Monday, March 30, 2009

Dry Creek Pomos Consider Limits on Free Speech

The Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo, locked in controversy over the ouster of some of its tribal members, meets today to take up a proposed code of conduct that restricts the ability of tribal members to demonstrate and speak out against the leadership.

Critics contend it goes too far and abridges freedom of speech. Others say it’s no different than a business that has the right to restrict interference with its operations, or picketers on its property.

Leaders of the tribe say they are trying to protect tribal meetings and business, particularly River Rock Casino, from being disrupted by the actions of protesters. But tribal members who have been disenrolled or who are threatened with being cast out of the 970-member tribe, say the code of conduct is an attempt to quash dissent and a tool for the Dry Creek Rancheria board of directors to hold onto power.

“It’s one of the latest mechanisms to place people in fear, said Liz De-Rouen, a former chairwoman of the tribe who was kicked out this month after 26 years as a member. They don’t want the truth out there.

Chairman Harvey Hopkins denied that the board is trying to stifle free speech, and said the intent is to keep tribal meetings and revenues from being disrupted.

“Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, as long as it doesn’t impede the business being created for the general membership, Hopkins said.

He acknowledged that the proposed code of conduct could apply to tribal dissidents demonstrating anywhere in San Francisco for example and not just at the casino near Geyserville, as they did a month ago, or the tribal offices in Healdsburg, as they did two weeks ago.

Hopkins said the board already has wide-ranging powers to discipline tribal members, but the new code of conduct is intended for the tribal membership to more clearly define the violations.

Under the proposed ordinance, tribal members could be subject to banishment and fines if their actions demean or otherwise injure the reputation and image of the tribe or any tribal operation.
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