California AIM, CNIGA leaders offer divergent views of Indian gaming impact

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A California American Indian Movement leader blasted
Indian gaming, labeling it a "destructive force" and claiming that it has
led to cultural imperilment for American Indians.

Marty Firerider, a former lobbyist for Vietnam veterans and now one of the
leaders of the 300-member San Diego chapter of AIM, contended that tribal
gaming is causing tribes to move away from cultural values and is tearing
at the cultural fabric of Indian country.

Firerider claimed that gaming is causing tribes to turn against each other
and criticized southern California tribes for opposing the casino by the
Lytton Band of Pomo Indians near San Francisco, even though they are
hundreds of miles away and presumably not affected by the effort. His
biggest issue, however, was with what he saw as increasing disenrollments
which he blamed on tribal gaming and its primary negative effect.

"Gaming has brought in the dominant culture's disease of greed," said
Firerider.

Firerider blamed the fiscal potential brought in by gaming for the recent
increase in tribal disenrollments over the past year. Though he lists
several tribes where disenrollments have caused problems, he singled out
the Santa Rosa Rancheria as being, in his opinion, one of the worst
examples of Indian gaming gone awry.

At Santa Rosa Rancheria, 35 members - almost exclusively members of the
Tortez family - have been disenrolled. Their ousting has led to AIM
protests as well as the formation of a separate tribal council. Firerider
reported that threats have been escalating at Santa Rosa; several members
of AIM, who Firerider called "security warriors," are currently staying at
Santa Rosa to provide "protection" from the council that precipitated the
disenrollments.

Though not all situations are as contentious as Santa Rosa, Firerider
claimed 1,500 people in all have been disenrolled from tribes in the past
few years.

Fairly recent disenrollments have been widespread, affecting a wide area of
California with several tribes. Several tribes, including the Redding,
Enterprise and Moretown rancherias, have had disenrollment controversies
recently.

However, Firerider insisted that he is not just a knee-jerk opponent to
Indian gaming, which he called a "double edged blade." He singled out
several tribes that he thought have done a good job with their gaming
money, among them Viejas and Barona.

"There are several tribes where you don't have this kind of problem," said
Firerider. "There are many [gaming] tribes that have done very well by
their people and have chosen to take the high road."

The voices of disenrolled tribal members are getting louder. In addition to
the demonstration at Santa Rosa last year, more than 100 protested at the
state Capitol. Disenrolled Pechanga tribal members have even created their
own Web site. A large-scale disenrollment protest, involving tribal members
from seven states, will occur later in May in the southern California town
of Temecula.

What concerned Firerider is the possibility that the steadily increasing
clamor over disenrollments might finally force the BIA to intervene, a
solution he said "no one wants."

Thus far, the BIA has been reluctant, except in a few cases, to get
involved in disenrollment cases and has tended to regard them as internal
tribal matters. At a meeting last year, one former tribal chairman, whose
gaming tribe incidentally was once involved in a disenrollment dispute,
nevertheless defended the practice and said because of tribal sovereignty,
"You can't tell us who can be in our tribe, just like we can't tell you."

Firerider conceded that there may be cases where disenrollments are
legitimate; however, he alleged that by and large most of the cases arise
out of greed. He reasoned that when there are fewer tribal members, the
remaining ones get a larger piece of per capita payments.

Anthony Miranda, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming
Association, a lobbying group in Sacramento, disagreed with Firerider's
claim that disenrollments are caused by Indian gaming. He said
disenrollments have been occurring for several years, even before the
Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) was signed in 1988.

Though Miranda, who is Pechanga, to a point agreed with Firerider that
Indian gaming is a double-edged sword, he disagreed that gaming has played
a negative effect on the culture in general.

"There is much more pride now [in being Indian] than there ever was when I
was young," said Miranda. "When I was young, I wasn't proud."

Miranda contended that IGRA was "not a social program" but rather a tool
with which tribal governments could start enterprises to essentially get on
better economic footing. He pointed to the Revenue Sharing Fund, in which
California gaming tribes share their money with tribes who have only small
gaming operations or none at all, as a positive result of Indian gaming.