Monday, August 4, 2008

Adopted is not Indian

San Pasqual government has split, bureau says

By Onell R. Soto
August 2, 2008

VALLEY CENTER – In a move that could force the closure of Valley View Casino, the Bureau of Indian Affairs said yesterday the tribal government for the San Pasqual Indian band has collapsed in a rift over tribal membership.

“I am unable to recognize any tribal government for San Pasqual and strongly urge the members of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians to take immediate action to address this matter,” James Fletcher, the bureau's local superintendent, said in a letter.

“Only federally recognized tribal governments may operate governmental programs, businesses, conduct business or act on behalf of their membership,” he wrote.

In addition to its hillside casino in Valley Center, the tribe operates a quarry and provides government services including fire protection, housing and education.


Background: About 50 members of the San Pasqual Indian band in Valley Center have had their ancestry questioned, which has led to competing groups claiming to be the legitimate government of the tribe.

What's changing: The Bureau of Indian Affairs, after attempting mediation to get the two sides to come back together, has decided that the rift is such that no effective tribal government exists.

The future: Without a government, the tribe's Valley View Casino can't operate, according to The National Indian Gaming Commission, although it's unclear what its next step will be.

Online: To read the letter from the BIA's James Fletcher, go to

The tribe last year expanded the casino and is planning to open a hotel.

But it has long struggled over who belongs in the tribe and the disagreement now has broken up a five-member committee the BIA considers the tribe's governing body.

Only legitimate governments can operate tribal casinos, say the BIA and the National Indian Gaming Commission, which oversees such gambling.

In letters to members, some tribal leaders have said they've insulated the casino from tribal politics, in part by having a separate legal entity, the San Pasqual Casino Development Group, run the 1,750-slot gambling hall.

But that might not be enough for the national commission.

“There has to be a functioning government in place,” Eric Schalansky, the commission's Sacramento-based regional director, said two weeks ago. A spokesman for the commission confirmed that late yesterday.

Joe Navarro, who heads the San Pasqual Casino Development Group wouldn't say what the BIA's decision means for the casino.

He sits on the tribe's enrollment committee, but didn't sign the June letter in which the panel told about 50 of the tribe's 300 members that they were being suspended.

That letter followed an anthropologist's finding that an ancestor, Marcus Alto Sr., was adopted, and as result, his descendants are not really Indians.

“We've never dug graves with them. I've never had contact with them,” Ron Mast, the tribal member who challenged their ancestry, said in an interview last month. “They have never been my family.”

The suspensions led to rival groups holding simultaneous meetings, each saying they were the true government.

Tribal members on both sides say the dispute is about money – enrolled members receive nearly $4,000 a month in casino profits – but also about identity.

Fletcher warned tribal leaders their actions were outside the tribe's rules and tried – and failed – to get mediators from the U.S. Department of Justice to unite the two sides.

“I have concluded that no recognizable tribal government presently exists,” Fletcher said.

He blamed both sides – those who were trying to kick out the Alto descendants, as well as the Alto descendants and their allies.

He said the BIA generaly stays out of internal disputes, but federal law gives it oversight.

“The BIA must ensure that the tribal governing body is properly constituted and qualified in representing the tribe in matters before the Department of Interior,” he said.

Reached by phone yesterday, Fletcher said he couldn't comment beyond what he said in the letter.

Tribal Chairman Allen Lawson, whose official title is spokesman, didn't want to talk about the BIA's action.

“The tribal government is operating,” he said. “Our tribal people address all their issues internally. That's our custom and tradition.”

But the issues haven't been addressed properly, Fletcher said in his letter.

He said the federal government recognizes only a five-member business committee as the tribe's legitimate government. But the committee has stopped meeting together.

And, “in a manner inconsistent with tribal government provisions,” committee members from each side have been suspended by the other side's supporters.

(yep, major storms brewing in Indian Country and this won't be the last of them - by properly does he mean seeking injunctive relief under Young? See the problems this is going to create - so get braced for the action; this also makes me wonder whether or not all the disenrollments in CA are based on this - in otherwords, the Tribes are disenrolling non Indians - and the public just hasn't been told this - so that sucking sound you hear in Oklahoma might well be the same sucking sound you hear coming from the California area)