Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pechanga's Man's Fight To Be Enrolled in Pechanga Tribe, Where he Belongs

We've written about Joe Liska's continuing fight for his right to belong to the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians. A tribe most known for terminating Native Americans from their tribe, but keeping adopted members. They are one of many tribes in CA that have violated the civil and human rights of many of the people. This story below is from 2004

An adopted man who says his biological father was a Pechanga Indian is suing the wealthy Inland tribe and organizing a protest outside its casino Saturday in hopes of pressuring the band into enrolling him and his two children.

Joe Liska, a 43-year-old Arizona resident, was given up for adoption as an infant and didn't learn of his heritage until the 1990s, he said. By then, his biological father was dead, and the tribe had temporarily stopped enrolling new members. Tribal officials said the moratorium, which could end within the next four years, is intended to clear up inaccuracies in the membership rolls.

Frustrated by the tribe's refusal to enroll him, Liska filed a federal lawsuit in November seeking to stop the monthly gaming-profit checks that go out to current members. The tribe was served with the suit last month. Liska also has joined forces with the American Indian Movement and other descendants affected by the Pechanga tribe's decision to temporarily stop enrolling new members.

He and others plan to protest across from the Temecula-area casino at 2 p.m. Saturday, he said. "This is not a club. This is a tribe. It's a blood right," Liska said in a telephone interview from his Arizona home.

"It is going to do harm to Indian gaming and Indian country."

The dispute is one of many that have broken out across the country in the wake of Indian gambling's success. Many tribes divide some of their gaming profits among members, and critics argue the membership disputes are about greed. The Pechanga tribe won't disclose how much members are paid, but in the past some said they receive $10,000 a month. OP: The per capita has gone as high as $30,000 per month after subsequent disenrollments.

Liska insists his interest in joining the tribe isn't about money, but about connecting with his heritage.

Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro said Wednesday there are many Pechanga descendants who failed to get their paperwork filed years ago and now are shut out by the moratorium. "Enrollment is not intended to be fair. Enrollment is intended to be accurate," he said while attending the Western Indian Gaming Conference in Palm Springs on Wednesday. OP: If it were intended to be accurate, it would also be fair. Those who have blood ties to the band are no longer allowed IN. And the tribal council has acted against the tribe's own constitution.

Macarro said he was unfamiliar with Liska's lawsuit and could not comment on its specifics, but knew of the man Liska says was his father: Fred Magee, a tribal member.

Mary Magee, a Pechanga member and daughter of Fred Magee, consented to DNA testing with Liska and confirmed he's family. "I know he's my half-brother, and I love him," she said in a telephone interview. She declined to talk about the lawsuit or enrollment issues. OP: Magee was later ousted from the tribes enrollment committee for confidentiality violations.

Liska's lawsuit doesn't address enrollment, but he hopes it will put pressure on the tribe and get them to open up enrollment. He accuses the tribe of violating federal gambling law by failing to have an approved plan on file with the Interior Department specifying how the gaming profits are used. Monthly checks to members are not supposed to be made without a plan in place.

Phil Hogen, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, confirmed that the Pechanga tribe does not have an approved plan on file and said the commission began an inquiry into the matter last month.

Macarro said the tribe submitted plans in 1995 and 1996 and later learned they hadn't been approved.

A plan was resubmitted last year and is pending approval, he said.

The lawsuit won't have a chance anyway because sovereignty makes tribes immune to these kinds of claims, said I. Nelson Rose, a national gambling expert and law professor, in a telephone interview.
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