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Paiute adoption could split community

Gaming in the Kern Valley a possibility

KERNVILLE, Calif. - Most of the Paiute and Tubatulabal of the Kern Valley
share the same history, the same traditions and the same relatives.

Treaties their ancestors signed in 1852 were never ratified by Congress.
They endured hostilities brought on by gold seekers during the 1857 Kern
Valley gold rush. Thirty-five of their ancestors were massacred on April
19, 1863 by U.S. Army troops who feared an uprising. Their population
further declined during a 1902 measles epidemic and a 1918 flu epidemic.

Still, the Kern Valley Indians persevered. They formed the nonprofit Kern
Valley Indian Community in 1983 to work toward federal recognition. In the
mid-1980s, they testified before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Indian
Affairs on the condition of recognized and non-recognized tribes.

They opened the Nuui Cunni Cultural Center in April 2002 ("Nuui Cunni" is
Paiute for "our house") and later opened a Pakanapul language school. They
also participated in the grand opening ceremony for the National Museum of
the American Indian in September 2004.

Last year, the Kern Valley Indian Community began courting investors who
could help finance the effort to obtain recognition and the economic boon
and social services recognition would bring.

The husband of Patricia Henry's great-great grandmother was killed in the
1863 massacre. Henry is Paiute and a member of the Kern Valley Indian
Council.

"We've always been family," she said. "We thought everything was going
good."

But that unity is in danger.

Twenty-two Tubatulabal families with ties to the Bishop Paiute Tribe are
considering an offer of adoption, which means about 60 people would leave
the Kern Valley Indian Community. It also means a casino could be built on
land those families own. And it means those families and the Kern Valley
Indian Community could become gaming competitors.

The families are descendants of the Miranda, Nieto and White Blanket
families who chose to live on allotted land in 1893, 30 years after the
massacre. Other Kern Valley Indians moved from the area or settled
elsewhere in the valley.

Miranda, Nieto and White Blanket allotments each consist of 160 acres. Most
residents live in trailers and mobile homes.

Today, the Paiutes and Tubatulabal hope they can keep their relationships
from unraveling.

"It's heartbreaking we can't work for the same cause," said Henry, whose
niece married into the White Blanket family.

Donna Begay - whose grandfather, Steban Miranda, was the last chief of the
Tubatulabal - is a Miranda allotment heir. She's also a member of the Kern
Valley Indian Council.

A tribal consultant, Begay continues to help the Kern Valley Indian
Community in its recognition efforts: she accompanied the council to the
Western Indian Gaming Conference in Palm Springs, Calif., on Jan. 20 to
meet with Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. regarding sponsorship. (The way the
deal would work, Harrah's would fund the recognition effort - Henry
estimates it could cost $1 million - in exchange for rights to build and
manage the casino).

However, Begay said conditions are desperate at Miranda, Nieto and White
Blanket.

"We're in a no man's zone," Begay said. "U.S. Indian Health Services
excluded Kern County from health funding. I applied for a grant so we could
start waste management services here and I was told 'no' because we're not
a recognized tribe. We're in a real bind."

Begay said adoption into the Bishop Paiute Tribe "will give us immediate
expanded services." Adoption would provide revenue for education, college
scholarships, housing and tribal transportation services, Begay said.

Begay is brutally honest about why Miranda, Nieto and White Blanket were
picked for adoption: the allotment land. Bishop Paiute is the
second-largest tribe in California but has the smallest land base. It
operates the Paiute Palace Casino in Bishop but wants to expand, which it
could do in Kern Valley, a two-hour drive away.

"They wouldn't be interested if we didn't have land," said Begay, who has
cousins at Bishop Paiute.

Begay said Bishop Paiute was "most impressed" by the Miranda Rancheria, but
it is surrounded by Audubon Society land. If adoption goes through, Bishop
Paiute would probably want to develop on White Blanket. Development could
include a casino and golf course. Development would take 22 acres, Begay
said.

Kern Valley lies between two sections of Sequoia National Forest at an
elevation of about 2,600 feet. It is within the southern Sierra Nevada
mountain range.

It is home to the Kern River, Weldon Peak (6,360 feet) and Lake Isabella,
created in 1953 when the river was dammed for a water source and electrical
power.

'HOPING TO DO IT TOGETHER'

The Kern Valley Indian Community has a paid genealogist compiling family
records needed for recognition. There have been 1,200 applications for
enrollment; 700 have been approved.

Arlene Bonner, a Kern Valley Paiute and Henry's cousin, said some of those
applications are from allotment heirs who will have to drop out of the Kern
Valley Indian Community if they choose to join Bishop Paiute.

"We've lived together all these years," Bonner said, sadly. "We also are
related to those people (at Bishop Paiute)."

Begay said she wants to work for unity in the Kern Valley and will continue
to support the Kern Valley Indian Community's efforts to obtain
recognition.

Bonner also prays for unity. "I hope for recognition. I hope we can all do
it together."

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash.
Contact him at irishmex2000@yahoo.com.

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