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
When city folk daydream about ditching the rat race and settling down somewhere peaceful, they imagine a place like the Pala Indian reservation. Nestled near the base of Palomar Mountain in north San Diego County and just a few miles east of I-15, it's 12,000 acres of gorgeous hilly countryside and red earth. Roadside stands sell oranges and avocados. Prickly nopal cactus grows like weeds, surrounding ranches populated by cows, horses and even the occasional buffalo.
The majority of the tribe's 800 members lives on the reservation these days, and during daylight hours the town square, ringed by a mission church and a general store, feels sleepy and bucolic. But almost any hour of the day it's hectic at the Pala Casino, a short jog away, as hordes of gamblers — including many Asian senior citizens brought in on buses from San Diego, Orange County and L.A. — feed thousands of slot machines.
"Will anyone come out here to the middle of nowhere?" many Pala members wondered when the casino was built in 2001, followed by a sprawling hotel, on loans of more than $200 million. It has since become one of Southern California's most profitable gaming palaces.
Tribe members have benefited: Today, each receives monthly payouts that add up to more than $150,000 per year, as well as free health care and free college. Members who reside on the reservation don't have to pay state income tax. Though some still live in run-down homes, parts of the reservation feel like a posh suburb, as luxury cars cruise past a gleaming sports complex and administration building. Minors receiving payments via a trust often are presented with huge checks when they come of age, so long as they graduate high school.
But with big money has come some big problems: Longtime members have been kicked out, resulting in bitter feuds about who should be considered a member of the tribe, who deserves the payouts and even what it means to be Native American.
While the Pala casino has finally allowed the tribe's members entree to the American dream, it also has turned neighbors against one another — with devastating consequences.
David Duro grew up on the Pala reservation before casino gambling. Thirty years old and stout, with a tuft of chin hair, he looks not unlike a typical SoCal Latino guy, which is not uncommon for tribal members. (One Pala man notes with a laugh that he's sometimes stopped by Chicanos asking in rapid Spanish for directions.) Duro has a deep love for his family and his tribal culture, and the payouts — which members call "per capita" — allow him to focus on both.
When he was a kid, Duro's family lived in a small tract home, built by the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, and subsisted on rations like powdered eggs and government cheese. With tribal unemployment hovering around 40 percent, and roads that would wash out during rainstorms, Duro sought to escape the reservation, enlisting in the Army at 18.
It was peacetime then, but after 9/11 he was deployed to Afghanistan as a paratrooper for the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. Bearing an M4 carbine rifle as he trudged through the deserts and mountains, he dropped 25 pounds and learned to love MREs.
The Pala people have suffered unimaginable atrocities over the years — including being forced at gunpoint off their original land and relocated here at the beginning of the 20th century. But while Duro was gone, the Pala's luck began to change. By the time he returned in 2004, the monthly payments had begun.
Duro's parents more than doubled the size of their HUD-built home, while Duro, who found work as a tribal security guard, bought a BMW. He met his wife, Lupe, while getting it serviced at the Escondido dealership where she worked.
They're now raising her daughter, plus two kids of their own, in a freshly built, five-bedroom house with vaulted ceilings, a modern kitchen and rose bushes in the front yard. There's a Yukon XL SUV and Ford full-sized pickup in their driveway; in their fancy reservation subdivision, others have boats. Duro's wife and daughters have all but convinced him to put a pool in the backyard.
They can afford their home in part because of the tribe's generous housing program, which builds members custom houses on a reservation lot of their choosing and provides cheap home loans. Mortgage payments are deducted directly from their per capita payments. "Out in the city you're going to be paying a little more for a house like that," Duro says. "They kind of take care of you." (Anyone can live on the reservation, but only tribal members qualify for such programs. While Pala members don't have to live there to receive the payouts, they do if they want the housing subsidies.)
Duro quit his security job in the past year and now feels semi-retired, though he helps out with his father's construction business a few hours a week. He's contemplating another career, perhaps in law enforcement, and enjoys blowing off steam shooting target practice at Pala's gun range.
Mostly, however, he's focused on big-picture pursuits. He ran for tribal chairman in the fall, losing to longtime tribal leader Robert Smith by 100 votes or so. His great passion is his tribal song-and-dance group. His mother leads and he's the head singer, performing traditional songs at powwows, birthdays, anniversaries and other events around the country.
Look, this same scenario plays out across tribal lands where gaming is present... Huge, tax free dividends and corporate lear jets for the council members to enjoy/ Seminole, Miccasoukee...and then the abject poor...The Crow and Shoshone...
It's time for the BIA to take over all indian gaming revenue and to disperse it evenly to all native Americans across the Nation and Alaska. Fair share for each....
But then that is where the Native brotherhood stops...isn't it?
If it's sovereign land and the the government won't intervene the disenrolled are expelled they should fight it by any means necessary and go for a coup d'état.
The disenrollments stripped the members of their heritage, of their pride of being Pala Indian. It was five people taking away everything that these members knew. It would be like the President telling you that you no longer are an American citizen and that you must move, and every eye staring and laughing as you pack your things, dying inside, with no where to go, and no heritage to be proud of. In a reply to an article in the San Diego Reader, Robert Smith just recently claimed that only persons of at least 1/2 Pala blood were allotted land in Pala, which the children of Margarita Brittain were all allotted land in Pala, which proves he lied about the reason for disenrollments. Her children must be at least 1/2, which makes her grandchildren 1/4 and her great-grandchildren 1/8, and her great-great-grandchildren 1/16 (providing their were no inter-marriages, or members who married or had children from other Pala members). 1/16 is the requirement for enrollment which is the blood the great-great-grandchildren possess, so this is proof that the disenrollments were not over blood. But the general council did not vote on the disenrollments, only the Executive Committee did, who are also the Enrollment Committee, and who control the Election Committee, in fact they control everything and allow no one to question their actions or they threaten disenrollment.They also threaten the idea of treason to any relatives still enrolled that try to help the disenrolled, which is ludicrous. Can you say Dictatorship? In America? Our government steps into other countries that have evil leaders who take advantage of their people, but they stand idly by when it happens in their own land. The BIA just lets this happen in Indian Country, what are they here for? Not the individual Indian that is for sure, they only support the tribal leaders who lie to keep their own lavish lifestyles. Ask Robert Smith how many homes he has? Ask him how many supposed bad investments he has made with the tribes money? Ask him who his partners are? Follow the money and the truth shall be revealed.
What a great article! Thank you LA Weekly for exposing the truth about tribal gaming and what is being done on reservations to Native peoples. It's particularly disturbing to hear how tribal members act. "Laughing at people who have lost their money". As if receiving money payouts for doing nothing, having no career makes one better, it's quite the contrary. It has bred a new race of casino Indians as they are called.
I love the Pala Casino, and routinely go out to enjoy eateries and music venues. The hotel is a world class establishment, the spa a European delight. We have raped, pillaged, and plundered the Indians for years, it is fantastic that they get a little piece of the American pie for themselves. More power to them.
What has happened at Pala is an injustice. Similar both Pechanga in Temecula and the most egregious example at Chukchansi. We bring the stories to light of what casino gaming has wrought at ORIGINAL PECHANGA's BLOG ( http://originalpechanga.com ).
Tribe's have sovereignty, but that doesn't make it right. South Africa was a sovereign nation too, yet we interfered with their apartheid system and divested ourselves in order to persuade them to do the right thing.
That is a simple thing to do. Simply call the casino and tell them you will NO LONGER come because of what you read here. You understand their sovereignty, but you can't support a business that would cheat their OWN people. If they cheat their own, won't they cheat YOU?
If you think Wal-Mart is bad because they only pay minimum wage...what about an enterprise that steal money, violates civil and human rights, cheats their people, and lies about it? Which is worse?
Please tell your friends to NOT patronize Pala Casino, Pechanga Resort & Casino and in Northern CA, the Win-River Casino and Chukchansi Gold. ( They are the worst, eliminating 75% of their tribe)
Is it about MONEY? YOU BETCHA. Pechanga has stolen over $400 MILLION from their disenrolled. Is that enough to cheat someone of their heritage? Believe it.
@sedonasherpa Yeah, because
A) Everything you read must be true
B) All tribes are the same
C) The Native Brotherhood What??
@captmrgnx I'm not sure if your attempting to be racist or ignorant but the phrase "Indian Givers" is actually derogatory towards WHITE people! NOT NATIVE AMERICANS! In any event, I applaud you in showing your truly moronic nature.
I have one comment, that TC can not strip you of your heritage! MONEY IS NOT HERITAGE!! You are Pala, you know exactly what blood flows through your veins and they can NEVER take that away from you!!!
@alaxwish your clearly not a native american nor know anyone who is
@alaxwish When one of our elders (80's) asked what would happen if the tribe disenrolled them, some of the yahoos in the corner yelled GET A JOB! Losing health coverage was also a big factor in a lot of lives. No worries though, right, the state of CA would pick up the slack.
@fredquarters And now, the Pala Council is doing the same to their OWN people. Few of the members of any tribe in CA were raped and pillaged by Europeans. Bill Cosby refused to play at Chukchansi because of what those leaders did to their people.
The cover of the book looks great, but what lies beneath is unsavory.
I grow up on Pala Rez and I remember as a child how fun it was to play around on the Rez, such as swimming in the river bottom with brothers and Cuz. Hiking in the mountains and hunting wild game animals. The adults would watch out for one other tribal members Children. We were taught by our parents to respect our elders and to respect our fellow tribal people too. But the children now days have no respect for Elders or our fellow tribal members. It starts with Executive Committee member who are charge of tribe. They are the leaders of the tribe and some have lead by good example and some have not. Those Executive Committee that have lead by bad example have hurt tribe and given our tribe a black EYE. How I miss the old days as child.