A Temecula-based American Indian rights group is calling on President-elect Barack Obama's administration to get more involved in tribal matters, paying close attention to the recent rise in efforts to disenroll thousands of people from Indian nations.
John Gomez Jr., president of the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization in Temecula, said the administration has failed to protect individual Indians' civil rights."I think it would be appropriate to give them an F," Gomez said. "They are inconsistent, and they say they don't have the authority to get involved. They would rather not be involved, and that contradicts their mandate to protect Indian rights."
Gomez founded the group after he and about 250 other people were removed from the Pechanga Band of Mission Indians near Temecula in 2004. An official with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Sacramento said the agency steps into membership disputes only when it is required to under a tribe's constitution, as it did last month with the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians near Valley Center."Usually, these types of actions are within the tribe's authority," said Fred Doka, regional tribal operations officer for the bureau.
San Pasqual is one of several tribes in the state attempting to remove people from the tribe. The bureau said last month that the 59 people involved in the San Pasqual dispute were properly enrolled members and should not be removed.But San Pasqual is one of only a handful of tribes in the state whose constitution requires the bureau to get involved in such matters, Doka said. California has more than 100 American Indian tribes.
Even in instances in which tribal constitutions do not require the bureau to get involved, Gomez said the agency should take steps to make sure that those tribes also follow a fair process and that individual rights are protected.The rights group claims more than 2,000 people have been expelled from tribes in California since voters in the state legalized Indian gambling in 2000. Gomez said greed and a hunger for power have led tribes to unfairly oust people.
Gomez also said that he was encouraged by the names that are being discussed as potential appointments to head the Interior Department. He said that his organization has sent letters to the potential candidates asking them for their stance on enrollment matters. Some of the names that have been floated as possible candidates to head the Interior Department are: U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.; Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; and Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian."Our position is that you can get involved" in enrollment matters, Gomez said. "Tribal sovereignty and American Indian civil rights are not mutually exclusive."
The BIA should get involved when tribes VIOLATE their own constitution to deny civil rights to their people, like in the case of Pechanga.
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