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    (This article is from year 2000)

    Outcasts of the Reservations / Tribal councils hold power to decide who shares in casino wealth - SFGate

    Outcasts of the Reservations / Tribal councils hold power to decide who shares in casino wealth

    Kevin Fagan, Chronicle Staff Writer

    Published 4:00 am, Monday, April 10, 2000

    Larry Lewis would love to move out of his trailer, a metal hovel with no electricity and plastic scraps warding rain off the roof holes, and go home to the mountain where his father was once chief of his tribe.

    His cousin, Joe Casillas, would like to leave his cramped apartment -- and better medical care for his cancer-riddled wife would not hurt, either.
    About 200 of their financially floundering relatives want the same sorts of things, things that money could buy.

    And they actually have an entire tribe full of family members who could provide them: the people of the Table Mountain Rancheria, all millionaires many times over, thanks to the opulent casino that sits just a few miles down the road from Larry Lewis' ramshackle trailer.

    But there won't be any checks coming any day soon from Table Mountain. Or ever, if the current tribal leadership has anything to do with it.

    That is because the Table Mountain Tribe's 110 members, as the sole citizens of their sovereign Indian nation, have a written constitution that says only they are the rightful heirs to their tribal legacy. And those 200 outcast cousins, uncles and aunts and so forth, like Larry Lewis and Joe Casillas, are not.

    So the lucky few live high off casino cash while their Mono-Chuckchansi bloodline relatives, many of whom grew up with their now-rich cousins, struggle either on the edge of poverty or sunk deep into its seamy belly. And the outcasts have almost no legal recourse.

    The wealthy Table Mountain members see no irony or injustice in this. It's simple, said tribal attorney Majel Russell.

    "Tribes as sovereign governments have the right to decide who is enrolled or not," she said, and the 200 disenfranchised Indians just don't meet the criteria.

    The same reasoning applies in leadership council rooms of California's other 41 casino-operating tribes, many of which face similar have- and have-not blood-relative situations.

    Only about 40,000 of the state's 300,000 American Indians -- 13 percent -- are guaranteed to see even a dime of the billions set to flood in under the gambling explosion promised by last month's Proposition 1A, because that is the total number of Indians enrolled in federally recognized tribes. Only those who were part of the tribes when they were granted federal status -- regardless of whether they currently live on a reservation -- are in on the gambling money.

    The other 260,000 Indians, who either moved off universally impoverished reservations decades ago or whose forebears did, are out of luck.

    "My grandfather's house sat on that same spot the casino is right now," said Casillas, 39, who earns so little at his job at a mobile home supply store that he still needs welfare to pay rent. "Now, they won't even let me onto the reservation for a visit, let alone move back."

    Casillas and his six brothers and sisters were carted off the reservation as children in 1968 and put into foster homes when Fresno County authorities determined their 93-year-old grandfather was too old to care for them. His parents were in jail at the time. Casillas subsequently bounced in and out of trouble for many years before he cleaned himself up, got a job and settled down.

    Today, Casillas jams into a tiny Fresno apartment with his wife, Pauline, and their three young daughters. Pauline Casillas' basics-only chemotherapy for colon cancer is paid by Medi-Cal, which also picks up the cost of her 12-mile bus rides to the clinic. But the money for the rides will end soon, and Casillas said she cannot pay the fare without it.

    "We need help," Joe Casillas said, voice squelched to a whisper by frustration. "If not for us, then at least for the heritage of our children."

    Odds are he will hit a jackpot at the Table Mountain Casino first.

  • #2
    Outcasts of the Reservations / Tribal councils hold power to decide who shares in casino wealth - SFGate

    Tribes have no more obligation to uplift other Indians in the state than California does to uplift every other state in the union, tribal officials say, and their words are backed up in law all the way to the nation's capital. Since each tribe, big or small, is its own country with its own government and ruling council, if someone on the outside looking in doesn't like it -- too bad.

    "Sovereignty is sovereignty, and these issues of who is enrolled and who isn't can only be dealt with by the tribes themselves," said Rex Hackler, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. "They make their own rules, and it's really not anyone else's problem to deal with. We don't even keep current track of who is in enrollment fights with their tribes, but let me tell you, I don't think it's a big problem."

    What may surprise many who voted for Proposition 1A, the initiative that soon will bring an explosion in Nevada-style gaming on Indian land, is just how many Native Americans are on that cold, penniless outside.

    Only 18,000 belong to the 41 federally recognized tribes that run casinos, according to the California Research Bureau. Under the proposition, they have to share some of their profits with the 66 nongaming tribes, which will each get $1.1 million annually, but even that covers only an additional 22,000 people.

    That means the fortunate 40,000 share all the profits from a gaming industry that now generates $1.4 billion a year, a figure expected to boom to $4.4 billion by 2004 as Nevada-style slot machines crop up like mushrooms throughout tribal casinos.

    That is not exactly the image folks had in mind when they watched the pre-election TV ads of Mark Macarro, the ponytailed chairman of Southern California's Pechanga Tribe of Luisenos. Standing before a crowd of fellow Indians, he pleaded for the passage of Proposition 1A, proclaiming that "Indian gaming has transformed the lives of California Indians" into a miracle of "hope" and "self-reliance."

    "This whole thing, all this trouble with who's in and who's out, is as simple as it can be," said Laura Wass, who, as director of the Central California chapter of the American Indian Movement, has been fighting to get the Table Mountain outcasts readmitted. "This is about Indian Country, and if a tribe is a sovereign nation, a nation should take care of its people. All of its people."

    But that "self-reliance" can be selective. Even Macarro's own cousin, who left the then-impoverished Pechanga Reservation in Riverside County decades ago with her family, cannot get back now that the tribe is flush with casino dollars.

    Barred by the tribe from reclaiming her membership or even visiting her own grandfather's grave on the reservation, Arlene Macarro Lloyd says her relatives are just being selfish. They regard her as a gold-digger who got out while the going was bad and now wants in only because the going is good.
    Similar barbs are slung at the 200 Table Mountain outcasts.

    Back in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, when times were unbearably hard on the sunbaked, impoverished, then-160-acre rancheria just north of Fresno, the outcast 200 or their parents left -- many selling their land -- to find their meager fortunes elsewhere. That generally meant picking fruit or turning cans in a factory, but it was better than starving on stale government cheese and flour in hand-built shacks on the rancheria.

    As luck would have it, though, the few who stayed finally got the tribe reinstated into full federal status in 1981 started a casino in 1988 -- the year a federal law made it legal around the nation -- and hit the chips big time.

    They tore down most of the bad houses, hauled off the junk and bought enough land to swell the rancheria to 650 acres -- including the 1,500-foot rock- and oak-studded mountain overlooking their casino.


    • #3
      Outcasts of the Reservations / Tribal councils hold power to decide who shares in casino wealth - SFGate

      Now that it is a nice place, Johnny-come-latelies can just stay away, the tribal winners say. It is a defiance repeated all over the state, where casino tribes say they are so swamped with applications that their suspicions are on full alert.

      "They could have come back a long time ago to the same situation they were leaving already, and they didn't," said Ray Barnes, one of Table Mountain's five council leaders and a stalwart who stuck it out on the land for decades while eking out a living driving logging trucks. "And now that times are good, they want back?"

      His jaw tightened. "It's greed, that's what it's all about, really. It's just not admitted by them," he said. "Well, it's too late."

      Lewis, Casillas and the others -- who call themselves the Original Descendants of Table Mountain Rancheria -- say it is just the opposite. They say they never knew they were off the tribal rolls until rumors filtered out to them in the 1980s and 1990s, and by then, it was too late.

      "It's them who are greedy, and how they can look at me, their blood relative who grew up alongside them and has the same aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, is just beyond me," said Casillas.
      Standing in their tribal graveyard, an overgrown pasture just outside the rancheria gates and so neglected that most of the names are worn off the headstones, Casillas, Lewis and Lewis' 35-year-old daughter, Kathy, gazed up at the mountain of their homeland. As they stared at the mansions rising behind a tall fence that encloses the entire reservation, they shook with rage.

      "I can't even get them to come down here and tell me which relative is buried where, because none of them will talk to me," Casillas fumed. Just then, one after the other, two rifle shots rang out in the still evening air from the direction of the rancheria. The three braced their shoulders and stared at each other.

      "They're firing warning shots at us again," Casillas said. "They do it every time we come down here. You're supposed to get permission to visit the graveyard, but, of course, we can't get that because they won't even talk to us."

      Tribal officials scoffed at the notion that anyone would shoot at the outcasts. They said that, in fact, they held an open enrollment period in 1981 when every one of the wandering sons and daughters of Table Mountain would have been welcomed back with open arms. The disenfranchised 200 angrily say they never heard of such an enrollment period and that whenever they get the stray chance to actually talk to the council with the aid of a lawyer or an Indian affairs activist, they are met with stony silence.
      "We send applications, we leave messages, we never hear back," said Lewis, 57, who left the rancheria four decades ago to find work but soon suffered brain damage in a car wreck. He has been living on disability ever since.

      His father, Larry Lewis Sr., was tribal chairman for 20 years in the 1950s and 1960s, "but that doesn't mean anything to those people on the mountain today," he said back at the cramped trailer he shares with his wife, Wilma. "If they could see how we live, maybe they'd think differently. But probably not.
      "They drive right past me when my car breaks down on the side of the road, which is a lot, because it's a crummy old car."

      There is no electric power at the old logging trailer Lewis has parked in the woods, and the only heat comes from the propane stove cranked up high. He spends most of his nights house-sitting for other people, "so Wilma and I won't drive each other batty in this little place."

      Barnes and his tribal chairwoman, Leeann Walker-Grant, say that they feel badly for Lewis but that he's not their problem. There is a lot of bad luck in this world, they say -- they can't fix it all.
      The tit-for-tat goes on and on.

      Just as it does at Mark Macarro's wealthy Pechanga reservation, where Arlene Macarro Lloyd said she was thrown off the land by burly tribal guards the last time she tried to visit the graveyard two years ago.


      • #4
        Outcasts of the Reservations / Tribal councils hold power to decide who shares in casino wealth - SFGate

        "The Greeks have nothing on this family as far as betrayal," said Lloyd, 55, who scrapes by in Hawaii on a monthly disability check. "It's dirty, dirty, dirty business. My cousin has the balls to go on TV and talk about sovereignty and uplift of poor Indian tribes, and then look what he does to me."

        Mark Macarro did not return several phone calls for response, but he has said in the past that since casino cash began gushing in the 1990s, the tribe has been inundated with membership applications. His cousin, he said in published reports as recently as February, will have to wait until the tribe starts taking applications again.

        The Mooretown Rancheria near Oroville takes the enrollment quandary one seemingly bizarre step farther.

        Two years ago, the seven-person Mooretown Tribal Council sent a letter to 43 of its 1,050 members, including the former tribal chairwoman, notifying them they were bumped from first-class lineal status to second-class adoptee status.

        Among other things, this stripped them of the $1,500 per-member monthly checks generated by the new Feather Falls casino the tribe had just opened.

        The distinction is one common to many, but not all, tribes: Lineal members are those whose bloodlines date directly to the original people on the roll when the tribe is federally recognized, and adoptees are anyone else taken in. Usually this means people adopted from other bands -- but in Mooretown's case, in 1998, it meant people who were close relations of those on the official roll.
        The demoted 43 say they are being punished for picking the wrong side in a political spat over the way the casino was run. The tribal council says it was merely correcting a records error.

        There was only one course of appeal: To the very council that kicked the dozens downstairs in the rolls.

        "My great-great-grandfather co- founded the Mooretown Rancheria in 1894, I was the tribal chairwoman in 1997, and then they tell me my bloodline isn't right to be a full tribal member anymore?" huffed Beverly Miller, 54, the leader of the 43 adoptees. "We're all family in this tribe, and this is like they're saying I'm not Indian. But I know who I am, even if they pretend they don't."
        She is taking it all too personally, responded tribal Chairwoman Shirley Prusia.

        Miller and her demoted fellows are indeed relatives, Prusia said, but they base their claim to top tribal status on a 1915 list of the original founders. Mooretown, like Table Mountain and many other California tribes, was officially terminated in the 1950s in a failed federal effort to assimilate Indian people into the general population -- and when it re-formed in 1987, it based its membership on the people who were actually on the rancheria at the moment. That turned out to only be the descendants of four of the many who were on the 1915 list.

        So anyone who signed back up with the tribe after that, as Miller did in 1989, is out of luck.
        In fact, Prusia said, the tribe did them all a great favor by taking them on as adoptees.

        "We started in 1987 with about 250 original members, and since then, we've taken on 800 adoptees so they could get health benefits, housing and all the other things we enjoy as members of the Mooretown Tribe," Prusia said. "The only thing they don't share is the casino monthly check, but that's our right under our constitution as a sovereign nation."

        She compared her tribe to British royalty to illustrate her point.

        "It's just like Queen Elizabeth's family," Prusia said. "Her son can be king, but her sister can't, now, can she? Our situation is the same. Beverly and the others are all from the side of our lineage, and there's nothing to be done about it."

        Actually, there is: The council could vote to change the constitution. Or it could be forced to change it if a clear mistake in the drafting of the document can be proved to the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs -- and that is what Miller's group may try to prove in federal court sometime this year.

        "We want them to admit that the BIA advised the tribe improperly when it reorganized itself and didn't base the rolls on the 1915 list," said Dennis Chappabitty, a Sacramento attorney working on the case. "This is not so much an issue of material wealth for my clients -- it's an issue of heritage."

        Oddly enough, Miller and Prusia continue to be cordial to each other. It's the "Indian Way," they said.
        "She's a manager at our casino, one of our best employees, and she is well-respected," Prusia said.

        "I don't like to make waves. We're all the same blood," said Miller.

        Like other tribal squabbles, it's mostly just a family thing, they both insisted separately, with identical sighs.

        "Look, this isn't easy," Prusia said earnestly. "I have people call me every day, saying, 'Where's my check?' I say, 'Who are you?' and they say, 'I hear you're giving money away to Indians, and I'm an Indian.' And they're serious.

        "We have to be careful, don't you see?"


        • #5
          Amazing stories!!


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