The Chukchansi Indian tribe is divided, and a panel was held Thursday night at the Peters Business Building at Fresno State to discuss the emotional topic of disenrollment and the state of the tribe.
Fresno State alumna and former tribal council member Dora Jones, talks of the recent and growing dispute between various factions of the Chukchansi Indian tribe.
Photo by Khlarissa Agee / The Collegian
“Disenrollment is tantamount to individual terminations,” said Kenneth Hansen, associate professor of political science at Fresno State. “Termination is when the government tells people they are no longer American Indians. How can they tell people who are obviously indigenous people that they are not Indian?”
The meeting came on the one-year anniversary of an incident at the headquarters of the Chukchansi tribe, that turned violent after several tribe members claimed an election was fixed. Members of the tribe who said they had been legally elected but were being denied their positions holed up in the headquarters building, eventually leading to a brawl involving about 40 people.
Disenrollment was at the heart of the protest last year and continues to be a hot topic. The election and the legality of disenrollment according to the tribe’s constitution is questioned by many associated with the Picayune Rancheria Chukchansi.
Dora Jones, a former tribal council member who was suspended after last year’s standoff, was inside the headquarters building and involved in the protest.
“When we were in that building with those burning logs that were thrown in at us, I didn’t know if we were going to make it out of that building,” Jones said.
Jones shared her concerns about the disenrollment process and the rule changes regarding the number of votes required for disenrollment. Jones noted a specific turning in the disenrollment battle. It occurred at the rancheria in July of 2011, while she was away in Washington, D.C.
“The council that was there were four people and they changed the requirement from a supermajority down to just a majority,” Jones said. “That meant it only took four [council members].”
Tribe members who are disenrolled lose monthly stipends from the rancheria’s multi-million dollar casino revenues and benefits for housing, education, medical, and elder and child services.
Professor Hansen said the issue of who qualifies as a Picayune Rancheria Chukchansi has split the tribe into four political factions.
“Individual terminations allow tribal politicians to choose their voters rather than the other way around,” Hansen said. “It’s a kind of indigenous version of political gerrymandering.”
One faction believes only people who have direct ties to the Picayune Rancheria property are members of the tribe. Another says it’s only those in the foothills. The third group believes the elders of the tribe and the electoral process have been disrespected by the current leadership. The final group is a collection of disenrolled family members.
“This disenrollment issue is tearing the heart from our Indian country and our Indian people,” said Kathy Cory, a disenrolled Chukchansi Yokuts Indian. “Let there be no doubt in your mind that this is due primarily to the greed that has been brought about by the casino issue in California and beyond.”
There is disagreement over the exact number, but hundreds of tribe members have been disenrolled since the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino opened in 2003.
Cory added that reports on the news saying the debate has to do with whether the number of Chukchansi people is 46 or 200 are well short of the actual number.
“There should be well over 2,000 Chukchansi people,” Cory said. “You have 2 percent of Chukchansi people that are enrolled in the tribe.”