Under the Dome

Duke study shows effect of casino money on Cherokee families

Professor E. Jane Costello of the Duke University Center for Child and Family Policy testified on Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to tell senators about a long-term study following members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina.

She said researchers have studied the same group of 1,400 people in western North Carolina including 350 members of the Cherokee band. The study looked at the long-term effects of money from a casino on the tribe’s land on the Qualla Boundary. Members have received about $4,000 per person per year. Costello said that when these funds lifted people above the poverty line, it made a lot of difference in the lives of children.

“The focus of the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was on emotional and behavioral problems, and also on physical health and obesity, as well as school performance, crime and education. We found that when Indian families lived above the poverty line, their children had relatively few problems and the added income made no difference. If families were so poor that even the income supplement did not raise them above the federal poverty line, their children had a lot of problems, which continued even when the families received additional income.

“However, for families that hovered near poverty, the cash supplement that lifted them above the federal poverty line had a powerful effect in both the short and longer terms. Four years before the supplement, children in these families had high levels of anxiety, depression and conduct problems; four years after the supplement began, levels were no higher than those of children who were never poor,” Costello said in her prepared testimony.

Her testimony was part of a hearing titled “Early Childhood Development and Education in Indian Country: Building a Foundation for Academic Success.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the chairman of the committee, said he hoped that the Duke study was getting attention.

“It appears to me to be good research and it shouldn’t end up in a file,” he said.