Saturday, March 9, 2013

Fresno State's Dr. Kenneth Hansen's Remarks On Chukchansi Dispute, BIA Ineffectiveness

The BIA has proven itself ineffective and useless in the crisis against Native Americans in CA.  Should this department be cut from the budget in this sequester-era?  Fresno State held a forum to discuss the Chukchansi dispute, led by Dr. Kenneth Hansen.

February 28, 2013

            Let me introduce myself. I am Dr. Kenneth Hansen, an associate professor of Political Science here at Fresno State. I was the co-Coordinator of the Africana and American Indian Studies program for three years, and an advisor to the First Nations Indigenous Student Organization. I am also the co-editor of a book entitled The New Politics of Indian Gaming. In my view, the new politics of Indian gaming is a lot like the old politics of influence peddling that we’ve come to know and despise from our state and national governments. Perhaps the thing that I am most proud of during my time on the faculty at Fresno State is that I was invited to give the commencement address at the 2010 American Indian Graduation Ceremony here in Fresno. It was a great experience, and I am thankful to the community for extending the invitation.

            Before I introduce the rest of the panel, I’d like to make a few brief remarks. I’d like students and other members of the audience to take away at least three things from tonight’s discussion. One, tribal governments are set up to fail by the federal government. Despite the odds, some actually succeed, which is great for them. But success is not uniform across Indian Country. Two, civil rights violations are running rampant throughout Indian Country, and need to be stopped. And three, the legitimacy crises within tribal communities will only be resolved if we bring everyone back into the circle.

            On this date in 1973, a standoff began at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, that lasted for 71 days. At issue was tribal corruption, the disrespecting of elders, and GOON squads running amok on the reservation intimidating people who didn’t follow the corrupt tribal council. The standoff made several people famous, like AIM activists Dennis Banks, and Russell Means, who took his journey to the next world late last year following a battle with throat cancer. Leonard Peltier is still a political prisoner of the US government and will likely die in prison. One year ago, a group of Chukchansis supporting Morris Reid, Dixie Jackson, Dora Jones, and Harold Hammond, took over and occupied the tribal government offices at Picayune Rancheria for many of the same reasons as the occupation of Wounded Knee. That night the tribal government offices became the hotel from hell for elders and their families, as supporters of the faction who refused to give up power, pelted the office windows with rocks, burning logs, and bear spray. The next day a melee erupted outside the building and three people were injured, one of those injuries was the result of a stabbing. It shouldn’t take violence to bring attention to these issues. But it could have been much worse.

            I’m not picking on Chukchansi. I’m really not. The situation at Picayune Rancheria is just the latest and most local example illustrating that in 40 years, not much has really changed in Indian Country. Most tribal governments, including casino tribes, suffer from a lack of resources, cronyism, a lack of transparency, and a lack of institutional capacity to do those things that we typically expect most governments to do. When one tribal government behaves badly and gets away with it, others do the same. This matters to the rest of society because it’s not fair that some people have civil rights while others, typically American Indians, do not.
The political situation among the Chukchansi people has grown extremely contentious and relationships between the parties may be irreconcilable. Currently, I see four factions among the Chukchansi people: One faction is led by Nancy Ayala, and her family, the Wyatts and the Ramirezes. They take a narrow view of who constitutes the tribal citizenship, arguing that it should include only those who have direct ties to the Rancheria property. They recently sued the government arguing that they alone should be recognized as the tribe. They lost because they didn’t have standing to sue—sovereign immunity cuts both ways! Other factions see the tribe as being a larger community, including the Reggie Lewis faction, but the Lewis faction seems to think that membership should be confined largely to those living in the foothills. The third group, the Morris Reid faction believes the Lewis and Ayala groups have shown great disrespect to tribal elders and to the electoral process. The fourth group is a rather unorganized collection of disenrolled families and individuals. Until one or more of the three competing government factions sees these disenrolled people as potential voters and supporters, they are not likely to be included in any political process.

            Let me take a moment to explain disenrollment. Disenrollment is tantamount to individual terminations. In fact, I think we should call it that. Termination is when the government tells people that they are no longer American Indians. The power to terminate was devolved from the federal government to the tribes under the guise of tribal sovereignty. To me, tribal officials hiding behind sovereign immunity as they discriminate against their own people is akin to southern governors hiding behind states’ rights in opposition to the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Civil rights are rights that government must provide. They include voting rights, as well as due process, and equal protection under the law. Indigenous people who are terminated suffer unequal treatment, a lack of due process, and a cessation of their voting rights; as well as an abrogation of their civil liberties, including private property rights, violations of free speech, association, and religious freedoms. Individual terminations allow tribal politicians to choose their voters rather than the other way around in a kind of Indigenous version of political gerrymandering. We wouldn’t tolerate these kinds of civil rights violations in the rest of the United States, why do we tolerate it in Indian Country?

            Thirty tribes nationwide have terminated substantial percentages of their citizenry. Twenty of those are in California. Something like 20,000 people have been terminated and had their civil rights violated. To my knowledge, all those tribes that have terminated members are gaming tribes, but not all gaming tribes terminate their citizens. In fact, in California this has only happened in about a third of the gaming tribes.

            This is more than an identity crisis. This is a legitimacy crisis. How can tribal governments claim to be operating under their constitutions, when it is no longer clear who actually constitutes the tribes? How can they claim to be operating constitutionally when they violate the very Indian Civil Rights Act that is included in their tribal constitutions? A constitution is more than a document that describes institutions and procedures. A constitution represents the founding of a society. A constitution represents a community, and is a social contract between the government and that community. What this situation calls for is a re-founding. In other words, we need to hit the reset button.

            Seventy-five cents of every dollar provided by the US Congress for Indian Country goes to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (the BIA), which is itself the largest agency of the Interior Dept. If the BIA isn’t going to help out, then why are the taxpayers funding this agency that has done very little but steal and oppress? 

Why do we tolerate governance by an agency that sets us up to fail? I have this to say to Troy Burdick and his colleagues at the BIA in Sacramento: General George Armstrong Custer died for your sins. Step up to the plate and help resolve the Chukchansi legitimacy crisis. What might work to resolve this situation could possibly be applied to help solve similar problems in other tribal communities. The federal courts and the BIA need to enforce the Indian Civil Rights Act. And all Indigenous people need to be brought back into the circle. Either we all belong to the circle of nations, or none of us do. 

It’s as simple as that. Aho!


Anonymous said...

Great story and so true. Ironic how the professor mentions wounded knee and that is where Howard Dickstein started his relationship with Native Americans and he is one of the main reasons the tribes are facing this bs of disenrollment. His finding of loopholes in the constitutions of the tribes and convincing tribal governments to terminate members is a travesty to Indian Country, he walks away with multi-millions of dollars every year and uses the tribes amenities like private jets for his own pleasure while true members are facing loss of heritage, loss of tribal rights, loss of healthcare, loss of family bonds, bankruptcy and welfare. Other people have joined his band-wagon to help destroy the Indigenous people of California and other states. Something needs to be done to stop it and Howard and hiss J Street Gang need to faces criminal charges, but that will probably never happen, there are way too many dishonest community leaders and politicians out there.

Anonymous said...

Howard Dickstein at Wounded Knee? What proof? Easy to claim, hard to prove. As much as HD likes to claim he is one of "us" and looks out for our "best interest", he has to have a picture of himself at Wounded Knee. The guy and his J Street Gang are all frauds, pulling the strings on their puppet Robert Smith. Wish I had a Lear jet to fly around for no reason on at tribal expense.

Erick Rhoan said...

I thought evoking Wounded Knee was a little histrionic, but nonetheless highlighted the fact that even decades after such large-scale protests and events, Indian Country is still preoccupied with complex socioeconomic burdens.

I slightly concur that that tribal governments are setup to fail by the federal government only because today’s tribal governmental infrastructures were statutorily imposed by flawed legislation of Congress, whose assistance is once again needed. However, the reason why tribal governments are failing now is because of the tribes themselves. It’s easy to blame old, institutionalized racism for the current state of things, but tribes have tremendous tools at their disposal they did not have 30 years ago. From this I will say that tribes themselves are ultimately responsible for the quality of life their members have. Even Professor Hansen implies as such:

“Most tribal governments, including casino tribes, suffer from a lack of resources, cronyism, a lack of transparency, and a lack of institutional capacity to do those things that we typically expect most governments to do. When one tribal government behaves badly and gets away with it, others do the same. This matters to the rest of society because it’s not fair that some people have civil rights while others, typically American Indians, do not.”

Anonymous said...

I think this article misses a lot of points concerning the creation of IRA governments, the differences between IRA and non-IRA governments, how those were embedded in the complex problems at Wounded Knee, the differences between pre-Casino disenrollment and post-Casino disenrollment, the rights of inherent tribal sovereignty, the problematic issues with comparing termination with disenrollment, and thinking that inclusionary Civil Rights are a solution to tribal communities who have always wanted exclusion from US culture, and the erasure of the fact that the US Constitution does not apply or govern in Indian Country

Erick Rhoan said...

Anonymous @ 8:44 a.m.:

Professor Hansen's speech wasn't supposed to address all those points. It was merely a lead-in for the panel discussion he was hosting.

nickey said...

Kenneth Hansen's remarks in the opening of the discussion were good and all...but I was in hope we would be discussing ideas about solutions and a path (tribes like Chukchansi that are in turmoil) might can take. Cuz right now the Chuks are in worst turmoil than ever. We are trying to find out (at this moment) if it is true about warrants for Reggie Lewis' arrest. We heard there is also one out for Chance Alberta. Neither one of these guys showed on Saturday for their own meeting!! They did not even call the folks where the building was rented and let them know about the cancellation until a half hour before the general council meeting. Reggie sent his thugs (Zak security) to turn people around so a quorum could not be met. Rumor coming off the rez is that Reggie will do a violent attack and take the tribe. Everybody watch!!!! My tribe is falling and we are getting ready to lose it ALL (not just the money) I use to so honored to be a part of the Chukchansi tribe and now.... I'm ashamed and sooooo embarrassed to say 'I am Chukchansi" No one person is to blame. The blame is on each and every tribal member who did not go to meetings, who wanted to start getting our per cap so we allowed dis enrollment of people like CATHY CORY, who did not place sanctions on people who were stealing and falsifying paperwork . We can blame people who would not sign petitions to recall corrupt councils cuz they thought they were part of a faction that would "hog the money for a few select. The general membership fell asleep at the wheel and now we are going to crash. If the General Membership needs to WAKE UP and take hold of the wheel and get this train back on track. WE CAN DO THIS!!!!!!

nickey said...

sorry for not proof reading lol

Anonymous said...

I am sorry for your tribe, our tribe, Pala, is headed in the same direction and many other tribes. The general councils are not banning together in fear of retribution and disenrollment, it is a sad time in Indian Country. We all need new leadership and new guidelines where all are involved in peaceful, equal, and honest ways. Praying for your tribe.

Anonymous said...

@ 9:33

Although his "opening" remarks did not detail all of this information, he sure implied an agenda through his opening speech. I always am careful to believe people when they speak about Indian Country becasue they always seems to erase important information in order to pursue a specific agenda. I know the diesnrollments are debated and their are many people that disagree with them post-Casino, but there were disenrollments pre-Casino that nobody seems to mention or care about. I think tribes need to protect their resoruces especially when they are operating multi-million dollar busnissess. If people do not belong based on what the tribal community thinks, then they do not make the criteria and should be disenrolled, it is only when specific families are targeted and not everybody is investigated with the same scrutiny that I begin to disagree with tribal actions and disenrollment. If tribal communties wan to clean up their rolls and disenroll people then they need to appy the exact same criteria equally to all members, and to not specifically target specific families.

Erick Rhoan said...


Forgive me for being slow, but please establish a link between Professor Hansen having an agenda (and please define what that agenda is), and the need for disenrollment procedures to be adopted neutrally rather than singling out certain families for disenrollment. Also, please explain the significance of pre-casino disenrollments.

I'm not trying to be smart-alecky; I'm genuinely asking because I want more information.

Luiseno said...

"The general councils are not banning together in fear of retribution and disenrollment "

I don't know if you remember, but our general council decided in the largest meeting in Tribal history to stop our family's disenrollment to remove disenrollment from Tribal law, and make disenrollment against the law.

Then behind locked doors, guarded by armed guards, they stopped further membership meetings for several months. They decided the General Membership had no athority in enrollment issues (a lie) and disenrolled us a year later after there was no disenrollment in Tribal law.

Anonymous said...

I was not trying to disrespect Prof. Hansen, I just think that his "speech" was created to construct a specific dialouge that would be addressed. The disenrollemnt issues are more complex than just blaming Casino profits and "greedy" (read incompetent) tribal governments. FIrst off, in order to understand disenrollemnts pre-Casino, yoiu must understand the development of the Dawes Act, and eligibility requiremetns menat to disrupt,and dislocate traditional socail/cultural membership within tribes. The Dawes Act era rolls forced upon tribes by the federal government were full of errors. Tribes have been clearing up their rolls becasue of errors on these rolls (I am not an expert on these specific cases). For example, a tribes is forcd from their ancestral territories and palced on a reservation, after the Dawes Act is passed, each tribe is to establsih a roll to set specific criteria for "Indians" to be recognized in order to receive land allotments,then the rest of the land is sold off to whites. More importantly, Indian Agents were not truthfull, many agents utilized their powers to coherse tribes through starvation, into doing whatever they wanted, mostly to secure tribal resoruces and to get wealthy through land. The agents establishing the "rolls" were then able to establish how much land would be for the tribe, and how much would be for Whites (mostly politicians and settlers). So, if you did not show up on the day they were writting peoles names down, if you were a traditionalist and did not want to conform to forced federal law, or if you merely did not want allotments, you were never recognized. Additionally, non-Indians tried to pass as Indians to get land, and Indians from other unrecognized tribes would show up and get on the rolls in order to get land. Decades later as tribes began to establish governments and gained more political power, they would look over the rolls. One instance that I know of dealt with unrecognized Shoshone Bands beign placed on a roll established for a tribe relocated into their territory, years later the family was disenrolled, and know seeks federal recognition. Although this is bad, it is the federal governemnts fault, and is part of the colonial relationship that the federal governemnt forces upon tribes. Fast forward years later and you have tribes, with huge amounts of resoruces that need to be protected now and for the future, cleaning up their rolls. If people do not meet the criteria, then they need to be disenrolled, a neutral way to do this would be to investiagte everybodys criteria, not just one family. I hope this explains what I was trying to say, banishment, disenrollment, and correcting allotment rolls are needed powers for tribes to keep not only their lands and communities safe, but to protect their heritage, resources, and future. Once the external federal governemnt interferes, then that right gets abrigated and impossible to get back, creating more problems and more federal interference. I hope I naswered the question.

smokeybear said...

You know you "Try" to explain away
why people should be "Disenrolled"
and you failed. Your right about the Indian Agents, Whites, and Non-
Indians...But the true "Native American" is being "Screwed" by the "B.I.A., and the "Casino Indians. Put it in "Perspective!"
...."Eagle Eyes,"

Luiseno said...

Tribes are not the harmonious band of people that non Indians think they are. There are always schisms and factions that do not get along with one another.What happens when one small group gains complete control of the Tribe with the added incentive of millions of dollars in their pockets (people have been killed for much less)? What happens when your accusers become your judge and jury (this is what happened to us)?

What happens when your Tribal Government HAS become corrupt, where do we turn to now?

smokeybear said...

You know it is getting harder and
harder to fight these "Corrupt
Criminals" that have ripped away
our beloved "Heritage!" But fight them we "MUST!"..."Eagle Eyes."