In 1984, the Palas voted to correct the mistake, and the decision was appealed to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The bureau investigated Margarita Brittain’s blood degree for more than six years. Eventually they found that Margarita Brittain had appeared as 4/4 on the original 1913 roll in Washington, DC. In 1989, the bureau issued their final determination that Margarita Brittain was 4/4. Now, 22 years later, Brittain’s blood is again being called into question.
King Freeman’s childhood home sits on family land located on the corner of Old Mission Boulevard and Brittain Lane, a street named for his ancestors. The house is a run-down one-story home located a half block from the Pala store. The front door boasts a mausoleum-style entrance, carved with the name “Freeman” in bold capital letters visible from the road.
“My sister and I were born in that house,” Freeman says. “I don’t have a birth certificate. I was born at home, and no one recorded it. The only thing recorded is my baptism.”
King says the reservation was very different during his childhood. “I was born in 1935. We didn’t have much here, growing up. I guess there was a lot of poverty, but we didn’t realize. We had food and clothes. We weren’t street people. Everyone had money. Not a lot, just enough to live on.”
Freeman’s children were among the first eight tribal members disenrolled. “It was kind of a shock. There were rumors it was coming. Chairman Smith threatened me at a general council meeting. He said to me, ‘Your kids are coming off the roll.’ I didn’t think he would really do it. I said, ‘Well, go ahead and do it,’ because there would be a lot of other people that would have to come off the roll, too. I wasn’t talking about my family; I was talking about other people whose blood degree is less.”
Smith’s alleged threat occurred after Freeman had circulated a petition questioning the fitness of Leroy Miranda to serve as vice chairman of the executive committee. King Freeman had been elected to fill that role, but Chairman Smith allegedly threw out many of Freeman’s votes, claiming that they didn’t count, and Leroy Miranda was put in as vice chairman.
The Pala tribal constitution states that no one with a felony record may serve on the executive committee. Miranda has a felony stemming from an arrest in 2009 for soliciting a male prostitute at Happy Time Adult Book Store in Moreno Valley.
Freeman says that his blood degree wasn’t questioned “until three or four of us brought up the issue of getting Leroy removed. I was chairman for 19 years. I don’t like the way meetings are conducted anymore, and I am very verbal about that.”
A few months after Freeman’s petition circulated, the executive committee sent letters to Freeman’s children and his nieces and nephews. The letter stated that the eight did not have the sufficient blood degree and were no longer members of the tribe. Cited was the long-questioned blood quantum of Margarita Brittain. The disenrolled members were given 30 days to file an appeal with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In the end, the bureau recommended that the Pala Executive Committee reenroll the eight, stating that they did in fact possess the necessary blood degree. The executive committee refused.
Although many of the disenrolled point to Freeman’s petition aimed at removing Miranda from the executive committee as the final straw that led to the disenrollments, none seem to hold a grudge against Freeman. When they speak of him, their fondness is evident. Meanwhile, Freeman stands firm on his actions. “I don’t regret doing it. I’m not going to bow down to anyone. Would you want a man that went to jail for [soliciting] male prostitution representing you?”
Freeman is concerned about the changes he’s seen in his tribe. “People don’t understand how much power Robert Smith has. He is going to tear this tribe apart. But the young people don’t care. As long as they have money, they don’t care about the politics or nothing. It has changed. When I was growing up, you respected the old people. That has been lost, but that’s a fact of life. Money ruins a lot of people. Once you get money, all you think about is yourself. It’s kind of like a dictatorship. I never expected this to happen. Looking back, I can see the little changes that took place to get our tribe to where it is now.”
The changes Freeman alludes to involve the executive committee’s subtle revision to the tribe’s constitution prior to removing members. The committee created a new enrollment ordinance giving them sole power over tribal membership. Further approval by the Secretary of the Interior is no longer necessary to add or remove members. The general council (all tribal members over 18) was assured that this change in the constitution would make it easier for their children to become tribal members.
Along with the new enrollment ordinance, the executive committee withdrew its membership from the intertribal courts of Southern California. This action took place in March 2011, only three months prior to the first wave of disenrollments. The action gave disenrolled members no legal recourse — intertribal courts would have provided the parties with access to court hearings and appeals, and records would have been available to the public. Now, in order for the disenrolled to take legal action against the executive committee, they must appeal to U.S. courts, a difficult task, given that Indian nations are sovereign, and U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over them.
“It’s a sad little thing,” says Freeman. “[The casino] was a source of income. We had people coming back to the reservation. I was vice chairman when the casino was being built. I wasn’t expecting it to get so big. When I saw the blueprints for the casino, I thought, Who is going to come to the Pala reservation to go to a casino?”