Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Last modified Thursday, March 25, 2004 10:24 PM PST
When bones are more important than people
By: TED HILLOCK -- For The Californian
The Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians and San Diego State University recently co-sponsored a "Spirit of the Land" conference at SDSU. More than 80 keynote speakers spoke on environmental policy, smart growth concepts and American Indian sacred places. Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians spoke on protecting sacred California Indian places.
At the same time he was speaking for the need to protect the more than 1,000 sacred Indian places throughout the state, the Pechanga were trying to disenroll 133 members because the enrollment committee said they "failed to show proof of lineal descent from original Pechanga people."
John Gomez Jr. was one of those expelled and is the unofficial spokesman for the group. He was, until recently, on the enrollment committee and considers himself —— as the others do —— a Pechanga. He claims to be a direct descendant of Manuela Miranda, the granddaughter of an original "headman," Pablo Apis. Gomez said the disenrollment was not based on facts, but on "greed and power."
The expelled group's attorney, Jon Velie, agrees. He has said there is more than enough documentation to prove the lineage. Each member receives $10,000 per month from casino profits. So the fewer members, the larger the monthly check is.
The recent disenrollment is becoming the norm, not the exception, throughout the nation. As the Indian casinos become more prosperous, they are becoming more greedy. Laura Wass, a spokeswoman for the American Indian Movement said that hundreds of California Indians have been ejected from their tribes in recent years, many from tribes that run casinos, and that about 2,000 more people are facing ejection. In the few years that casinos have been allowed in the state, five of the San Diego County tribes, including three that operated casinos, decreased their memberships, according to Bureau of Indian Affairs figures. Six tribes that don't operate casinos had their memberships increase.
While Macarro was speaking on the need to preserve Indian sacred sites for the value of their heritage, he was also supporting the ejection of living members. It seems he and many other tribal members are more concerned with old bones than they are about the very few tribal members living today. By ejecting a person from the tribe, that person is no longer considered a member. Considering that California has 108 federally recognized Indian tribes and their average membership is less than 500 persons per tribe, you would think they would be doing everything they can to maintain their living heritage. Their heritage is so important to them that there is a pending bill in California that will make any new housing project, freeway or school get permission from the Indians if that development is within 10 miles of a "sacred site." That basically means that before a new school could be built, the school district would have get the approval —— read payoff —— of the Indian tribe who now values broken pottery more than living relatives.
Come this November, we in California get to vote on whether we should continue granting the Indians a complete monopoly on Las Vegas-style gambling and to grant them even more money making gambling machines. Unfortunately, the more successful they become, the more likely they are to expel members.
Ted Hillock of Temecula is a regular columnist for The Californian. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This piece is rife with stereotypical notions. Among the problems:
1) A sacred site is much more than a pile of bones. It usually involves a place, not objects. If objects are involved, they're likely to be something more significant than pieces of pottery.
2) The article sets up a false premise: that Macarro is choosing between "bones" and people. Actually, he can honor sacred sites while he supports disenrollment and performs many other duties as well. It's called multitasking and—surprise!—even Indians can do it.
3) The article utterly fails to convey both sides of the disenrollment question. For all the reader knows, the Pechangas have a perfectly legitimate reason for disenrolling certain members. Hillock can't give the full picture by presenting only one side of the argument.
He quotes a lawyer who says he has enough documentation to prove the expelled group's lineage. But suppose the tribe isn't questioning the validity of the lineage. Suppose the tribe believes someone in the lineage left the tribe and forfeited his or her tribal membership. Then the continuity of the lineage, and the lawyer's documentation of same, is irrelevant.
4) Macarro isn't even involved in the disenrollment process. The Pechangas have an enrollment committee with an independent lawyer to oversee any disenrollment decisions. The Pechanga chairman and tribal council have no role except to make sure the committee has followed its procedures after it's done.
Hillock's claim that developers would've had to seek a tribe's permission before proceeding—meaning the tribe has veto power—is false, as I understand it. He's clearly employing a scare tactic: making tribes seem more powerful than they really are.
Hoist by his own petard
Hillock's claim that the more successful the tribe, the more it disenrolls members is also false. I believe Pechanga is the only large California gaming tribe presently involved in an enrollment dispute. If his claim were true, San Manuel, Agua Caliente, Viejas, Morongo, Sycuan, et al. would be facing similar disputes.
If Hillock's prejudice isn't obvious yet, it comes out of the closet in this paragraph:
Their heritage is so important to them that there is a pending bill in California that will make any new housing project, freeway or school get permission from the Indians if that development is within 10 miles of a "sacred site." That basically means that before a new school could be built, the school district would have get the approval —— read payoff —— of the Indian tribe who now values broken pottery more than living relatives.
Why does Hillock put "sacred sites" in quotes? Does he have any evidence that sacred sites aren't sacred? Not based on this article. The piece is devoid of factual evidence.
Again, Hillock's claim that Indians are trying to protect only a few bits of bone or pottery shows he's ignorant at best, dishonest at worst.
The tribe is seeking a "payoff"? Where does that come from? Can he give a single example of a tribe's giving up a genuine sacred site for a monetary payment?
Most people are upset because they think tribes like the Pechangas are "wealthy." But that isn't enough for Hillock. Does he really believe the Pechangas are so money-hungry that they'll make a deal for thousands of dollars, even though they're literally earning a thousand times as much from their casino? Does he have any justification whatsoever for painting them as hyper-greedy, hypocritical sellouts?
No, of course not. Yet the newspaper published his unsourced screed. If Hillock claimed Jewish Holocaust victims, African American descendents of slaves, or Japanese American internees were seeking "payoffs" to redress past "grievances," the newspaper would never countenance such blatant race-baiting. But somehow it's okay to say Indians—all Indians, not just the Pechangas or gaming tribes—are seeking payments for possibly fictitious "sacred sites."
Favoring bones over people is bad enough. It implies Indians lack basic human decency. But Hillock goes one step further and implies Indians favor money over bones. Money over bones over people...why doesn't Hillock just come out and say Indians are cruel, immoral beasts? The human equivalent of sharks, perhaps?
Hmm. Can you say "racism"? I know you can. If you denigrate an entire race based on the alleged characteristics of that race, "racism" is the word for it.
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