Friday, April 5, 2013


Our friend, attorney Erick Rhoan of NOTES on INDIAN LAW blog pointed us to this story concerning a just decision that came out from Graton. It's a slap in the face to those tribes like Pechanga, Pala, Chukchansi among others that have cause so much injustice and hardship on their own people. There is a link to the rest of the story below.

As bitter membership disputes roil many California tribes with casinos, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria has moved to avoid such problems by revising its constitution in advance of the opening of its casino in Rohnert Park.

The changes to the tribe's 11-year-old governing document cover various legal areas. But the most significant revision, in light of an impending influx of gambling profits, curtails tribal leaders' ability to disenroll citizens.

With that move, the Graton Rancheria is swimming against what experts describe as a rising tide of tribes kicking out members in battles often believed to be over the distribution of casino income.

"California leads the charge in the number of tribal communities that are disenrolling great swaths of their bona fide members, and they're using the most specious of reasons," said David Wilkins, a professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota Law School.

"Here we have a tribe that is bucking that trend . . . having done what I think is unique in Indian country in limiting the power of government officials," said Wilkins, who writes extensively about American Indian politics and maintains a collection of tribal constitutions.

The tribe's action comes at a key moment in its history. It is set to open what will be the Bay Area's biggest casino late this year on the outskirts of Rohnert Park. Projections are that it could bring in $418 million annually by its seventh year.

By making it far harder for the tribal government to revoke a member's citizenship, the Graton Rancheria has sought to avoid the strife that has riven some tribes.

"We saw the money coming," said Greg Sarris, the tribe's chairman for 21 years. "We saw the changes coming. We saw the challenges and we said, 'Let's do something that could prohibit disenrollments in our tribe.' "

The revisions do not completely outlaw disenrollments. But they set out provisions strictly limiting that possibility, rules that experts say don't exist elsewhere.

Members can lose their citizenship if their enrollment resulted from fraud or mistake -- but there is a three-year statute of limitations.

Members enrolled in another tribe are considered "to have relinquished (their) citizenship," the constitution says.

Descendants of people who lose citizenship remain eligible for membership.

The Tribal Council can suspend members -- usually for behavioral transgressions such as violence -- but their children remain eligible for membership.

Also, in a measure taken to preserve the new protections against political power shifts, the tribe's laws governing citizenship can be amended only by a two-thirds vote of the General Council. That body is made up of all adult members of the tribe, just under 800 people.

"It is unique; I've never seen anything like it," said Cheryl Williams, whose Sacramento and San Diego American Indian law firm, Williams & Cochrane, specializes in tribal litigation.



Erick Rhoan said...

This is exactly what's needed and very refreshing.

chaplaw said...

I totally agree with Mr. Rhoan. Major issue: How do you change the constitutions of tribes who have disenrolled like Pala? 1989 Final Decision by DOI that Margarita Britten was full blood Indian was trashed no reason by a corrupt tribal leadership. Fear stops the enrolled at Pala from standing beside the Britten ancestors.

OPechanga said...

You MUST keep drawing attention to them. A SPOTLIGHT is the best disenfectant.

Respond to this story at the Press Democrat, write a letter to the editor, share this story on Facebook and twitter (@Interior @TheJusticeDept )

Send the council letters every week. Letters/faxes keep pushing them.

smokeybear said...

And what was so hard about that?
Isn't that something like Pechanga
did, just before we were "Disenrolled?"..."Eagle Eyes."

Reinstatement_Restitution said...

Pala also has a clause in the Enrollment Ordinance of their Constitution that states:

"BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Executive Committee of the Pala Band, by adoption of this revised Ordinance, does not intend to alter or change the membership status of individuals whose membership has already been approved and who are currently listed on the membership roll of the Pala Band of Mission Indians..."

These so called efforts to prevent disenrollment don't work. Tribal leaders become corrupt when they get their hands on the money, and then create situations where they need the money to bribe people to stay in power and out of jail. They get that money by stealing it from legitimate tribal members.

There also is a lot of discrimation involved in disenrollments, petty grudges, family fueds being played out. The whole mess reveals an immaturity and incompetence that make it difficult for tribes to handle their own affairs in a democratic fashion.

We will keep fighting for reinstatement as long as there is still beating in our hearts. No crooked tribal leaders can tell us we are not true Indians and true Pala.

Anonymous said...

It sounds great, but the lawyers work with the tribal leaders to leave loopholes in their constitutions and ordinances for actions taken later by the Chairmen when they decide they want more power and money, after all as long as their are discrepancies the lawyers still need to be on account, and they know this means big big money down the line. They should make a clause that states the term limits to a certain amount of years and that the incumbents cannot run again for a certain amount of years and that this part of the ordinance cannot be amended in any way by anyone, that way the existing Chairman cannot go behind the general council's back with a secret meeting of a quorum and change this clause, like Robert Smith did in Pala. Be careful Graton Rancheria people because the chairman has already been there 21 years and I don't know if that is a good sign. He will think he deserves more because he brought them to this point. Hope it goes well and praying for them to stay honest, but greed is a powerful evil.

pale rider said...

Get a blog , tweet your stories to congress , or to obama .

When they start hacking your (blog)you know your doing a good job.

(Don't hate on bloggers)

OPechanga said...

Encourage comments, get a mailing list together of current tribal members.

Anonymous said...

That's great to see leadership with the right intentions. Hope they stay that way even after the money starts coming in. I sure wish Congress would amend the Indian Civil Rights Act so that the wrongfully disenrolled could at least have a chance to be heard in court.

Anonymous said...

That fact is there own family who was in office was tampering with the enrollment and he know he got caught.

Luiseno said...

There is no need to change the constitutions of tribes who have disenrolled like Pechanga and Pala. All we need to do is to ensure that they follow there constitutions as they are written now. As in Pechanga's case, IF they had followed there constitution, there would have been NO disenrollment.

Anonymous said...

If Pechanga doesn’t change it constitution for enrollment and disenrollment how will they protect the Layva line and the Ruth’s who has no birth certificate.

Luiseno said...

I forget his exact words (maybe someone here can post it for me), but when confronted with the fact that the enrollment committee was not following the constitution Mark M. said something to the effect as "oh, that silly piece of paper". With an attitude like that, no wonder they didn't feel compelled to follow it.

Unknown said...

The BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) is not a judiciary and are not equipped to act like a judiciary for Tribes without a constitutional accountability avenue. As sovereign nations, accountability is on us, not the federal government. There will always be culprits. In my case; a highly intelligent and educated deluded narcissist without the strength of character to man up. Without a constitutional accountability avenue, no tribal member is safe.
I didn't receive my ID card until Feb 2012, (2 months later and well within the three year time frame) in April 2012 a formal complaint against Chairman Greg Sarris for his abuses and offenses was filed and received-acknowledged by both the Tribal Vice Chairperson and the Secretary, yet no hearings were held.
While Sarris can talk circles, he can't write his way out.
Lezlie Grigone
Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria