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State Capitol Rally Protests Disenrollments

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Several hundred disenrolled members of various
California tribes staged a lengthy and loud protest on the steps of the
state capitol asking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state legislature
to immediately halt signing new compacts with the state's tribes as a first
step toward creating an inter-tribal appeals process for disenrollees.

At least nine tribes were represented at the July 14 demonstration and are
perhaps a testament to a growing controversy in which increasing numbers of
the state's tribes are finding themselves left without tribal membership.

The tribes at the protest represented a fairly balanced geographical cross
section of the state and have formed an organization called California
Indians for Justice. Organizers said this demonstration represents the
first step that the group plans to take and claim that they will
demonstrate at various tribal casinos as well as the U.S. Congress in
Washington, D.C.

Though questions of Indian policy and issues are usually handled by the
federal government, organizer Laura Wass, who works with the Fresno chapter
of the American Indian Movement, felt it was important to start in
California.

Wass maintained that pressuring the governor and legislature to stop the
compacting process could be used by the state to pressure tribes to set up
an inter-tribal appeals court to deal with the matter of disenrollment.
Wass said the next step would be to pressure the U.S. congress to launch an
inquiry to on the matter of "tribal identity and tribal membership."

Though the actual chances that any of this would come to fruition is cloudy
at best, Gov. Schwarzenegger was at least taking note of the demonstration
as a member of his press office was process could be used by the state to
pressure tribes to set up an inter-tribal appeals court to deal with the
matter of disenrollment. Wass said the next step would be to pressure the
U.S. congress to launch an inquiry to on the matter of "tribal identity and
tribal membership."

Though the actual chances that any of this would come to fruition is cloudy
at best, Gov. Schwarzenegger was at least taking note of the demonstration
as a member of his press office was present at the rally, though he
declined comment on the matter.

Wass claimed that the majority of the disenrollments were the result of the
per-capita system in which gaming tribes carve up a proportion of their
profits to pay to tribal members from their gaming establishments. The
problem, as Wass and the other demonstrators see it, is that fewer tribal
members mean a bigger piece of the monetary pie for the remaining members.

"It's greed, plain and simple," said Wass.

Several of the tribes represented have gaming establishments or currently
have plans on the drawing board.

One of the largest factions at the demonstration were members of the
Foreman family formerly of the Redding Rancheria at the north end of the
Central Valley. Their story had generated quite a bit of press over the
last few years as 76 tribal members were disenrolled, predominantly members
of the Foreman family.

About 40 members of the Foreman family stood on stage together while family
patriarch and former Redding Rancheria Chairman Bob Foreman addressed the
crowd. Foreman recounted the various ways that family members had fought to
stay in the tribe including bringing in a DNA expert that proved within a 1
percent margin that the members of the Foreman family to be descendants of
one of the 16 original members of the Redding Rancheria.

For their part, the tribe has claimed that they did not have a tribal
representative at the exhumations of the ancestral graves used in the DNA
search and therefore question the authenticity of the DNA tests.

It is cases like these, Wass and several of the demonstrators said, that
prove the need for an inter-tribal court so that these decision can be
appealed.

Jacob Coin, executive director of the California Indian Nations Gaming
Association (CNIGA) countered that gaming is helping tribes to set up court
systems and he said it is precisely the revenue from gaming that would
allow a more vigorous tribal court system in California to exist.

"Without revenue, you can't have a court system," reasoned Coin.

Coin was himself once the subject of a disenrollment dispute with his own
Hopi tribe. He recounted how he used the tribal courts in his dispute and
eventually won his case.

"It put my faith in a system that I believed in and it worked for me," Coin
said.

It should be noted that Coin comes from a large southwestern tribe with
thousands members that only a very few of California's even approach in
size. Most California tribes typically consist of a few hundred people or
fewer with typically a few extended families constituting the majority of
the population. This is one of the reasons that California Indians for
Justice has asked for an intertribal court, where authority would supercede
that of the individual tribes, to be set up for such appeals.

Oftentimes in these cases there are old family disagreements and animosity
that leads one faction to want to disenroll another. It is because of this
that some claim that money is at least not the sole object of these
disenrollments.

"It's not greed, its old family spite," said one member of a Southern
California tribe currently involved in an expulsion dispute who asked not
to be named.

Part of the problem also stems from a time in California when tribes sought
to enlarge their rolls to be more politically potent. Most tribes involved
in the disenrollment dispute have claimed that they are just adjusting
their rolls because of these additions.

It is difficult to dismiss financial gain entirely from the equation.
Gaming has now become a multi-billion dollar business in California and
fewer tribal members mean bigger per capita checks for the remaining
members.

Beyond the issue of tribal courts and possible motives is the basic issue
of sovereign citizenship. Since Indian tribal governments are regarded as
sovereign or semi-sovereign entities, it is almost wholly unprecedented in
modern times that large numbers of the rank and file of any sovereign body
can be stripped of basic citizenship.

Essentially disenrollment equals a form of exile and, in at least the last
century, sovereign governments have limited exile to government officials
and monarchs and not a large segment of their own body of citizens.

Coin counters that tribal governments are unique entities and said that
comparisons to other sovereign governments, such as states, are not
applicable because tribes hold a unique sovereign status that is not
comparable to other sovereign governments.

However, it is interesting to note that many tribes have been, at best,
selective in their use of this argument. During the capitol demonstration
Bob Foreman claimed that Redding Rancheria Chairwoman Tracy Edwards had
likened her tribe to a state when speaking of the disenrollments. Edwards
was unavailable for comment to verify that she made this remark.

In general, tribal leaders have time and time again likened their status to
that of a state. For example, former National Congress of the American
Indian president Sue Masten likened tribes to states in a January 2002
Indian Country Today article to justify why tribes should not be required
by law to pay into a revenue sharing agreement. It should be noted that
Masten's Yurok tribe, in which she has also served as chairwoman, has not
been a part of the disenrollment controversy.

In addition to the Redding Rancheria, California Indians for Justice
consists of disenrolled members from the Pechanga Band of Lusiseno Indians,
the Laytonville Rancheria, Enterprise Rancheria, the Western Shoshone,
Scott Valley Rancheria, the Guideville Rancheria and the Santa Rosa
Rancheria.