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Casino Revenue Causes Tribal Squabbles Over Membership

Because of the sovereign nation status of tribes, there is virtually no oversight nor legal recourse regarding tribal council actions.

Play Now at English Harbour! Now that Indian casinos dot the U.S. countryside from Atlantic to Pacific, one would assume that the economic and social plight of Native Americans would be assuaged by the wealth pouring into the tribes' coffers. While the massive revenues have definitiely helped, they have also caused greed and selfishness to divide tribal members amongst themselves.

In California, where some of the nation's richest tribes run hugely profitable casinos, some 5000 Indians have been disenrolled; that is, effectively removed from status as a tribal member. Many of the changes have alledgedly been made to keep monies in smaller circles, and to disown activists who wish a more public accounting of the dispersal of funds.

Because of the sovereign nation status of tribes, there is virtually no oversight nor legal recourse regarding tribal council actions. Those disenrolled have no appeal except to those who made the decision. No explanation of how revenue is allocated is required.

Some of the disenrollments resist all logic. The members of the Foreman family, 76 in number, were disenrolled from the Redding Rancheria because the council decided the family was not descended from a tribal founder as had been believed. The Foremans used DNA testing with the founder's remains to prove its relationship... and the council stood by its decision.

Loretta Kelsey was thrown out of the Elem Pomo tribe last year, despite being the last speaker of the tribe's 8000-year-old language, known as the language keeper, and also the daughter of the tribe's former leader.

Mary Martinez is a 77-year-old woman who was vice-chairman of the Picayune Chukchansi tribe two years ago; now, thanks to the council, she is not a tribal member. She remembers thinking of all the good that could be done with casino money: schools, hospitals, businesses owned and staffed by tribal members. Much of that has failed to materialize, even as the money continues to roll in.

Legally the situation is a conundrum. The U.S. government is hog-tied by its own laws regarding Indian affairs; and tribal laws require no transparency or explanations of public policies. Still, as disparity grows among Indians, those left in poverty will find anger building against the few who exploit them; and even the U.S. government may find a way to make a stand against oppression, laws be damned. If Iraq, why not here?

Published on April 20, 2008 by MattMiller

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Recent Comments

Posted by: White CloudWhen: 04/21/2008 12:16:32 PM EST
Don't blame the Indians. The BIA set these tribes up. They are not based on Tribal discendancy they are based on lineal discendancy of historic people. That is why there are so many California Indians ?25USC657? and so few enrolled tribal members in California. If the BIA set these tribes up based on tribe not person then the BIA would have a lot more people to be responsiable for.
Posted by: PopupWhen: 04/21/2008 01:55:29 PM EST
I blame the Indians to some degree. And Im an Indian from a blood quantum tribe. The BIA may have set up the rules, but the tribes run amok behind their own closed doors. If they did things without greed in their heart (money is a white concept) then it would work, but their own self interest cripples and hurts others all in the name of sovereignty. Take a look at the second largest tribe in the country. Their administration pillages innocents of rights/services/monies that belong to them. And their government does it while crying sovereignty. It's sickening. Tribal means for the benefit of all, not a chosen few. That's not the Indian way and I think all real Indians know that. I'd rather be from a tribe where blood matters. If it doesn't then when do you stop being Indian and start being just a descendant of an Indian? BIG difference.
Posted by: RUTH ANN ROWANWhen: 04/23/2008 10:06:44 AM EST
As of JUne 2000-myself, my siblings and several others were disenrolled from our tribe.
The informative announcement gave the following reasons for the meeting.
1. a "special meeting" was requested by the general council.
Posted by: RUTH ANN ROWANWhen: 04/23/2008 10:26:02 AM EST
2. Tentative agenda-limited to:
"List of tribal members as of 1998 thur 1999".
Why did these memberships need to be reviewed?
In the meeting the "future disenrollees" asked as to why our memberships were in question. The only coherent answer we received was "you don't belong here". Why? The same answer was given loudly and repeatedly.
It was also strongly suggested we (who were still members) leave the building so the REST of the general council could decide our future as members.
The outcome of this meeting came with an official letter with an official reason for our disenrollment:
"as of 6-14-00 special meeting, taking off by the general council".
The answer to WHO is at fault.