When Anna Prieto Sandoval became leader of the Sycuan Band of Mission Indians in 1972, its reservation near El Cajon was a tumbledown settlement of wooden shacks with outhouses, a 100-year-old Catholic church and a cinder-block meeting hall. About 80 members lived on the tribal land, and none had a steady job.
When she stepped down two decades later, the Sycuan had risen from abject poverty to become a national model of tribal self-sufficiency, a transformation that Sandoval was largely responsible for — and that she came to regret.
Her dedication was tremendous. It was all about her people, about native people," said Daniel J. Tucker, current chairman of the Sycuan band.
Tucker said Sandoval's vision and drive led to dramatic improvements. New houses for every family replaced the dilapidated structures. She built a new church, a medical clinic and a fire station. As the gambling operation grew, the Sycuan became one of the largest employers in east San Diego County, with 600 workers and almost 1 million visitors annually.