Monday, March 19, 2012

Terminated Pala Members Sue Federal Government. Pala Acted OUTSIDE their Constitution. BIA Wrong to Accept New Constitution without Election

Edward Sifuentes from the North County Times has the details of what happens when a tribe strips the citizenship from their people

A woman with a blood disease lost her health insurance, a young woman starting college could lose her scholarship, a man could lose his job and a woman with a newborn baby could lose her home.

All these and many other hardships were the results of the Pala Band of Mission Indians' decision to remove more than 160 people from its tribe, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court earlier this month.

The lawsuit is asking the Bureau of Indian Affairs to step in and restore the former Pala members' benefits, including the estimated $150,000 a year in casino revenues that go to each member; health insurance coverage; and their ability to participate in tribal government.

Escondido attorneys Thor Emblem and Tracy Emblem filed the lawsuit March 5 on behalf of about 60 former members of the Pala tribe.

The attorneys declined to comment on the case.

The families "will suffer immediate and irreparable harm and request immediate action to restore their ... tribal benefits while their appeal of the (tribe's) actions are pending review by the Bureau of Indian Affairs," the lawsuit states.

Last year, the Pala tribe, which owns a large casino and resort near Fallbrook, removed from its membership rolls eight people who were descendants of a woman named Margarita Brittain, saying they did not have sufficient Pala heritage to belong in the tribe.

Earlier this year, the tribe expelled an additional 154 people who were also Brittain descendants.

After an appeal, the Bureau of Indian Affairs recommended that the first eight people be allowed back into the tribe. Pala has not said whether it plans to honor the BIA's recommendation.

In court documents, the 60 people say they were illegally kicked out. They argue that the tribe illegally changed its constitution in 1997 without holding an election allowing all tribal members an opportunity to vote on the new constitution.

One of the changes in the constitution was that the tribe's executive council, a five-member panel, could remove individuals from the tribe. People expelled from the tribe can appeal to the BIA, but the federal agency can only recommend whether to allow people back in.

Under the previous rules, the BIA was the final arbiter on membership disputes, according to court documents.

The attorneys argue in their lawsuit that the BIA was wrong to accept the new constitution without an election.

BIA officials could not be reached for comment. OP: Does BIA want fewer Indians?
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