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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?”

When Freeman’s children were disenrolled he felt betrayed. His son and daughter were devastated. “Their health insurance and their money, that all went away. But that really isn’t the big issue. The big issue is that their rights were taken. My kids were born here on the reservation.”

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Javajoe25 June 5, 2013 @ 3:43 p.m.

$40,000 a month? $40,000 a MONTH? That's $480,000 a year. That's almost a half a million dollars a year. Holy Moley, Kimosabe. Where do I get a blood transfusion so I can join the tribe???


realkupa13 July 5, 2013 @ 2:08 a.m.

sorry we do not make that much money a year or month i wish, we still have jobs!!!!get ur information right please.


CaptainObvious June 9, 2013 @ 5:56 p.m.

Inter-tribal racism? Perhaps it's time to take away that exclusive deal to run casinos. Shut them down, or let everyone have th right to open one.


Joaquin_de_la_Mesa June 12, 2013 @ 9:52 p.m.

So much for the gambling money bringing Indians their dignity back. Disgraceful.


William9195 June 19, 2013 @ 3:28 p.m.

Following are some quotes from a story published in 2006 by David E. Wilkins, author and Professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota.

" But the available evidence and the oral traditions of tribes suggests that given the kinship structure of most tribal nations that were always focused on mediation, restitution and compensation, permanent expulsion of tribal relatives was rarely practiced."

" Within the last 20 years, however, coinciding with both the emergence of high-stakes gaming operations and increased criminal activity, a number of tribal governments throughout North America have, in helter-skelter fashion and at unprecedented levels, been dramatically redefining the boundaries and meaning of what it means to be a Native citizen. Many have initiated formal banishment and legal disenrollment proceedings against ever-increasing numbers of their own relatives. In a majority of disenrollment cases, however, some tribal officials are, without any concern for human rights, tribal traditions or due process, arbitrarily and capriciously disenrolling tribal members as a means to solidify their own economic and political bases and to winnow out opposition families who disapprove of the direction the tribal leadership is headed."

"What was historically a rare event - the forced and permanent expulsion of a relative who had committed a terrible offense - has tragically become almost commonplace in Indian country, leaving thousands of bona fide Native individuals without the benefits and protections of the nations they are biologically, culturally, and spiritually related to."

"While I fully support the inherent right of tribal nations to decide their own citizenry, I do not support, nor does history or tribal tradition affirm, the oftentimes arbitrary power of some tribal institutions to categorically disenfranchise and disenroll tribal individuals, entire families and, in some case, large groupings of tribal members on specious and questionable grounds."


MntLaurel June 28, 2013 @ 5:41 p.m.

Robert Smith is incorrect. Congress does have the authority to make laws that apply to Indian Tribes. Federal crimes on Indian reservations are prosecuted and there is the Indian Civil Rights Act. Tribes have the right to determine the criteria for membership but nothing, except spineless politicians and irresponsible courts, allows them to apply that criteria in any way except equally, to all members or potential members.


jnojr Aug. 13, 2015 @ 12:55 p.m.

Kind of funny how a group of people, especially one that's supposed to be these proud, noble, wise stewards of the land, so quickly degenerate into a pack of savages quibbling over ancient nitpicks, all to help themselves to even more money. The more people who get "disenrolled", the bigger my check gets... but don't you dare disenroll me!

So much for "pride". It's all about greed. Sad to see what were once fancy new houses surrounded by weeds, trash, broken-down 4X4s and dirt bikes next to brand-new ones, while listless groups of "natives" lounge around drinking and using drugs.. Just goes to show... poverty is not lack of money, lack of money is a symptom of poverty, and supplying money does not cure poverty.


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