• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

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.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Sponsor Partners

More from SDReader


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.


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!