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Land trust issues can prove divisive for Native people

Some 200 years ago the Serrano people lived in small villages in the San
Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains and surrounding valleys and deserts.
Known as the Yuhaviatam, or "People of the Pines," our ancestral lands
extended from the Mojave Desert near Apple Valley to Barstow and east to
Twenty-Nine Palms and the Yucaipa Valley.

The Serrano were never warlike. We were friendly, residing in small
villages of 25 to 100 people. Perhaps our hospitable ways made it easier
for the Spanish, who in 1796 invaded our villages and forced the Serrano
people into a life of hard labor and servitude at several of the missions
established throughout Southern California.

Those were horrible times. We lost many lives. We lost much of our
ancestral land. Today we have but 820 acres in the foothills of the San
Bernardino Mountains near the city of Highland. But we didn't lose our
identity. We never forgot who we are. We never forgot where we came from.

Two tribal nations - the Timbisha Shoshone Indians of Death Valley and the
Los Coyotes Band of North San Diego County - are attempting to acquire land
in Hisperia and Barstow for the purpose of establishing casinos. The land
is more than 100 miles from the Timbisha reservation. It is some 160 miles
from the Los Coyotes reservation.

The site of the casinos is on the ancestral land of the Yuhaviatam. It is
the land of my ancestors, my people. In fact, one of the proposed casino
sites is perhaps 16 miles from where a Serrano village once stood.

The San Manuel Band is a gaming tribe. As is the case with many tribal
nations which have developed governmental gaming, we have prospered. And we
do not wish to prevent other tribes from achieving the benefits of casino
gaming.

Tribal government gaming has proven to be a useful tool for tribes to
become more self-sufficient. It has enabled tribes to strengthen their
governments, fulfill their obligations to their tribal members and exercise
their rights as sovereign nations. It has provided tribes with the
resources to reacquire lands that were taken from them generations ago.

But it is wrong for a tribe to encroach on the ancestral lands of another
Indian nation. Not for gambling or any other reason. That cannot be allowed
to happen.

Sovereignty is a tool, not a toy. Sovereign tribal nations must practice
their sovereignty responsibly. They must acknowledge and respect the
ancestral lands of other Native nations.

And they must be cautious that rash and thoughtless attempts to acquire
off-reservation land for casinos not create a political, legal and public
back-lash against tribal government gaming that may prove devastating to
all Indian country.

A DANGEROUS TREND

It is referred to as "reservation shopping," a process by which landless
tribes and those wrongfully deprived of federal recognition seek to acquire
land in trust status to establish government gaming. Too often clever and
occasionally unscrupulous casino developers enter into partnership with
economically depressed Native people in an effort to abuse the intent of
the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and other laws dealing with trust lands.

Some recognized tribes are seeking land far off their reservations to
establish gaming, encroaching on the ancestral lands of other tribes and
generating the attention of Congress, the public and the press. Indeed,
additional scrutiny from Congress, federal bureaucrats and public
policymakers has made it much more difficult for tribes to acquire land in
trust for legitimate purposes such as schools, homes and desperately needed
economic development.

Reservation shopping is a growing trend. We see it here in California,
Kansas, New York and other states. Alaska Native Corporations are seeking
congressional approval to place in trust lands for gaming purposes in the
lower 48 states.

It has been said that San Manuel is attempting to block attempts to
establish casinos in Hisperia and Barstow for fear they would create
competition for our tribal casino. Some contend we are greedy and fearful
of competition.

That is, of course, ridiculous. Our casino does not draw from the Barstow
and Hisperia region. Competition is not the issue.

The concern of my people, the Serrano Band of San Manuel Mission Indians,
is the protection of our homeland and our identity as a people, the "People
of the Pines."

That is more valuable to us than all the casino money in the world.

Deron Marquez is chairman of the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission
Indians.