Monday, February 2, 2009

Candlelight Vigil Draws Groups from throughout Indian Country

Candlelight Vigil draws groups from throughout Indian Country

John Gomez, Jr. and Rick Cuevas contributed to this story.

Temecula, CA— Nearly 150 people, Indian and non-Indian alike, gathered in front of the Pechanga Resort and Casino on January 24th in a peaceful protest for Indian civil rights. Those in attendance represented tribes from throughout California and other parts of Indian Country.

"It gives me great pleasure to be involved in this event," stated Allen Mitchell, Muscogee Creek (Freedmen) who was kicked out of his tribe in 1979. "The presence of so many elders and children from the many different reservations makes a statement to Indian Country and our elected officials that this issue needs to be addressed or many more will fall victim to the actions of corrupt tribal officials."

The event, which was advertised as a candlelight vigil, was called to draw attention to the growing number of human and civil rights violations occurring in Indian Country. The violations, which include the denial of such basic rights as due process and equal protection, have contributed to the growing number of disenrollments, banishments, and denial of membership that have swept through Indian Country. In California alone, nearly 2500 Indian people have been stripped of their tribal citizenship since the approval and expansion of Indian Gaming in 2000. Additionally, thousands more have been denied their birthright as tribes close their roles in an attempt to limit the number of those who benefit from Indian Gaming.

“Considering the weather, it is good to see so many people willing to brave the cold and the possibility of rain and come together for such an important issue. There are people here from tribes up and down the State of California , and there are even representatives from tribes in Arizona , Oklahoma , and Nevada ,” stated John Gomez, Jr., one of the events organizers.

While the protesters braved the elements and lined the sidewalk across from the casino, Tribal leaders were inside at a reception for U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye (Dem- HI) and his wife. The reception was the culmination of a two-day conference on self governance and working with the Obama administration.

“Many of the people you see here sent in requests to Senator Inouye and the Obama administration requesting to meet with them while they were here for the conference. We received no response from Senator Inouye nor from the Obama Administration,” said John Gomez, Jr. “I and many other Obama supporters in attendance held out hope that the President and his administration would be true to his word regarding basic rights and grass roots campaigns. Unfortunately, it looks like the same old politics.”

Hundreds of passersby honked and waved to those gathered, and many asked for information while stopped at intersections at both ends of the event. Event attendees handed out leaflets and flyers describing the violations of basic rights committed by tribal officials, and many people were directed to visit internet sites such as the Original Pechanga Blog, Pechanga.Info, and to get more information.

At the close of the vigil, thanks were given to all those who attended and commitments were made to hold more events and to continue the struggle for Indian civil rights.

“It would have been nice if Senator Inouye or the Obama Administration would have responded to our requests, but this event was a good start to 2009 and provided an opportunity to re-connect with old friends and to welcome new people to the fight for Indian rights. This event was also significant in that it was filmed and many of the attendees were interviewed for an upcoming documentary chronicling the growth of rights violations in Indian Country,” said Gomez. “Now it’s on to Sacramento for a February 5th event at the State Capitol.”

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