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
Though some observers had speculated that casino wealth would cause tribal members to lose touch with their customs, in Duro's case the opposite seems true. Without a job, he's been afforded an opportunity to connect with his culture, which had long been in danger of obsolescence. "You got kids and even adults that, if you talk to them in Indian, they don't really know what you're saying," he says. "They're, like, 'Huh?' "
But he knows these are the salad days. "It's important to teach the kids not to rely on the casino, don't rely on the per capita," Duro says. "Yes, it's a blessing, but it's not promised."
There are hints that the end may already be coming. The tribe's payouts dropped last year, and the casino's business model seems threatened. Critics of the tribe's leadership say it's no coincidence that a huge swath of Pala's members have been dropped from the rolls in recent years. Less money coming in, they say, has caused the leadership to take desperate measures to maintain the status quo — a witch hunt resulting in the removal of about one-sixth of the tribe, for supposedly lacking sufficient Pala blood.
The leaders deny any connection between falling revenue and the disenrollments, but the tribe has been split into a two-tiered society: the haves and the have-nots. The two factions grew up together, went to school together and, in many cases, live practically side by side. The only difference is that some of them get $150,000 per year, and subsidized home loans, and free college.
The others get nothing.
On St. Patrick's Day morning, the scent of sage drifts out of the Pala Mission church. "I can't wear green, because it's Lent," says the priest, to laughs, addressing a tightly packed congregation that includes Native Americans and worshippers of other races. "So I had to wear purple."
The church was established by the Spanish 200 years ago in an effort to, well, save the damned. Today it's the only one in the country still ministering predominantly to Native Americans. In fact, hardly a despised symbol of colonialism, it's the heart of the reservation, the spot where locals come to pray and be married.
A charming, low-slung white edifice with Native American–motif tiles on the floor, its facility also contains a museum and a gift shop. In the adjacent colorful cemetery, one headstone reads "Always on My Mind" with an engraving of Elvis; carved into the grave marker next to it is a slot machine that has spun a 7-7-7. And why not? Many tribal members feel understandably lucky.
The service kicks off just after 11:30 a.m. when King Freeman, owner of the Pala general store across the street, rings the mission's bell, located in a freestanding, 35-foot-tall tower. Freeman, 77, has a thick, inspiring crop of white hair. A former tribal chairman, his given first name, Reyes, means "Kings."
"When I was born, [family members] said, 'I guess he's going to be king of Pala,' " he says.
Like the majority of the Pala, Freeman descends from a tribe called Cupeño — the Spanish bastardization of their native name, Kuupangaxwichem. Originally the Cupeño were based on land 40 miles east, near the hot springs at Warner's Ranch. But in 1901, in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, the Cupeño were evicted, later forced to pack up their possessions and hastily move to the current Pala reservation — their own Trail of Tears.
Making matters worse, the new spot was already occupied by members of a tribe called the Luiseño, who hadn't been told they'd have company. Though tensions flared, the tribes later united as the Pala, and in the 110 years since have made the best of a tragic situation. Some tension remains: Cupeños and Luiseños generally are buried in separate locations, for example, with the burial ground next to the mission referred to as the "Old Luiseño Cemetery." (Members with other tribal heritage are part of Pala as well, and many have mixed bloodlines.)
Freeman's grandmother was a young girl during the forced evacuation. "We all have to leave some time," he says philosophically.
Born in a house less than 100 feet from his store, Freeman has lived almost all of his life on the reservation. A few decades back, he recalls, it contained fewer than 60 dwellings. He's seen, and in many cases overseen, its infrastructure buildup, including upgraded water and sewer systems.
But it was under the tenure of the current tribal chairman, Robert Smith, that the casino and its spoils came to Pala. And it is with Smith that Freeman maintains a caustic bloodline dispute, involving Freeman's great-grandmother Margarita Britten, a basket weaver so beloved that roads in the village are named for her.
At issue? Whether Britten's father was white rather than Indian. Under tribal rules, members must possess 1/16 "Pala blood," based on a "blood quantum" system of dubious scientific merit borrowed from the colonial-era U.S. government.
It's a bizarre system, one that will inevitably whittle the tribe to nothing, and the opposite of the so-called "one-drop rule" of the segregation era, in which anyone with any African ancestry at all was considered Negro.
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.