Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Beneath the Glitter of Indian Gaming at Chukchansi-Picayune

Issues with disenrollment didn't happen overnight in California, it happened as casinos came up.


Beneath the Glitter

As the $150 million Chukchansi resort readies for its casino opening June 25, 200 tribe members kicked out four years ago fight to become members again.

By Lisa Aleman-Padilla and George Hostetter
The Fresno Bee

(Updated Monday, June 16, 2003, 4:23 AM)

The biggest, most expensive and most controversial American Indian casino/entertainment complex in central San Joaquin Valley history is expected to make its debut in eastern Madera County in 10 days. With it comes a long-simmering and increasingly bitter tribal civil war over who will pocket the profits of a business that eventually could rake in $200 million or more a year.

Carved out of a once-forlorn swath of rocks and brush in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Coarsegold, the gamblers' half of the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino is all but finished.
That's the casino, home to 1,800 slot machines and more than 40 card tables. June 25 is the planned opening date, according to the owners, the Chukchansi Indians of Picayune Rancheria.

The 192-room hotel is expected to open next door in August. The total project's estimated cost: $150 million.
Indian gaming has been a fixture in the six-county central San Joaquin Valley for two decades. Gamblers, though, have seen nothing locally like the Chukchansi digs -- nearly 300,000 square feet of casino, hotel and entertainment venues.

Nor has there been anything here quite like the Chukchansi membership fight that has brewed for four years. Its roots go back even further. Twenty years ago, the tribe had only 30 members, the result of federal policy dating back to the Eisenhower administration designed to terminate Indian lands such as rancherias. The thinking, at least among non-Indians, was that Indians should be assimilated into mainstream America.

It took several decades of court battles, but many tribes finally regained their legal recognition and the right to renew their lives on rancherias. In a word, they were "reconstituted."
By the late 1990s, with the Chukchansi tribe legally reborn, a liberal enrollment policy raised the membership total to more than 1,000.

Then, in 1999, as negotiations with a casino management company neared a critical juncture, nearly 200 people were suddenly kicked out of the tribe.
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