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For Guidiville Band, a casino isn’t the main point

on November 13, 2009

The Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians doesn’t talk about the proposed casino resort at Point Molate without bringing up their history.  Opponents are concerned about urban gaming, social ills and environmental dangers to the Richmond promontory. But for the Guidiville Band, the salient issue is their quest for a homeland large enough for the entire tribe to live on.

“Point Molate is the culmination of a 160-year effort for lands that were taken away in 1850,” vice-chairperson Donald Duncan told the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors on Nov. 3. The main challenge the tribe faces is to persuade West County residents that they (and their enterprise) would be good neighbors.

The Guidiville Band’s lawyer, Little Fawn Boland, works for the Native American-owned Rosette & Associates. She is a member of the Piro-Manso-Tiwa of the San Juan de Guadalupe Pueblo. Her tribe applied for federal recognition in 1970. They are still waiting. “When you have no land and lack recognition, it is hard to stay together, the tribal membership ends up moving away and becomes a diaspora,” she said. “It is hard to maintain to maintain your culture, your language and you have a brain drain. That’s why you need to create opportunities on your own land. Gaming is just a way to pay for it all.”

Tribal CEO Michael Derry says the casino is what will provide jobs, a roundhouse and homes because casinos are the only enterprise that investors will reach into their wallets for. “You need that magic thing — future earnings — to get initial capital for anything,” Derry said.

The tribe has teamed up with investor Upstream Point Molate, LLC, which has a signed agreement with the city of Richmond to pay $50 million for the site. Derry confirmed the tribe also has financial backing from the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, which operates the Cache Creek Casino in Brooks. Pyramid Communications — Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation’s public relations firm — did not respond to requests for an interview.

Casinos have been a sure way out of poverty on many reservations across the country. Kimberly Tallbear, an Assistant Professor of Science Technology and Environmental Policy at UC Berkeley, said when she left her hometown in South Dakota, “you couldn’t get a job on Main Street.” Tallbear said she moved to Minnesota to finish high school in order to escape the only two career paths open to her: vocational school or a position at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Little Fawn Boland denies that the tribe is reservation shopping at a public meeting on Sept. 17 at Richmond's Civic Center.

Little Fawn Boland denies that the tribe is reservation shopping at a public meeting on Sept. 17 at Richmond's Civic Center.

But after the Royal River casino opened in Flandreau, South Dakota in 1990, Native Americans didn’t need to look for work only on Main Street. Tallbear said racial relations relaxed in the wake of the casino’s success because people were working together and mingling with one another. After her high school principal retired, he started working at the casino’s restaurant.

When Guidiville vice-chair Duncan and others talk about the tribe’s 160-year effort for land, they are not referring only to territory promised and never delivered to California tribes in 1851. “It’s about recovering from termination,” Derry said.

Termination was the result of Public Law 280. The 1954 federal law severely curtailed the sovereignty and rights to land Native Americans had won only 20 years before. Under Public Law 280, Native Americans became “subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges” as other citizens. In practice, this meant that the deed to reservation property could be transferred to the states.

California chose to terminate tribal sovereignty, and its Rancherias (as the state’s reservations were called) were dissolved. In his book, Native American Justice, Laurence French calls Public Law 280 the “ultimate form of cultural genocide.” Landless and without assets, many Native Americans were forced to move to urban areas to attend schools and find jobs. Tribal connections were severed as nuclear families broke apart in their search for work.

In the cities, they experienced racism and segregation. Rupert Costo and Jeannette Henry describe the new ghettos in Indian Treaties: Two Centuries of Dishonor: “They were dumped into housing that in most cases was ghetto-based, into jobs that were dead-end and training that failed to lead to professions and occupations.”

The civil rights movement of the 1960s coupled with the failure of forced assimilation led to the reversal of Public Law 280. This paved the way for the modern era, in which some tribes have regained federal recognition and land.

The Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians was restored to sovereignty after a 1991 federal lawsuit. Now they want land. The tribe has applied for trust land at the former Naval Fuel Depot at Point Molate. However, they first need to prove they have a claim to the 266 acres of prime waterfront property.

Under the restored lands exception, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act provides that a tribe can ask for land to be restored to them and that new land can qualify as restored land. To be eligible for this, a tribe needs to prove that:

— they have a historical and modern connection to the land;

— they do not already have a reservation;

— they were restored to federal recognition after being terminated;

— the land is within reasonable commuting distance for members;

— this is the first time the tribe has applied for land to be taken into trust for them.

Point Molate has been a winery and a fuel depot  - will it now become a Native American reservation and casino resort?

Point Molate has been a winery and a fuel depot. Will it now become a Native American reservation and casino resort?

Boland said the Guidiville Band does not have a reservation. The 44 acres the tribe holds in Ukiah, a remnant of the Guidiville Rancheria that was terminated in 1958, cannot be considered a reservation, according to Boland. She said they were given the land by the Indian Housing Authority under the proviso that no tribal government buildings be erected. As a consequence of termination and the relocation programs of the 1950s, most of the 112 members live and work around the greater Bay Area, Boland said.

The most crucial element the Guidiville Band must prove is that they have a historical connection to Point Molate. The tribe hired ethno-historian Dr. James McClurken to do a genealogical study. Derry said the study traces the tribe back to a Native American who had signed one of the ill-fated “friendship and peace” treaties of 1851. In those treaties, the federal government promised land around Clear Lake to the tribes who had been displaced by white settlements. The agreements were never honored.

Richmond Confidential is unable to confirm what the study contains because Derry said he could not release it, citing the pending federal ruling. Dr. McClurken did not respond to requests for an interview.

Boland said this is the first request the Guidiville Band has made for trust land.  When asked whether tribal members would leave their present homes and move to Point Molate, both Derry and Boland said, “No question about it.”

After the Contra Costa Supervisors signed an intergovernmental agreement with the tribe on Nov. 10, Derry told Richmond Confidential that he doesn’t when the next steps will be taken: those are up to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Richmond City Council.

The story so far:

Before Napa there was Winehaven (Oct. 13)
County supervisors willing to be wooed (Nov. 3)
County unanimous support for casino (Nov. 11)
Local casino opposition crumbling (Nov. 11)
The law behind gaming at Point Molate (Nov. 12)

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