A small group of Dry Creek Pomo Indians protested the disenrollment of six dozen of their family and friends Sunday at the entrance to the tribe’s cash cow, the River Rock Casino.
With signs reading Corruption+Greed=Disenrollment and No Disenrolling for Dollars, the group quietly engaged passersby and those dropping off their cars for valet parking.
Casino management sent an emissary outside who is related to some of the protesters to tell them they wouldn’t be kicked off tribal property if they didn’t obstruct anyone or disrupt traffic. He declined to comment and refused to give his name.
The peaceful protest was the latest turn in a contentious fight for leadership of the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, whose members receive $600 monthly checks from casino disbursements and other benefits of tribal enrollment.
Tribal Chairman Harvey Hopkins and the governing board voted in January to remove the names of 73 adults and 70 children from the rolls of the 565-member tribe. Elections in December were cancelled and infighting between Hopkins and other board members led to recall efforts started then abruptly cancelled – between leaders.
Protest leader Ross Cunningham of San Francisco, who was told he will be disenrolled, said the leaders are ignoring what tribe members want.
“Our board is valuing this casino rather than our members, he said.
The tribe’s casino in Alexander Valley posted $32.3 million in revenue for the third quarter that ended Sept. 30.
Alexis Elgin said she was told she will be removed from tribal membership, and then was fired from her casino job after presenting Hopkins with a petition against the disenrollment.
She said she was given the run-around when she went to tribal headquarters to view an audit that supposedly shows she doesn’t qualify as a member.
Contention about membership in California tribes often surfaces during election times. To be members of Dry Creek, people must show they are descended from those who were in a census when the rancheria was established in 1915 and cannot have been enrolled in another tribe in the past.
But some members have parents of different tribes and may have been affiliated with another tribe as children. And some members moved onto the rancheria after the census.
Jill Chavez of Hawaii, visiting the casino as part of a friend’s 50th anniversary celebration, supported the protesters’ demands.
“Oh, I hope you win,” she told them after asking what disenrollment meant. There is a lot of greed and corruption.
Only a half dozen protesters took part Sunday, claiming more didn’t attend because they are scared they may be targeted for disenrollment. Organizers of the protest issued several demands in a press release:
They want a general membership meeting and a board election within two weeks; a moratorium on disenrollment proceedings until after elections; and that board salaries be suspended until after elections.
Tribal board members couldn’t be reached for comment Sunday on the protesters demands.
Protesters said disenrollment is being used as a tool to oust opponents from the tribe, like Angelina Manuel, who said her home used to be on the corner where tour buses now park.
“Eighty percent of tribe members want to stop disenrollment, she said. “But they don’t listen. It’s like we don’t have any say anymore.