The Rios/Tosobal Family has ties to the Pechanga tribe, from his mother back to his great-great-great-grandmother, born in 1811. (That’s when Abe Lincoln was 2 years old!)
So, when his mother died in 1978 and left him a piece of reservation land, Manuel Rios Jr. began trying to make arrangements to bring water and electricity to the plot so he could set up a home there. 30 years later, he has yet to get tribal approval to do anything with the land.
Tribal officials had told him he and his family are not on the rolls, he said, and they won’t get considered for membership until a moratorium on new enrollments is lifted now extended past 2010. His family members, who number more than 100, have stacks of documents that they say they submitted to the enrollment committee 15 years ago.
As a nonmember, the Rios family has no recourse against the sovereign nation. He can’t sue the tribe in an outside or tribal court, and he can’t vote on the moratorium or cast a ballot against the elected tribal leaders.
The reservation has changed dramatically since Rios’ mother was a girl there, thanks to the opening of a $262 million resort and casino and other businesses. Now that tribal members collect a reported $30,000 in gaming profits a month, disputes over membership are commonplace.
Rios and others insist they once were members, and they allege that someone removed their names in order to ensure larger shares of gaming profits for the other members.
Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro has said tribes work hard to make sure that there’s due process in enrollment matters, yet, in reality, there is no due process.
He also contends that many recent applicants had no interest in the tribe until it was rich. ‘‘Where were these people before there was a casino?’’ Macarro asked.
Rios’ 53-year-old son, Manuel Rios Jr. of Riverside, said he’s glad his grandmother left the reservation, and her descendants avoided being mired in reservation poverty because of it. ‘‘I was out getting an education so I wouldn’t have to suck the money from the state of California to support me,’’ he said in an interview in Fontana. ‘‘We were paying for their (tribal member’s) welfare.’’
The Rios family members contend that the Pechanga tribal leadership is using sovereignty to improperly deny them membership and is acting like a dictatorship. In fact, Pechanga’s own constitution provides for OPEN ENROLLMENT every January. In the most recent disenrollment of the Hunter family, which occurred in 2006, the tribe stated that the membership, which voted to stop ALL disenrollments, had no authority to do so. That would mean, they have the power to keep people from getting IN, but no the authority to keep people from getting thrown OUT. That makes no sense at all.