What Oregon-based business has generated thousands of living-wage jobs and poured millions of dollars into local economies and the state general fund? This is a business that has done so, mind you, while directly funding hundreds of charitable and nonprofit organizations during the past decade.

That's exactly what Indian gaming has done. Regardless of location, the eight Native American casinos in Oregon have generated countless direct benefits for the entire state. But they've also had a tremendous impact on our own tribes, as we've moved scores of people off welfare and other government programs through economic development fueled by Indian gaming.

We've built community centers, health centers, child care centers and schools and funded numerous other programs for the benefit of Oregon's Native American population, while also providing services for everyone living in the communities surrounding our reservations.

The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde created the Spirit Mountain Community Fund in 1997 as a way to practice our age-old tribal tradition of giving back. Each year, the fund distributes 6 percent of the profits from Spirit Mountain Casino to nonprofit projects and organizations in 11 neighboring Oregon counties, including Multnomah. Next month we will reach $20 million in funds distributed.

Since its inception, the community fund has helped support organizations working to improve education, health, public safety, historic and environmental preservation, and arts and culture. The grants have been large and small, but all have one focus: helping others help themselves.

Education is a key value of the community fund because it is an essential tool for turning lives around. The fund has helped to bring the highly acclaimed SMART reading program to 27 elementary schools, for example, and has given thousands of children the chance to visit the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the Oregon Zoo and the Oregon Coast Aquarium by underwriting the cost of class field trips.

The community fund has stepped in to bring music and the arts back to schools by funding concerts and school performances. And because learning never stops, the community fund has helped support college and university programs and local libraries.

The community fund is dedicated to finding creative ways to make other cultures more accessible and understandable. Recent grants have helped the Classical Chinese Garden Trust build an urban garden in Portland and supported Salem Art Association's ceramics workshops for at-risk youths and the Homowa program.

We're also working to build more understanding of Oregon's Native cultures by helping the Portland Art Museum, the Multnomah County Central Library and the Oregon History Center expand their Native American collections and exhibits. By creating more awareness of our shared history, we give something back to our communities and build the bonds that tie all Oregonians closer together.

The community fund also has made a difference in the lives of Western Oregon's most needy families. The fund has supported a diverse range of helping agencies Ñ from regional services such as Life Flight and the Easter Seal Society to the Raphael House shelter for abused women and children in Portland. We support food banks, programs for farmworker housing, legal education programs and HIV awareness programs for at-risk youth.

Whether groups are providing clothing for children, transportation for elderly shut-ins or food baskets for the hungry, these agencies know they have a trusted partner in the community fund.

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde have made a personal commitment to dealing with problem gambling, rather than just making a contribution and walking away. We have partnered with both treatment organizations and the gaming industry to develop and implement effective, activist approaches. To date we have committed over $300,000 to such efforts, including the underwriting of several gambling prevalence studies and a gambling resources coordinator at Metro Crisis Line in Portland.

In short, we believe Indian gaming is a tremendous community partner and one that should be welcomed with open arms, regardless of location.

Cheryle A. Kennedy is chairwoman of the Grand Ronde Tribal Council; she holds a master's degree in business administration from Marylhurst University. She lives in Dallas.

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