Saturday, 25 May 2024

Tribal corruption, disenrollments the focus of Thursday event in state capitol

LAKE COUNTY – Indian activists from around Lake County and the state will converge in Sacramento on Thursday to shine a spotlight on critical issues facing Indian Country – from disenrollments to corruption on the part of tribal leaders.

The gathering, titled "Tribal corruption is not traditional," will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 5, on the north side of the State Capitol Building, 10th and Street and the Capitol Mall in downtown Sacramento.

United Native Americans Inc. and the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization (AIRRO) are sponsoring the event, whose guest speakers will include Lehman Brightman, founder of United Native Americans Inc.; Wanda Quitiquit, who the Robinson Rancheria Citizens Business Council has targeted for disenrollment, along with her family; John Gomez, president of AIRRO who was himself disenrolled from the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians in 2004; Cesar Caballero of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok; Clayton Duncan of the Lucy Moore Foundation and a Robinson Rancheria member; Norman "Wounded Knee" DeOcampo, a disenrolled Miwok from Vallejo; and Ukiah resident Loise Lockhart, another victim of disenrollment.

"Nobody quite understands what's going on in Indian Country," said Quanah Brightman, vice president of United Native Americans Inc., based on the Bay Area.

Brightman, who is Lakota Sioux and Creek, said it's important to get beyond some current myths about Indians to get to the core of the very complex issues facing Indian nations around the country.

For one, he said, it's believed that because of casinos and an exemption from income tax that Indians are rich. “It's the furthest thing from the truth,” he said.

To emphasize that point, Brightman said the gathering is scheduled for Feb. 5, the one-year anniversary of California voters approving gaming compacts between the state and the Pechanga, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Brightman said one of the event's goals is to give Indian leaders the chance to meet with state legislators and to educate them and the general public about the issue of disenrollment – the increasing practice of tribes kicking out members.

He called disenrollment "the new form of termination" for Indians. "We're becoming extinct," he said.

Disenrollment is having far-reaching, divisive consequences for Robinson Rancheria.

In December, Robinson Rancheria's tribal council disenrolled about 50 of its members. Those who were disenrolled included the Quitiquit family, who supported EJ Crandell for the tribal chair seat in a general election last summer. The sitting tribal chair, Tracey Avila, disputed the election, which was decertified.

Avila said the disenrollments were necessary to clean up the tribal rolls and address the membership of those whose place in the tribe had been questioned.

Last month Avila was reelected without any opposition after Crandell was disqualified from running by the tribe's election committee, largely composed of Avila's family members.

Also in January, the disenrollees formed a rival tribal council, with Crandell at its head. That group is applying to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for recognition.

Because of the Robinson Rancheria tribal constitution, the issue of tribal membership ultimately is up to the BIA, which must now also decide whether or not to grant the disenrollees' appeals and reinstate them in the tribe, which Avila has contended in a previous interview is not up to the agency.

The bureau has weighed in on disenrollments in the tribe previously, such as it did 20 year ago, when Wanda Quitiquit had faced a disenrollment, which the agency found was not warranted based on a study of her genealogy.

Troy Burdick, superintendent of the BIA's Central California Agency, received the appeals from the disenrolled Robinson members and said he forwarded his suggestion to the next level in the agency around mid-January; BIA now has 45 days to make a final decision. He would not disclose what his proposed decision to the higher levels of BIA was.

Dale Risling, BIA's deputy regional director, confirmed his office is at work on the matter.

"We're going to begin our review process of their appeals, which is called for under their tribal law," he said.

He added, "We'll be responding to the tribe with our findings on that and our position."

Another tribe that has a constitution giving the BIA the power to review appeals, the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians of San Diego County, was told by the BIA late last year that the tribe could not move forward with disenrolling about 60 members, as Lake County News has reported.

Brightman said Indian leaders plans to introduce a new state bill on Thursday that will call for an end to the disenrollment practice.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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