”

For the most part, the news seemed good for the Lenape tribes, Norwood said.

“Facilities closest to the bay for our tribe seem to have weathered the storm,” he said. “We haven’t gotten any information about major damage. Our community center seems to have weathered the storm.”

Some people had evacuated, moving to higher ground with neighbors or family, though Norwood didn’t have firm numbers because many of them were without power.

“I did receive word back from the two communities in Delaware,” Norwood said on Sunday evening by e-mail. “Both indicated that there was minor flooding, downed trees, and some scattered power outages. Apparently, our position in regard to the Atlantic spared us from the worst of it.”

More on Hurricane Sandy:

Hurricane Sandy Headed Straight for Northeast, Under a Full Moon

Hurricane Sandy: Tribes Pull Together as Monster Storm Takes Aim

Elections 2012: Climate Change Largely Missing From Election … Until Sandy?

Read more @ Indian Country Today Media Network.comHurricane Sandy Mostly Spares Tribes - ICTMN.com.

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