May 29, 2008

Disenrollees are hopping mad

Gambling on tribal ancestry

As Indian casino profits soar, tribes reexamine who qualifies for a slice of the winnings--and thin their ranks.It all started sometime in late 2002. Rumors were heard, allegations were made, lineages were scrutinized, voices were raised, and, at the end of it all, the enrollment committee moved to throw some 130 members out of the 1,200-strong tribe.

The members targeted are hopping mad. "They did it to our face," says John Gomez Jr., one of the plaintiffs in the suit filed two months ago against members of the tribal enrollment committee. "They presented a memo saying there are 'issues' about our ancestor Manuela Miranda. False and absurd! We know who we are."

According to the Pechanga constitution, full membership requires proof of lineal descent from an original Pechanga member and a family line contained in the official enrollment book. Mr. Gomez and other plaintiffs trace their lineage to Manuela Miranda--granddaughter of undisputed Pechanga headman Pablo Apish. Most of the plaintiffs have enjoyed full membership rights and lived on or around the reservation--in Temecula, Calif.--for more than 25 years.

But now, committee members say they have found that Ms. Miranda, who was, to begin with, only half Pechanga (according to the US Bureau of Indian Affairs)--moved off the reservation and cut her ties to the tribe 80 years ago.

"Cut her ties? No. No and no," insists Gomez, a paralegal who was fired from his job as legal assistant for the tribe when the debate flared. "At show-and-tell at elementary school I would bring in pictures of my Pechanga ancestors," he says. Gomez grew up in northern California and moved to Temecula in 1997 with his wife, Jennifer. "I would tell stories of my dad and his cousins and their 'Indian tricks and games'.... To have someone suddenly tell you, 'You are not Pechanga and you never were,' is very hurtful."
Comment:  A paid anthropologist says Gomez and company are related to a verified tribal ancestor. The tribe says Gomez's people cut their ties to this ancestor. For all we know, both sides may be correct. Now what?

The last time I discussed the question of the Pechanga disenrollment was in More Pechanga Bashing. In the comments section I specifically addressed this issue:As I said at the end of the Cooper article, if a tribe decides to disenroll people whose ancestors forfeited their membership, it doesn't matter if they're still Pechangas biologically. That's one explanation for how the tribe could ignore expert reports and testimony on the disenrollees' biological ties. Repeat: Ancestry doesn't necessarily matter if someone abandons tribal membership.Now we see this issue raised in the body of the Christian Science Monitor article. I'm still waiting for a cogent response. Sorry, but Gomez's "No. No and no" isn't it.

Gomez admits he didn't live on the reservation until 1997. That supports the claim that his ancestors cut their ties--that they repudiated their membership. Where's the evidence that his ancestors maintained ties to the tribe during his childhood despite living almost 1,000 miles away?

In the previous posting I raised several other issues as well. I'm waiting for a response on all of them. Take your time, people. I'm in no hurry.

For more on the subject, see The Facts About Indian Gaming--Disenrollment.

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