Column: Bill helps wealthy tribes purge members

"You know local, eastside state Senator Gloria Romero, right? The feisty Democratic majority leader in the California Senate? The highest-ranking woman in the state Legislature? Ardent defender of civil liberties, consumers, workers, minorities? Fearless reformer of prisons and rogue police forces? Great.

Now you can add another title: Gloria Romero, faithful in-the-bag servant of wealthy gambling interests.

Romero has written and is carrying an onerous piece of legislation titled “Unlawful Entry: Tribal Land” that would allow California Indian tribes to issue stiff fines against non-tribal members entering what are called “Indian Lands.” The uninitiated here might be scratching their heads asking: Exactly what problem does this bill solve? Aren’t “non-tribal members” just the usual endless flow of pasty-faced patsies hurriedly tooling through the rez eagerly trying to get to the slot machines? Or has there been some unreported invasion of Indian holdings by a Palm Springs cattle-rustling gang?

Hardly. What the tribes are worried about are, in fact, their own members — members who have been booted out of the clan and who still live on the rez or might want to visit family members who do. Booted out, by the way, because the tribal bosses don’t want to share juicy gambling revenues with them. Some of these “disenrolled” members are now among the strongest voices opposing Romero’s bill — arguing that it will be one more cudgel that gambling tribes will use to whip up their profit rates. The result, they say, will be hundreds of the disenrolled getting evicted from their homes, and then banned from visiting relatives who stay behind.

Paranoia? I don’t think so. The casino-owning Pechanga tribe in the Temecula area, for example, has purged some 400 members since 2004, about one-third of its population. And why not? The monthly stipend handed out to enrolled members from casino profits has reportedly doubled since then, now topping out at a handsome $30,000 per month per person. The Pechanga purge was a nasty, Sopranos-like affair — digging up relatives’ graves and scanning the remains for DNA. The tribe hired an independent consultant to oversee the probe and authenticate tribal bloodlines. But when his report revealed that those on the purge list were, indeed, authentic Pechanga Indians, his recommendations and findings were simply ignored and dozens of families lost their income — and their heritage — anyway."

Get the Story:
Marc Cooper: Tribal Purge (LA Weekly 6/14)

Relevant Links:
Pechanga Tribal Disenrollment -
Tribal Corruption -, Disenrollment site -

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