• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

“The executive committee always reports tribal investments as ‘lost.’ We said, ‘Wait a second. How can every single investment [the tribe] makes be a bad investment?’ We asked for full financial disclosure, and they said it was private information. We said, ‘How can it be more private than the tribe?’” Johnson claims that certain members receive extra benefits for their support of the executive committee.

Johnson is optimistic, however, that he will eventually be reinstated as a tribal member. He is among a large group of the disenrolled who have sought legal action to be reenrolled. But each time former Pala members have filed a complaint within the United States federal court system, the cases have been dismissed due to tribal sovereignty.

On March 1, Johnson and 27 former members of the Pala band appeared in Southern California District Federal Court over a filed complaint against the six members of the Pala Executive Committee. They sought monetary damages and declaratory and injunctive relief. Their claims included: conspiracy to interfere with civil rights; deprivation of equal rights under the law; conversion; tortious interference with prospective economic advantage; defamation; and civil conspiracy.

In court documents, the disenrolled’s accusations against executive committee members include alleged illegal activities concerning the propriety of tribal elections, the executive committee’s financial dealings, and their motives for entering into certain contracts on behalf of the tribe. They object to the defendants’ personal use of tribal assets and to the construction of a raceway on the reservation that was not approved by the general council.

The judge dismissed the case and it is now under appeal.

Johnson says,“[We were] very disappointed over the outcome. There was an opportunity for the judge to rule in our favor, and he chose to take the path of least resistance. We hope the [executive committee] get overconfident and do something stupid. We will be there to gather up evidence and use it wisely.”

In Robert Smith’s opinion, the disenrolled are wasting their money every time they take the executive committee to court.

“Congress has no jurisdiction over the tribe. This is a group of people that can’t get what they want, so they go through the courts. Most of these people have never worked a day in their lives. They should do what most Americans do and get a job.”

According to tribal member Mary Young (not her real name): “Fighting Robert is worth every penny I spend.” Young’s children were disenrolled February 1, 2011, but she remains a member of the tribe. When she speaks about her children’s removal, she gets wound up enough to weep. “What people don’t understand is that it would be like someone telling you that you are no longer American enough to be a United States citizen. People have a hard time feeling sorry for us because they say all we care about is the money. But our heritage is being ripped away.”

Mary says that when Robert Smith first became tribal chairman, she saw him as a good man who wanted the best for the tribe. She believed his intentions were pure. But somewhere along the line, she says, he became clouded by the money.

“In the beginning stages of the casino, Robert wanted to help the tribe. Then, slowly, he started to change. I thought the idea of the casino was great. We have insurance and an education fund, but unfortunately it brought corruption.”

Ken Jones (not his real name), another tribal member and a descendant of Margarita Brittain, says, “We have more right [to be members] than any of them. We are the Cupeño Indians. They are the Mexicans and the outsiders. The United States government has allowed a bunch of Yaqui Indians and a bunch of Cahuillas to come in and take over our tribe.”

According to Jones, in anticipation of disenrollments, the executive committee lowered per capita income to members by $500 per month. After the disenrollments, per capita income was bumped up by $1000 per month. It was later lowered by $500, bringing the total back to the original amount and leaving the illusion that a raise had been awarded. Jones wonders where all the money went. With 17 percent of his tribe gone, they certainly should see a spike in the per capita.

San Diego County has the largest concentration of Indian reservations in the nation; it is home to 18 federally recognized tribes. Ten of the tribes host Las Vegas–style casinos.

A report commissioned by the California Nations Indian Gaming Association estimates Indian gaming at a $7.5-billion source of annual economic activity in California.

In recent years the Pechanga tribe, Jamul Indian Village, and the San Pasqual band have all disenrolled members. All host or intend to host casinos. Beginning in 2004–2008, the Pechanga, who operate the most lucrative casino in Riverside County, eliminated 20 percent of their tribe. It is estimated that their monthly per capita subsequently jumped from $15,000 to $40,000.

In 2005, the Jamul Indian Village disenrolled a fifth of their members in anticipation of a yet-to-be-built three-story casino.

In 2011, the San Pasqual band — they run Valley View Casino — eliminated 60 members. Their disenrolled were descendants of Marcus Alto Senior, a man adopted by a tribal couple in 1907 when he was three days old.

“It was so sad when it happened to Pechanga,” says Mary Young. “I stopped going to their casino. But never in my wildest dreams did I think it would happen to us.”

Roger Adams (not his real name), another disenrolled Pala member, says, “It’s happening more and more to Indian tribes. The government isn’t going to be able to close their eyes to it. When you start seeing thousands of disenrollments, you have to stop it. Across the United States, so many of our tribes are doing this, and it’s mostly the ones with casinos. When money gets involved, disenrollments happen.”

Gina Howard, King Freeman’s niece and one of the first to be disenrolled, says, “I work at a local casino. I get these Indian gaming magazines sent to me all the time. They always talk about Indian issues, but I never see any articles about disenrollment. It’s the big ugly secret that Indian tribes are hiding. Indian gaming has empowered tribes, but it has also brought out the worst in people.”

  • 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!