Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Shingle Springs Chairman Nicholas Fonseca Speaks Out in Open Letter

We recently wrote about the Shingle Springs tribal suit, here is an open letter from Nicholas Fonseca, their tribal chair:

Dear Citizens of El Dorado County:

I am the Chairman of the federally-recognized Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indiansand I am writing this letter to set the record straight in light of recent coverage in a local newspaper that is misleading and factually incorrect. The article involved Cesar Caballero, an El Dorado County man jailed by a federal judge for violating a court order prohibiting him from impersonating my Tribe.

The Tribe sued Mr. Caballero in 2008 when he filed a fraudulent document with the County of El Dorado, claiming to be doing business as “the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians.” Despite the Tribe’s requests of Mr. Caballero to withdraw the fraudulent document — which was designed to confuse others as to Mr. Caballero’s affiliation with the Shingle Springs Band — he refused. The Tribe filed suit, and in September 2010, Federal District Court Judge John Mendez ordered Mr. Caballero to withdraw the statement (among other things). Importantly, the Tribe sought the federal injunction, and the federal court issued it, after Mr. Caballero had filed a fraudulent statement with the United States Post Office, diverting the Tribe’s mail to his own address. (This was a federal crime for which Mr. Caballero was separately prosecuted and convicted, and for which he awaits sentence.) Mr. Caballero also went so far as to pose as the Tribe in an effort to interfere with our repatriation efforts involving human remains possessed by a museum and belonging to the Tribe. Judge Mendez’ order necessarily means he believes the Tribe is likely to prevail in its civil case.

A few other facts that bear noting, to set the record straight:

Mr. Caballero is sitting in jail because he has chosen to defy a federal court order directing him to take certain steps to unwind his fraudulent course, including the withdrawal of the fictitious document that started this litigation. As the federal judge explained to Mr. Caballero at his last contempt hearing, he alone controls his own destiny; it is his contempt for the Court — in short, his defiance of the law and judicial process — that landed him in jail. He controls the keys to his cell.

Mr. Caballero filed his own suit against the Tribe, claiming the right to revenues from Red Hawk Casino. While the Court dismissed Mr. Caballero’s claims as having no basis in law, it bears noting that Mr. Caballero and his group had nothing to do with our Tribe when we lived in abject poverty, on a landlocked reservation with no hope for economic development. It was only after we secured public access through an interchange we had to build, and after our Red Hawk Casino finally became a reality, that Mr. Caballero claimed the right to our federal recognition and our name. I would submit that is all everyone needs to know to understand what is really driving Mr. Caballero and his band of followers.

Third, this case is not about federal recognition, and nothing the Tribe has ever done — or is doing — prevents Cesar Caballero and his affiliates from seeking recognition by the United States as a sovereign tribal entity. In fact, the Shingle Springs Band’s federal recognition has nothing to do with the Caballero group’s right to be recognized as a sovereign entity (assuming there is such a right). There can, in fact, be more than one tribe in California with members of Miwok ancestry, and indeed there are.

Fourth, the United States has recognized the Shingle Springs Band since the early 1900s, and set aside land in El Dorado County for our group (consisting largely of homeless Indians who then lived around Sacramento). It is true that our Band consists of people of Maidu and/or Miwok descent, as well as Native Hawaiian descent. Some members of the Tribe even have African American and/or Caucasian ancestors. We are a political entity, recognized by the United States government for many decades by the name Mr. Caballero and others have usurped.

Fifth, Mr. Caballero and his group may be associated with the El Dorado Band of Miwok Indians, a tribe that resided on adjacent lands and that lost its federally-recognized sovereign status in the mid 1900s (along with many other California tribes). Unlike other tribes, that tribe apparently chose not to seek federal restoration. That has nothing to do with the Shingle Springs Band. In the end, Mr. Caballero’s allegations amount to little more than a sad recount of the devastating consequences of the United States’ policy toward Indians, particularly in California, where bands of homeless Indians were settled as sovereign entities on rancherias, only to be later wrongfully terminated, typically without meaningful recompense or support, and too often never restored.

Finally, the ability to have sovereign authority and trust land in this country, and pursue economic development (through gaming or otherwise), does not turn on having a “federally recognized tribal name.” It turns on being a sovereign tribal entity in the eyes of the United States government. Every tribe, of course, has a name, and every tribe is entitled to protect that name from misappropriation by others. That is what our case against Mr. Caballero and those aligned with him is all about.

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