Saturday, 25 May 2024

Indians urged to fight oppression, attacks on civil rights

EJ Crandell, far right, addresses the crowd at a rally to bring attention to American Indian civil rights issues in Sacramento on Thursday, February 5, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.




SACRAMENTO – Braving a February rainstorm, Indian activists from around California gathered on the steps of the State Capitol Building on Thursday to seek the help of legislators, the state's citizens and each other in fighting what they believe is an attack on Indian communities that's coming from the inside.

The “Tribal corruption is not traditional” event, sponsored by United Native Americans Inc. and the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization (AIRRO), featured numerous speakers who addressed a large crowd for more than an hour and a half, beginning at noon.

Common themes emerged during the day – tribal governments violating civil rights, including attacking free speech; the rising tide of disenrollments that is taking place around California and the nation; and a call to state legislators and Congress to find a remedy.

Quanah Brightman of United Native Americans Inc. faulted tribal leaders for abandoning their responsibilities to communities, and only taking care of themselves.

“We should not tolerate this in our communities,” he said. “We should not tolerate this at all.”




Quanah Brightman of United Native Americans said the demonstration was an important step in taking issues of disenrollment and the corruption of tribal leadership to the federal government. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



Nice resident Wanda Quitiquit, an AIRRO member who along with three dozen family members received a disenrollment resolution from Robinson Rancheria in November, warned that the practice of kicking members out of tribes could eventually lead to extinction of native tribes.

“Today we are raising our voices as a wake up call,” said Quitiquit.

The disenrollments of more than 50 members of Robinson Rancheria are leading to other problems, including a young woman being beaten and several evictions of disenrolled families, Quitiquit said.

John Gomez Jr., who in 2004 was disenrolled by the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, said the tribal leaders responsible for pushing members out have forgotten what it's like to be Indian, because they're not helping each other.

He estimated 2,500 California Indians have been disenrolled and hundreds more denied benefits.

Gomez said there's hope. “There are a lot of people in Indian Country who are standing up to this oppression.”

But if the oppression and disenrollment continues, Gomez said it will consume Indian Country.

California is ground zero for the problem, said Gomez.

While tribal leaders have all of the resources at their disposal, including millions of dollars, Gomez said the opposition has people.

It's the responsibility of Indians to come together to fight the destructive forces in their communities, he said.

“This is not the Indian way,” said Gomez. “It's a desecration to our heritage, it's a desecration to our culture.”

Norman “Wounded Knee” DeOcampo, a Miwok from Vallejo, recalled his support of Proposition 5 in 1998, the ballot measure that legalized gambling in California.

DeOcampo said the hope that he originally had for tribal gaming hasn't transformed into a reality of care and benefit for all Indian people.

But he recounted that his mother used to tell him, “You only lose when you give up.”





Wanda Quitiquit, foreground, listens to a speaker during the rally in Sacramento on Thursday, February 5, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.




So, despite being disenrolled from his tribe, DeOcampo said he's continuing to fight for reform in Indian Country on behalf of his ancestors and the generations to come.

Lois Lockhart, disenrolled from the Pinoleville tribe in Mendocino County, cited tribal law in addressing the actions of tribal governments that choose to remove members from their rolls.

“It is against the law to take away our civil rights,” said Lockhart, a former tribal administrator at Sherwood Valley Rancheria, where she was able to reclaim membership after losing her status at Pinoleville.

She said the Pomo people have a saying – do good, and good comes back to you. In the same way, bad actions end in a bad response.

Lockhart was in grade school when her tribe was terminated, or dissolved. In the 1970s, her tribe would be restored, and then she later faced Pinoleville's disenrollment action.

She urged people to learn more about tribal law to arm themselves in fighting injustice.

Lockhart said there is so much that native elders sacrificed for their descendants to be here today.

In contrast, she said, “This new breed of Indians – I don't know who they are or where they came from.”

Clayton Duncan, a member of Robinson Rancheria in Nice, accused the Bureau of Indian Affairs of backing corrupt tribal leadership around the state.

“BIA, you're in charge,” he said. “You need to step up to the plate and listen to the majority of people.”

Carla Foreman-Maslin, president of AIRRO, was disenrolled along with more than 70 members of her family from the Redding Rancheria, where her late father, Bob Foreman, had been the first tribal chair.

For Foreman-Maslin, the fact that her father didn't see justice before his death is a source of great sorrow.

“This is a shameful time for us,” she said.

But as long as Indians are alive and breathing, they can fight disenrollments, she said.

She read a message from friends in the Oneida Nation of New York, where tribal members also have seen forms of oppression, including 14 families having their homes bulldozed.

EJ Crandell – who was elected Robinson Rancheria's chair last June, after which the election was decertified following a complaint lodged by sitting Tribal Chair Tracey Avila – said some tribal leaders just want to keep the status quo.

At the same time, other tribal members are afraid to speak up, for fear they'll be pushed out of the tribe, he said.

Crandell urged everyone to keep fighting the fight.

Mark Anquoe, a Kiowa who originally came from Oklahoma and now lives in San Francisco, works with the American Indian Movement (AIM).

“That enrollment roll is not what makes you Indian,” said Anquoe.

After the United States is long gone, Indians will remain, Anqoue said.

“We're all gonna get through it,” he said. “We're gonna stick together because that's what real Indians do.”

Brightman, who celebrated the birth of his new baby daughter the night before, said after the rally that taking the concerns to the state Legislature is the first step in presenting the issues to higher levels of the US government, including Congress.

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


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