Shrinking tribes are a growing issue

Who determines who is an Indian? The tribe’s themselves–with no recourse for those who are told they don’t belong. “They holler ‘sovereignty’ and you can’t sue,” said Mary Chapman, who was removed from the Chukchansi Indians of the Picayune Rancheria last October.

“The courts just kick it out.” Advocates for the disenrolled are trying to change this. With race tracks and card clubs putting four referenda on the ballot next year to allow voters to recall the gaming compacts recently approved by the Legislature, the disenrolled may get their chance to take their case to voters.

“I keep hearing people say ‘This isn’t what I voted for,'” said another disenrolled Chukchansi, Bryan Galt, of people he talked to who voted for Proposition 5 and 1A, the 1998 and 2000 initiatives that created tribal gaming in California. “I think it’s going to play a huge roll in the upcoming ballot initiatives,” said John Gomez, a disenrolled Pechanga who has become one of the most prominent leaders of the disenrolled. He said voters could see a lot of disenrolled Indians telling their stories in television and radio commercials next year. Last month, a Fresno-area Democratic politician was able to push a resolution through the Native American Caucus of the California Democratic Party calling for reform of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Steve Haze–who is part Cherokee but not enrolled in the tribe–was an unsuccessful Democratic nominee in the 21st Congressional district last year. He said he got interested in the issue because his area boasts several tribes, three major gaming operations and is “ground zero” for disenrollment. He first brought up the idea at the party’s state convention in San Diego in April. Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich was there and spoke passionately in favor of the idea, Haze said.

“The reaction was overwhelming displeasure,” Haze said. “There was no applause.” On July 13, the day after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed four amended gaming compact for California’s largest tribes, Haze brought his resolution to the state parties executive board meeting in Sacramento. He said Chukchansi tribal chairman Dustin Graham and council member Morris Reid spoke against the idea “They didn’t know that half the audience had been disenrolled,” Haze said.

The measure passed 24-13. It states that disenrollment and other abuses by Indians against Indians “are contrary to the longstanding values, principles and ideals of the Democratic Party” and calls on the state to move toward a gaming model that benefits all California Indians.

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