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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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The Power Of Information
by Gordon Johnson - Contributing Columnist, The (Riverside, CA) Press Enterprise

Victor Rocha began a website as the Pechanga tribe began its quest for gambling.

He's a Pechanga guy who grew up in Colton, the son of a graveyard-shift truck driver, a nothing-special teen who preferred playing guitar to playing sports.

But he has made good.

Fifteen years ago, as Pechanga battled state law enforcement and other casino owners to establish its gambling operation, Victor Rocha hoped to help his tribe by learning all he could about it.

Operating on the "know your enemies" principle, he started reading hundreds of online stories about Indian gambling to get a feel for what Pechanga might be up against.

Why not collect what he was learning into one website so others could benefit from his discoveries?

So, a Native American gambling website that is about more than gambling, was born. Starting from nothing – no sponsors, no followers, no money – the site attracts more than 250,000 users a year, racking up more than 600,000 user sessions and more than 2 million page views.

Victor Rocha is founder, owner and editor. His primary target audience is native. Before the Internet, Native Americans, especially those on reservations, lived in isolation.

"Each reservation was an island," he says.

But if he could gather information in one place, stories about tribes from all over the country and how they were coping with their problems, "tribes could see that they weren't alone. They could see how other tribes were dealing with issues," he says. "I try to bring a memory to the issues, so people aren't repeating mistakes."

Rocha takes his responsibility seriously.

His day starts about about 7 a.m., and he doesn't sleep until 2 or 3 in the morning, with a short nap in the middle. During the day, he culls through a 100 publications a day, and another 50 at night, plucking stories he deems important to his readers and posting them.

"If I sleep too long, I feel like I'm missing something," he says. "I want when everyone wakes up to find that the latest information is there."

Because each day he sees so many stories, both national and international, he has a bird's-eye view of issues. I asked for his opinion of the three biggest problems Native Americans are facing.

After some thought, he said addiction loomed as the No. 1 problem. He's constantly seeing the damage from drugs and alcohol on people, the way it rips the fabric of families and tribes.

Another problem is people losing contact with their culture – the ties to the land, the environment and family.

"Too many are just drifting like George Clooney in 'Gravity,'" he says. "And this just isn't Indian people. This is everyone. It's so important that people get a handle on self-identity."

Finally, he thinks education is critical. Gambling has been a way for Indians to pursue education.

"Gaming is a means to an end, and that end is cultural preservation," he says.

In addition to his website, and with similar aims, Rocha has been organizing conferences, national and international. He has one coming up in London to discuss doing business with tribes, and another in Sacramento with legislators to discuss the intricacies of taxation and online gaming.

When not elbow-deep in gaming issues, he likes to play lead guitar for InKompliant, a reservation band that also includes Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro.

"We get together to make some noise, and it's a time of music and friendship," he says.


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