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Pechanga Band Ousts Scores of Tribal Members

The action costs each member $10,000 a month in casino funds. An appeal is expected.

March 20, 2004|Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writer

The Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians has formally ejected more than 100 people from the tribe, edging them out of their ancestral heritage and $10,000 a month in casino revenue payments.

The disenfranchised tribal members figure in a long-simmering reservation dispute that culminated in a lawsuit brought by 11 of their number who had hoped to block their ouster from one of California's most successful tribal gambling enterprises.

The ejected tribal members received more than $15 million annually from the tribe's casino revenue. They comprise approximately 10% of tribal members.

In the lawsuit, the 11 alleged that members of the tribe's enrollment committee were trying to increase their wealth by shrinking the number of tribal members eligible for shares of casino profits.

In formal notices issued this week, however, tribal leaders explained that although the plaintiffs could trace their lineage to "an original Pechanga member ... tracing ancestry back to original Temecula people alone is insufficient" to qualify for membership.

"To be a member of the Pechanga band," the notice said, "you must be able to trace your lineal descent to the 'original Temecula people' on the Pechanga reservation."

In an interview, John Gomez Jr., a former member of the committee now moving to disenfranchise him, characterized the tribe's explanation of its action as "absurd" and "all about power and greed."

A month ago, a Riverside County Superior Court judge dismissed the plaintiffs' request to prevent the committee from dropping them -- they all belong to the tribe's largest family of 130 people -- saying he was reluctant to intervene in a reservation dispute.

Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro said in a statement: "Disenrollment matters are only one aspect of Pechanga's tribal citizenship process, which is determined solely by tribal law and custom.

"Because that process has yet to completely unfold, further comment is not possible."

Gomez said plaintiffs expect to appeal the committee's decision to the tribal council sometime next week.

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