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Chumash Call for Santa Barbara County Supervisor's Resignation

Gail Marshall is accused of making derogatory remarks about the tribe.

March 10, 2004|Glenn F. Bunting | Times Staff Writer

SANTA MARIA, Calif. — Leaders of the Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians demanded the resignation Tuesday of Santa Barbara County Supervisor Gail Marshall for making what they claimed were racially insensitive and derogatory remarks about the Chumash tribe and its members.

After more than an hour of heated public debate in the standing-room-only chambers, a defiant Marshall said she had no plans to step down and blamed Chumash leaders for "seeking retribution" against her.

Reading from a prepared statement, Marshall offered an apology "to any who found some of my language offensive" while criticizing Chumash leaders for choosing "to inject race into this matter."

The controversy ignited last week after Chumash officials called attention to remarks from a May 2002 interview by Marshall, a longtime political adversary who has opposed the tribe's expanded casino operations in the Santa Ynez Valley.

In a paperback published in September, "New Capitalists: Law, Politics, and Identity Surrounding Casino Gaming on Native American Land," UC Santa Barbara instructor Eve Darian-Smith quoted Marshall characterizing the lifestyle of Chumash members who have benefited from lucrative casino revenues.

"They have, you know, taken up a really beautiful legacy of basketry and tommel buildings, and really interesting lifestyles and sort of erased it with one fell swoop," Marshall is quoted as saying. "I'm not sure how it's going to affect their generations to come, but I have a feeling it's going to be very negative. Because when you get $300,000 a year for sitting on the couch watching a Lakers game, not working, you model that lifestyle to the next generations. I'm not sure what it's going to be like. They'll have money but I wonder what else."

Marshall added: "The other thing is that these are not real sophisticated people, and I want to say that as nicely as I can.... But they are not only uneducated to the actions and reactions to the actions, but they don't want to be educated. You know, they've all got brand-new trucks and lots of money; they don't have to be. They're thumbing their nose at everybody."

The chairman of the Chumash tribe, Vincent Armenta, compared Marshall's remarks to former Alabama Gov. George Wallace shouting "segregation forever" in the 1960s.

"There is no room in politics for hatred and racism," Armenta said Tuesday in front of television cameras and reporters outside the county administration building. He said he found Marshall's apologies "halfhearted and hollow" and called the supervisor "a disgrace."

Marshall declined to be interviewed during a break in Tuesday's board meeting, saying she had nothing more to add to her prepared statement.

In a news release responding to the furor last week, Marshall said, "I have no doubt the quotes cited in the book were taken out of context by the tribe."

Marshall announced Tuesday that she is giving up her seat as the board's representative on the Community Benefit Committee, which decides how to distribute a portion of casino proceeds the tribe is required to pay into the state's Special Distribution Fund. "To ensure that the Chumash leaders' political opposition to me does not impair the important work of the Community Benefit Committee, I am resigning from the committee," she said.

Board Chairman Joseph Centeno of Santa Maria will fill Marshall's seat on the committee.

Marshall is retiring in January at the end of her third term and will be replaced on the five-member Board of Supervisors by Los Olivos vintner Brooks Firestone, who was elected to the 3rd District seat last week.

Nearly two dozen Chumash members, Native Americans and residents spoke about the flap over Marshall's remarks at Tuesday's board meeting. Several residents defended Marshall, saying that the tribe earlier had backed a recall effort to oust her and have been looking for any opportunity to remove her from office. To force Marshall to resign "would be nothing less than a coup d'etat," said one supporter.

The vast majority of the speakers were critical of Marshall, and a few urged the other supervisors to condemn her remarks.

"It doesn't seem that you are all that offended," Andy Caldwell, executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, told the supervisors. "If you are not appalled, disgusted and ashamed, does that mean anything goes?"

The tribe's lawyer submitted a letter last week requesting that the Board of Supervisors renounce Marshall's comments in writing, seek her resignation and pledge to work cooperatively with Chumash leaders.

"None of that happened today," said the lawyer, Lawrence R. Stidham.

Instead, the supervisors took turns expressing their anguish while being careful not to criticize their colleague.

"I consider the Chumash my people," said a teary-eyed Naomi Schwartz, while urging communities to "find a way to come together."

Supervisor Centeno said he had a "special place in my heart" for the Chumash and was "sad for what's taken place."

And, Supervisor Joni Gray said, "It's heartbreaking to see so many hearts broken over this."

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