On the reservation there is division between Brittain’s descendants and the executive committee and its supporters.
“Anger doesn’t solve anything,” Freeman says. “I forgive what [the executive committee] has done, but at the same time, I hope they are held accountable. I see these people and I say hello to them. Robert will walk by me and not say anything.”
When it comes to the disenrollments, Robert Smith says that everyone blames him.
“I’m used to it,” Smith tells me over the phone; he is too busy for a face-to-face meeting. “I’ve been in politics for a long time, but it can be disheartening. Some people see me and won’t say hi to me.”
Smith’s tone changes when asked about King Freeman. “There is no feud between King and me,” he bristles. “He’s an old guy. We don’t see eye to eye. You can’t please everyone all the time.”
When asked about the casino, however, his voice brightens. He rattles off the benefits it provides to the Pala Band of Mission Indians. “Because of the casino, we now have scholarship programs so our kids can go to trade schools. We have health insurance for our members. I’d rather have health insurance than nothing at all. We have social programs for kids and elders, a sports complex, and we are building homes. Some of these things were here already, but the casino enhances them.”
Smith says that the disenrollments were difficult but necessary. He dismisses the allegation that he threatened to remove Freeman’s children from the tribe. He says it was just something that had to be done. His wife is a cousin to the Brittain descendants, but her relationship with family members remains intact.
“My wife was fine with it,” Smith says. “She knows the truth. They were never supposed to be enrolled in our tribe to begin with. It was a difficult thing to do, but the council had to do what the council had to do. And now we need to move on in a positive way for the tribe. It’s what the tribe wanted. They don’t belong.”
“Robert Smith will tell you that the tribe wanted us gone,” Paul Johnson, former member of the Pala band, tells me over the phone.
“The truth is, our family is the most well-documented bloodline in the entire tribe. It’s a double standard. No other family has been required to document their bloodline like ours has. That’s because we are opponents of the Pala executive council. They’ve spent years consolidating their power. They’ve disenrolled their major opposition, which is my family.”
Johnson is heartbroken and angered to see his family in dire straits as a result of their disenrollment. He is angered over the reaction to their removal by current tribe members.
“I am dismayed by the kind of comments I hear — that we are lazy and only want the money — while they gloat over the increase they received when we were disenrolled. They say that we are mostly white, when of course all Indians are mixed blood. Chairman Robert Smith is 1/4 German. His great-grandmother and my great-grandmother were sisters. These claims about not being tribal and Indian enough are really only a form of discrimination.”
Johnson lives in the state of Washington but has plans to return to the Temecula area to be closer to other disenrolled members of his family.
“I decided eight months ago to move back down. I need to get more involved in tribal politics and support my family. We have the most horrible role models right now serving as our tribal officers. We need people that will lead our tribe into the future. I want to show the rest of the tribe that the descendants of Margarita Brittain are a vital part of the people, and that our ancestors would be dishonored should the antipathy continue.”
Johnson and his seven siblings were part of the second wave of disenrollments. Two of his brothers — and many cousins, aunts, and uncles — still live on the reservation. Family allotments are arranged side by side, so Johnson’s family members all live in the same general area.
“When you go outside that area and have to deal with other tribal members, there is discrimination. It is very uncomfortable. My cousin walks down the street with her children, and people snicker at her, saying, ‘You used to be in the tribe, but not anymore.’ We are all very upset that the other tribal members aren’t standing behind us.”
When asked whether he views the casino as a curse to his tribe, Johnson says he still wholeheartedly supports Indian gaming.
“Native Americans have endured a lot of discrimination. When it comes time to finding jobs, or getting medical care, or education, we’ve had second-rate all along the way. We need [Indian gaming]. A lot of people don’t understand that we have our own culture. We don’t feel comfortable in the white society. White people consistently undermine us. They enacted a policy of genocide. They suppressed our language and our culture. Historically, they have herded us onto areas of land they didn’t want or need, that they thought was useless. Now we have an opportunity to do something. [The executive committee] has turned it against us. The casino itself should be a boon. It should be something that could have made life good for all the Indians in our tribe. It still could be. So, no, I do not see the casino as a curse at all.”
According to Johnson, the corruption of the executive committee runs deep. He believes that Robert Smith and other members have been corrupted by lawyers.
“The Pala Executive Committee has been reaping huge amounts of wealth out of the casino. There is supposed to be 15 percent of casino revenue invested so that we don’t have to depend entirely on the casino for our income.”
Johnson says his family knew there were problems. They regularly challenged the executive committee about financial information during general council meetings.