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The disenrolled members even fear they won't be able to be buried in the tribal cemetery.
Johnson's young cousin, meanwhile, is mocked on the reservation. "People were pointing and laughing at her as she walked down the street because she lost her money," he says.
Nowadays, Freeman's store serves as something of a political opposition headquarters against Smith and his allies. During election season last fall, signs for the candidacy of David Duro and others hung inside.
But even when it's not political season, Freeman spends his days there manning the store and chatting with friends and family, about everything from the Smith dispute to world events to how various people are faring at the slots.
Freeman often holds court from a folding chair near the meat counter, where "Rez Dogs" are on offer for $1.50, $2 with chili. His grandfather opened the small food and supplies mart in 1928, and it has seemingly seen few updates since then. In the parking lot out front, a long-neglected sign advertises relics from its past: "genuine Indian jewelry," "curios" and "Levis."
With the arrival of a mini-mart and Subway next to the casino a few years ago, the Pala Store's services are clearly no longer critical to the reservation, and Freeman himself has little financial need to work. But he enjoys providing employment to a half-dozen workers and hobnobbing with folks who come in.
People like his son Anthony, who arrives now, tall in blue jeans and wearing a mustache. He has in tow his own son, who wears braces and begins flirting with the girl working behind the counter.
King Freeman has already warned against broaching disenrollment with Anthony — "He'd say, just shoot 'em," Freeman says.
Anthony himself suffered a violent incident in September 2010, when a pair of masked men broke into his house, hit him with a blunt instrument and choked him until he passed out. When he awoke, his arms and legs were bound; he spent a few days in the hospital. The perpetrators were not found, but King Freeman suspects it had something to do with the ongoing tensions in the community.
A toxic tension continues to bubble on the reservation. A website called Pala Watch, run by disenrolled Pala member Joseph Harris (who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit), calls the removal "our Second Trail of Tears." Paul Johnson calls it "paper genocide."
The comments on Pala Watch and another Native American watchdog site, called Original Pechanga, contain deeply personal criticisms of Smith. "How that man can live with himself I don't know," wrote one anonymous commenter on the latter site. "What Smith and the [executive committee] have done to the [disenrolled] and their families is indescribable."
Some of those who are still enrolled remain paranoid; in interviews, Luiseño descendants say they have heard whispers that they could be next to be cut from the rolls.
Smith, for his part, has said no more disenrollments are coming, but many are unconvinced. Some Pala members in good standing are unwilling to speak for attribution against Smith, for fear they will be cut and, effectively, have their lives as they know them ended.
"The threat of disenrollment is very powerful," Paul Johnson says — making serious political opposition hard to assemble.
Despite the criticisms, Smith remains popular with the tribal members at large. He has been chairman since 1990, winning election after election every two years.
Smith carries an air of gravity but doesn't come off as pretentious. A Harley rider with tattoos on his arms — including those commemorating the year Pala was established (1895) and a deceased nephew — he seems older than his 52 years. He walks tentatively, with plastic braces on both legs.
Despite speaking in short, clipped sentences, he isn't afraid to get wonky; though he lacks a college degree, he has taught himself the complex issues he's dealt with on behalf of the tribe, everything from water rights to health insurance to financial investment strategies. He offers the reassurance of a politician: He knows how to tell you what you want to hear.
Also like a politician, however, he doesn't always offer a straight story. After his first interview with the Weekly, he cagily declined a follow-up conversation. The reporter and photographer heading to the reservation were subsequently informed that reservations at the Pala Hotel had been canceled, at Smith's behest. Pressed for an explanation, Smith mentioned fears that the story would focus on the disenrollment. Then, claiming to be too busy to elaborate, he abruptly hung up.
In person, however, he's completely cordial. As he speaks, he gestures to the gleaming tennis courts, athletic center and pair of ball fields, which include state-of-the-art batting cages. (Softball is beloved on the reservation.) "We wanted the sports complex, because our kids are in there, swimming, playing basketball and baseball," he says. "And we also got health insurance right away for the members. Now we're self-insured. [Members] just pick their doctor and pay their co-pay, and it's all taken care of."
His job security is strengthened, of course, by casino profits. Then–President Ronald Reagan signed into law 1988's Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and a 2000 California ballot proposition opened the doors in the state. In 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available, Native American gambling revenues were $27.4 billion — $6.9 billion in California alone, more than any other state.
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.