Monday, December 12, 2011

Dear Chukchansi Tribal Member: GET LOST...and your family too

The New York Times will have a complete story out tomorrow, here's a preview:

The bottom line of the six-page, single-spaced letter that Nancy Dondero and about 50 of her relatives received last month was brutally simple: “It is the decision by a majority of the Tribal Council, that you are hereby disenrolled.”

And with that, Dondero’s official membership in the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, the cultural identity card she had carried all her life, summarily ended.

”That’s it,” Dondero, 58, said. “We’re tribeless.”

For centuries, American Indian tribes have banished people as punishment for serious offenses. But only in recent years, experts say, have they begun routinely disenrolling Indians deemed inauthentic members of a group. And California, with dozens of tiny tribes that were decimated, scattered and then reformed, often out of ethnically mixed Indians, is the national hotbed of the trend.

Clan rivalries and political squabbles are often triggers for disenrollment, but critics say one factor above all has driven the trend: casino gambling. The state has more than 60 Indian casinos that took in nearly $7 billion last year, the most of any state, according to the Indian Gaming Commission.

For Indians who lose membership in a tribe, the financial impact can be huge. Some small tribes with casinos pay members monthly checks of $15,000 or more out of gambling profits. Many provide housing allowances and college scholarships. Children who are disenrolled can lose access to tribal schools.

The money and the immense power it has conferred on tribes that had endured grinding poverty for decades has enticed many tribal governments to consolidate control over their gambling enterprises by trimming membership rolls, critics and independent analysts say.
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