About 60 members of the small San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, which operates the highly successful Valley View Casino, are not really members of the tribe, the United States Department of the Interior ruled Monday.
Those subject to the decision, which overturns one made in 2008, will be ousted from the tribe. They will no longer share in casino profits, will have to move off the reservation, and will not be able to take advantage of any other tribal benefits, the band’s spokesman, Allen Lawson, said Monday.
At the heart of the issue is whether the descendants of Marcus Alto Sr. should be considered blood members of the tribe.
Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk, the highest authority for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, ruled that Alto was adopted when three days old in 1907 by members of the tribe and therefore his descendants are not truly blood members of the San Pasqual band. Alto died in 1988. Even the year of Alto’s birth is a point of contention. Documents also mention 1903 and 1905 as birth dates.
To be part of the San Pasqual band, people have to be at least one-eighth “blood of the band.” That limits membership to people who have a great-grandparent who is or was a full-blooded San Pasqual Indian.
“When you’re not a member, it means you do not qualify for any of the benefits,” Lawson said.
“The Assistant Secretary’s thorough and well-reasoned decision vindicates the Tribe’s continuing opposition to the Bureau’s enrollment of Marcus Alto’s descendants,” Lawson said. “Nothing is more important to the exercise of tribal sovereignty than a tribe’s right to define its own membership. After 20 years the Bureau has finally acted to correct its mistake.”
The 270 to 300 members of the Indian band receive checks each month for about $3,600, said Isabelle Sepeda, 68, Marcus Alto’s youngest daughter, who lives in Anaheim.
She said she and all those in her family are “devastated” by the ruling and intend to fight it. If new evidence is presented, the ruling states, the issue can be revisited.
“I can’t believe the dignity of my father is being hurt like this,” she said. She maintains her father was the son of tribal members.
“My dad talked to me about his mother all the time. He said he loved his mother and that she was the only mother he had ever known.” Sepeda says the disenrollment is the result of lies and hearsay being spread by people who dislike her family.
Lawson and Sepeda said only about eight of the Alto descendants live on the reservation presently, although all do receive benefits.
The dispute has been going for more than 20 years. In 2008 the Bureau of Indian Affairs, denied the band’s bid to eject the 60 members. That ruling was appealed to the Interior Department, which spent almost two years researching the question.
“I am persuaded that the enrollment of the Marcus Alto, Sr., descendants was based on information subsequently determined to be inaccurate and, as a result, their names must be deleted from the Band’s roll,” wrote Echo Hawk. ”... This decision is final for the Department.”
Lawson said the tribe is in the process of officially notifying the Alto descendants of the disenrollment and preparing a revised Tribal roll to present to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The San Pasqual band is made up of descendants of a village of about 100 people evicted at gunpoint from the San Pasqual Valley by sheriff’s deputies in the 1870s to make way for white settlers. Their homeland is now the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formerly known as the Wild Animal Park).
Over the next several decades, members of the tribe moved to cities and other reservations and married non-Indians. The government finally established a reservation on five parcels in Valley Center in 1910.