By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“That guy’s disenrolled. So is that one and that one,” says the young Pechanga as he points to the dingy trailer homes we pass. Indeed, the first five trailers we come upon are those of expellees. For the moment, at least, they can continue to stay where they are, but they have no right to tribal health, educational or cultural facilities.
After driving by the Pechanga Fire and Public Safety offices, we come to a green sign reading “Hunter Lane” — named for Paulina Hunter, the deceased elder whom the leadership deemed to have been a San Luis Rey Indian and not a Pechanga. Suddenly we’re in front of a charming, literally handcrafted two-story cottage that seems to have been transported out of a fairy tale. In the warm, wood-paneled cottage living room, a huge model of the Titanic sits atop a console TV. It, like the house, was meticulously assembled by its occupant, 90-year-old Lawrence Madariaga, the eldest member of the Pechanga tribe — until, that is, he was disenrolled, along with all the Hunter descendants last year.
“Oh, no, I’m not going anywhere,” he says as his 87-year-old wife, Sophie, joins us on a divan. “Could never live in any real neighborhood after living here.”
Madariaga, once the foreman of an L.A.-area lumberyard, helped bring electricity to the reservation in 1968, and played a key role in bringing running water and a sewage system to the land. Madariaga helped to draft the blueprint for, and to build, the reservation’s clinic. He also was one of the few men trusted to write the tribal charter and, rather ironically, its criteria for membership. The great-grandson of Paulina Hunter, he still possesses the original land deed given to the family and signed by President McKinley.
Madariaga, who suffers from prostate cancer, creaks off the couch and shows me a framed, engraved plaque reading: “Silver Feather Elders: Member of the Year 2005.” He received the award a month before his disenrollment notice.
Retired since 1980, Madariaga boasts of having made wise investments and building up a decent retirement fund before the casino boon. “I don’t miss that money,” he says of the per capita payment that was taken away. “But they’ve taken away our rights, taken away our whole past. We don’t know now if we are from Jupiter or Mars.”
What was firmly established was Madariaga’s lineage as a Pechanga. While he and his family were appealing the expulsion, the tribe — in order to minimize criticism — hired renowned anthropologist Dr. John Johnson, a curator at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, to conduct an “independent” probe of the Hunter family’s bloodlines.
In a richly detailed report, received by the Pechanga Enrollment Committee in late 2004, Johnson concludes that the “preponderance of evidence gathered from the surviving documents leads to the conclusion that Paulina Hunter was a tribal member of Temecula and Pechanga.” When asked later by a reporter to be more specific, Johnson said there was a “90 percent” chance that Hunter was a Pechanga. In the KNBC story, he was even more emphatic: “She’s definitely Pechanga Indian, 100 percent.” The tribe, however, flatly ignored its own commissioned expert report and proceeded with the expulsion.
“They ignored whatever I did in their decision making,” Johnson told L.A. Weekly after the disenrollment was formalized. “It’s too bad economics and politics have been injected” into the tribal rulings.
While Johnson’s probe was pushed aside, the tribe wound up basing its ruling on the written allegation of a somewhat less expert source, former tribal chairman Vincent Belasco Ibanez, who at the time was completing an eight-year prison term for sexual molestation of a minor. And while Johnson had earned a doctorate in anthropology at UC Santa Barbara and had established a 30-year history as an expert in probing Indian culture and archival records, former chairman Ibanez was known primarily for guiding nature walks focused on native plants.
Again, Chairman Macarro would not explain directly to L.A. Weekly why the conclusions of the tribe’s own hired expert were ignored. But he did tell KNBC, “As was reported to me, there was a percentage figure of estimation, and it was 90 percent, and it was regarded as nonconclusive, and let me further state, again, the courts have affirmed that not anthropologists but tribes themselves have the responsibility to maintain the integrity. Only tribes know their own history. As a legal matter, this case is closed, and the courts have moved on and the tribe have moved on.”
In August of 2006, Macarro issued a written statement on the case. “This is a very complex intertribal matter involving Pechanga history and genealogy,” he wrote. “The insinuation that these actions are motivated by politics or profits is reprehensible. The fact is that disenrollments occurred long before Pechanga ever opened its gaming facility.”
History suggests exactly the opposite. For most of the 20th century, Indian tribes struggled desperately to find, recruit and include new members in order to gain official federal recognition. While factional disputes, including among the Pechanga, were not unusual in the past, any occurrence of massive disenrollment of the sort visited upon the Gomez and Hunter families took place only after eye-popping gambling profits became part of the equation.