The following guest editorial appeared in the Utica Observer-Dispatch on Sunday, June 17, 2018:
Earlier this month, the New York Senate and Assembly passed a resolution and proclamation commemorating the 25th anniversary of the gaming compact between the state and the Oneida Indian Nation, and the five-year anniversary of the historic settlement between the state, Oneida and Madison County and the Oneida Indian Nation.
In an era whose headlines are so often dominated by conflict, these agreements show that constructive compromise is still possible – and that we can make great progress when we set aside age-old grievances in the name of future prosperity.
A quarter century ago, there was no blueprint for Indian gaming or the resurrection of a people that had been all but forgotten. There was only an empty cornfield – but there was one intangible: a belief that with hard work, careful planning and a commitment to local investment, we could build an engine of job creation and economic growth.
That vision has now become a reality. The Oneida Indian Nation’s enterprises are the region’s largest employer, and support thousands of jobs both at our facilities and through our vendors located throughout the region. These enterprises additionally generate tens of millions of dollars of revenues for public priorities such as education, job training and infrastructure.
This did not happen overnight. Through hard negotiations and collaboration with regional stakeholders, we slowly but surely built a business model that relies not on siphoning profits to far-flung shareholders, but instead reinvests resources right here in Central New York – our sacred and eternal homeland.
After the original gaming compact with the state in 1993, in 2013 we cemented a permanent agreement with the New York state, Oneida County and Madison County that ended every legal dispute, and forged a revenue partnership that has generated more than $60 million in new revenue for Oneida County alone, and millions of dollars more for Madison County.
The Partners in Prosperity program in Oneida County exemplifies the progress we’ve made. Forged in conjunction with Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, the initiative was an outgrowth of the 2013 agreement, and it creates a dedicated funding stream for education in Central New York. At a time when we too often see businesses over promising and under delivering, this partnership has done the opposite – our revenue projections have been accurate and have therefore delivered a stable stream of resources for public priorities.
This success story is a reflection of the amazing people who make Central New York so special. While discord plagues governments elsewhere, our region is blessed with public servants and civic leaders who have been committed to the hard work of economic development. We are also blessed with a workforce that has turned the region into a world-class tourist destination.
Now, as we look ahead to another 25 years of partnership, we must always keep in mind the lessons we have learned together in our shared journey
One lesson is that when people are willing to finally settle longstanding disputes, they can forge partnerships that benefit everyone.
Another lesson is that when we avoid acting impulsively, and we instead make careful decisions that prioritize values and vision, we have the best likelihood for long-term success.
And perhaps the most important lesson is that when we believe in – and invest in – our own people in our own region, we can create sustainable enterprises that support a region we all love.
One of the Oneida Indian Nation’s core principles is that everything we do today should be focused on supporting not only our community, but our descendants seven generations into the future. If we keep the lessons of the last 25 years in mind, there is no limit to what Central New York can accomplish in the next quarter century – and there is no doubt that we will be fulfilling our responsibility to the seventh generation.
Ray Halbritter is Oneida Nation Representative and Nation Enterprises CEO.