Written by Elizabeth Larson
Friday, 06 February 2009
SACRAMENTO – Braving a February rainstorm, Indian activists from
around California gathered on the steps of the State Capitol Building
on Thursday to seek the help of legislators, the state's citizens and
each other in fighting what they believe is an attack on Indian
communities that's coming from the inside.
The "Tribal corruption is not traditional" event, sponsored by United
Native Americans Inc. and the American Indian Rights and Resources
Organization (AIRRO), featured numerous speakers who addressed a
large crowd for more than an hour and a half, beginning at noon.
Common themes emerged during the day – tribal governments violating
civil rights, including attacking free speech; the rising tide of
disenrollments that is taking place around California and the nation;
and a call to state legislators and Congress to find a remedy.
Quanah Brightman of United Native Americans Inc. faulted tribal
leaders for abandoning their responsibilities to communities, and
only taking care of themselves.
"We should not tolerate this in our communities," he said. "We should
not tolerate this at all."
Nice resident Wanda Quitiquit, an AIRRO member who along with three
dozen family members received a disenrollment resolution from
Robinson Rancheria in November, warned that the practice of kicking
members out of tribes could eventually lead to extinction of native tribes.
"Today we are raising our voices as a wake up call," said Quitiquit.
The disenrollments of more than 50 members of Robinson Rancheria are
leading to other problems, including a young woman being beaten and
several evictions of disenrolled families, Quitiquit said.
John Gomez Jr., who in 2004 was disenrolled by the Pechanga Band of
Luiseno Indians, said the tribal leaders responsible for pushing
members out have forgotten what it's like to be Indian, because
they're not helping each other.
He estimated 2,500 California Indians have been disenrolled and
hundreds more denied benefits.
Gomez said there's hope. "There are a lot of people in Indian Country
who are standing up to this oppression."
But if the oppression and disenrollment continues, Gomez said it will
consume Indian Country.
California is ground zero for the problem, said Gomez.
While tribal leaders have all of the resources at their disposal,
including millions of dollars, Gomez said the opposition has people.
It's the responsibility of Indians to come together to fight the
destructive forces in their communities, he said.
"This is not the Indian way," said Gomez. "It's a desecration to our
heritage, it's a desecration to our culture."
Norman "Wounded Knee" DeOcampo, a Miwok from Vallejo, recalled his
support of Proposition 5 in 1998, the ballot measure that legalized
gambling in California.
DeOcampo said the hope that he originally had for tribal gaming
hasn't transformed into a reality of care and benefit for all Indian people.
But he recounted that his mother used to tell him, "You only lose
when you give up."
So, despite being disenrolled from his tribe, DeOcampo said he's
continuing to fight for reform in Indian Country on behalf of his
ancestors and the generations to come.
Lois Lockhart, disenrolled from the Pinoleville tribe in Mendocino
County, cited tribal law in addressing the actions of tribal
governments that choose to remove members from their rolls.
"It is against the law to take away our civil rights," said Lockhart,
a former tribal administrator at Sherwood Valley Rancheria, where she
was able to reclaim membership after losing her status at Pinoleville.
She said the Pomo people have a saying – do good, and good comes back
to you. In the same way, bad actions end in a bad response.
Lockhart was in grade school when her tribe was terminated, or
dissolved. In the 1970s, her tribe would be restored, and then she
later faced Pinoleville's disenrollment action.
She urged people to learn more about tribal law to arm themselves in
Lockhart said there is so much that native elders sacrificed for
their descendants to be here today.
In contrast, she said, "This new breed of Indians – I don't know who
they are or where they came from."
Clayton Duncan, a member of Robinson Rancheria in Nice, accused the
Bureau of Indian Affairs of backing corrupt tribal leadership around
"BIA, you're in charge," he said. "You need to step up to the plate
and listen to the majority of people."
Carla Foreman-Maslin, president of AIRRO, was disenrolled along with
more than 70 members of her family from the Redding Rancheria, where
her late father, Bob Foreman, had been the first tribal chair.
For Foreman-Maslin, the fact that her father didn't see justice
before his death is a source of great sorrow.
"This is a shameful time for us," she said.
But as long as Indians are alive and breathing, they can fight
disenrollments, she said.
She read a message from friends in the Oneida Nation of New York,
where tribal members also have seen forms of oppression, including 14
families having their homes bulldozed.
EJ Crandell – who was elected Robinson Rancheria's chair last June,
after which the election was decertified following a complaint lodged
by sitting Tribal Chair Tracey Avila – said some tribal leaders just
want to keep the status quo.
At the same time, other tribal members are afraid to speak up, for
fear they'll be pushed out of the tribe, he said.
Crandell urged everyone to keep fighting the fight.
Mark Anquoe, a Kiowa who originally came from Oklahoma and now lives
in San Francisco, works with the American Indian Movement (AIM).
"That enrollment roll is not what makes you Indian," said Anquoe.
After the United States is long gone, Indians will remain, Anqoue said.
"We're all gonna get through it," he said. "We're gonna stick
together because that's what real Indians do."
Brightman, who celebrated the birth of his new baby daughter the
night before, said after the rally that taking the concerns to the
state Legislature is the first step in presenting the issues to
higher levels of the US government, including Congress.
E-mail Elizabeth Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org