Tribe gives $7.3 million to charities

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SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – An American Indian chairman spoke of the supremacy of benevolence as his tribe handed out more than $7 million to 25 nonprofit organizations, marking not only what is likely an unprecedented donated sum for southern California gaming tribes, but also a fierce dedication to philanthropy even as American Indian casinos ride out a decline in revenue due to the economy.

In his presentation, San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians Chairman James Ramos stressed the call for communal unison during hard times. He demonstrated it by the breadth of activities his tribe’s donation will facilitate in California’s San Bernardino and Riverside counties including housing and therapy for homeless women and children, transportation for seniors, crime prevention and recreation for disenfranchised neighborhoods, research for juvenile diabetes, meals for the hungry, career planning for teenagers and relief for communities afflicted with disaster.

Beyond the San Manuel community, donations will provide scholarships to Native students and erect buildings at two American Indian centers at out-of-state universities.

“Yes, we have been impacted by (the recession). But does that mean you withdraw. I think it goes back to the heart and soul of the tribe’s people themselves of what they can do,” Ramos said before addressing nearly 300 at the tribe’s Forging Hope Luncheon Jan. 6 where recipients received checks.

Ramos called the gathering a “community of organizations working for one common cause to promote humanity.”

San Manuel has been a lifesaver in California’s Inland Empire and beyond, having donated more than $20 million to nonprofits since 2001 toward causes locally and across the globe. The donations have reached South Dakota reservations and as far as Darfur.

“Their commitment and passion to this community is immeasurable,” said Yvette Ramos, director of the American Red Cross Inland Empire Chapter, which received $500,000.

In darker days, the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians tribal government survived on less than $300 annually and had to rely on nonprofit organizations to build its tribal hall. Ramos said it was that experience that tribal members reflect on when considering donations in today’s economic atmosphere where nonprofits are struggling.

“Those organizations came and helped us. We remember that,” he said.

Among the recipients receiving the highest donations were St. Bernadine’s Medical Center, which Ramos said provides healthcare for many of the region’s uninsured. The hospital’s foundation received $1 million.

Northern Arizona University was given $2 million. “We are grateful to the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians for its generous support that will allow us to move forward toward our plans for a Native American cultural center to encourage new ideas and enhance the academic, social and cultural center for all of our students,” NAU President John D. Haeger said in a press release.

Northwest Indian College in the state of Washington was given $2.5 million, the highest single donation. The money will provide scholarships, buildings and an investment fund, college officials said.