Mary Martinez sat on the grinding rocks of her ancestors - giant boulders with holes used for thousands of years to crush acorns.
"This is where my grandmother used to sit, pounding acorns to make flour in the old ways," she said, closing her eyes to let the memories seep in. "I ground the flour, too, like my grandmother's mother and her mother before her.
"It's what you do as an Indian. I am a Chukchansi Indian," she said.
She is - and she isn't.
The 77-year-old Martinez has been kicked out of the Picayune Chukchansi tribe in the tiny Madera County town of Coarsegold - the tribe where she was vice chairwoman just two years ago, the tribe that is full of her cousins.
The tribal council threw her out last year, just as it has tossed out almost half its membership that in 2000 was 1,500 strong. It's the biggest disenrollment of any tribe in California, observers say.
The council explains it as a readjustment of records to more accurately reflect who deserves to be a Picayune Chukchansi and an official member of the tribe.
"Each tribe, under sovereignty, has the right to set its own membership, and that may be difficult at times, but it is necessary," said Chanel Wright, a spokeswoman for the tribe. "It's about doing what's best for the tribe."
But Martinez and the 600 other outcasts say it's all about greed. They blame the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino, a gigantic building of neon, slot machines and card tables that for five years has reeled in millions of dollars for those lucky enough to call themselves tribal members.
"They kicked me to the curb so they could keep more money for themselves," Martinez said, tearing up as she visited the historic grinding rock, used by local Indians for millennia, near the tribe's rancheria. "Our ancestors would roll over in their graves if they knew."
Carole Goldberg, chair of the UCLA Native Nations Law & Policy Center, called complaints over disenrollment overblown.
"Some of the human drama is being amplified," OP: On the contrary, Carole, it's not amplified ENOUGH. she said. "The tribes concede their sovereign authority if they talk to the non-Indian world, so they don't say much, which just leaves opponents to do much of the talking.
"But the reality is that the new money has made a difference in immeasurable ways." OP: Yes, let's measure: the money has been able to buy politicians, secure lobbyists to keep small tribes from gaining casinos, kept newspapers from writing negative stories so as not to lose ad revenue, camouflauged tribe's dirty deeds with small donations to local charities.
Read more: SF Chronicle
Bryan Galt, former Picayune Enrollment Chair Responds
DEAR CAROLE GOLDBERG:
I find that this quote “Carole Goldberg, chair of the UCLA Native Nations Law & Policy Center, called COMPLAINTS OVER DISENROLLMENT OVERBLOWN. Some of the human drama is being amplified," she said. "The tribes concede their sovereign authority if they talk to the non-Indian world, so they don't say much, which just leaves opponents to do much of the talking,” to be downright insulting. Who are you to make such a claim that the enrollment issue is overblown? Can you imagine being told that your US Citizenship is being questioned and that you have only 90 days to provide proof that you belong here? Can you imagine going to a hearing with the same rules as Gitmo and providing evidence that is swept under the rug? Can you imagine being told that your Citizenship has been terminated and you must move out of your home and leave the country at once (especially since another ‘Citizen’ needs your house)?
Well, just so you know, once you are out of a Tribe, you also are legally no longer an Indian under federal law (unless you are 50% at least is the only exception). So not only has your heritage been trashed, your family been broken apart, your legal standing ripped out of your hands, you are left with no recourse and then must deal with smart ass comments from allegedly educated people who apparently only know what they read in the propaganda from the Tribe’s when it comes to Indian issues.
Just to set the record straight ma’am, I was the enrollment chairperson at Picayune from 2003 to 2005. I was ordered to audit every member file in an effort to find out who had insufficient documentation so that they could be placed into a pending category, given a hearing and terminated. The Council knew full well that the member files would be deficient in many areas because they were not required to have any documentation when the member was enrolled 14 years earlier. The Committee ruled that the application of a new rule or law against the current membership amounted to violation of the principle of Ex Post Facto and declined to proceed.
So, the Council waited out our term and appointed three new committee members who didn’t have any understanding of legal issues, they only understood the mentality of a greedy mob and they had no problems terminating over 600 of their fellow Chukchansi people from the Tribe. Perhaps the reason that the Tribes don’t speak up is the fact that they have behave in an amoral fashion, that they have hurt their own people for money and that they know that if they engage in this discussion, it will come out that they are nothing more than greedy street punks who would stab their own grandmother for a buck.
Maybe your view from your perch has clouded your vision on the reality of how damaging the enrollment terminations are to individuals and to families. I have four cousins (2 first cousins, 2 second)who are still enrolled at Picayune. Since they received their first stipend check for $7,000 in December, I haven’t heard a word from them. They act like the rest of their family no longer exists.
That is what is really going on out here.
That is why the terminated people are crying out so loudly.
I never wanted the money more than I wanted the community, the feeling of belonging to something special but that has all been taken away so a select group who is charge can line their pockets. Example: The Council paid itself $250 per person for each enrollment termination ($250 x 600 = $150,000). That’s a nice haul for screwing over your own. Their average paycheck each month: $14,000.
After I was terminated from the Tribe, I was also fired from the Casino. That was 10-06 and I am still unemployed. It took me almost a year to come to terms with what had transpired. I was so hurt and depressed I didn’t leave my home for months. I know that I am not alone. When an injustice of this magnitude occurs, it should be the duty of everyone to speak up, including haughty college professors. The Tribes are damaging themselves for money. I didn’t need a degree to see that happening.