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Official's Comments on Chumash Revive Old Wounds in Santa Ynez

Supervisor Gail Marshall's critical remarks, published in a book on Indian gaming, lead to calls for her resignation.

March 23, 2004|William Overend | Times Staff Writer

SANTA YNEZ, Calif. — It had been an unusually tough, emotional week of politics for Vince Armenta and Ted Ortega. The two top leaders of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians were outraged over comments made by longtime foe, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Gail Marshall.

It wasn't just another public battle over how to spread the wealth from Indian gambling. This time it was an issue that brought back centuries of bad memories, one that required private and painful talks with their children. In their minds, Marshall had crossed the line and engaged in blatant racism.

The comments were in a book released in September that quoted Marshall as saying the Chumash are "not real sophisticated people" who "don't want to be educated," and that they are spending their new gambling incomes on "brand new trucks" and lounging around their houses doing very little, apart from "sitting on the couch watching a Lakers game."

Armenta, the tribal chairman, and Ortega, the tribe's vice chairman, learned of the book just this month and responded March 9 by demanding Marshall's resignation. She said the tribe had taken the comments out of context and that she would not resign. "I apologize to any who found some of my language offensive; it was certainly not intended to offend," she said.

"I also want to express my regret that certain Chumash tribal leaders have chosen to inject race into this matter...."

Marshall, whose term will end in January, did not seek reelection this year as Santa Barbara County's 3rd District supervisor. A liberal Democrat at the end of her third term, she was the target of an unsuccessful recall election last year and has frequently been attacked as divisive by critics.

Her district includes the Santa Ynez Valley and the Chumash reservation, and she has been a leading opponent of the tribe's expanding gambling activities.

The controversy flared throughout the week. The four other members of the Board of Supervisors declined to publicly denounce their colleague, but expressed sorrow over the wounds inflicted. But, though the supervisors had spoken only of the need for a time of healing, others took a harsher view.

The Santa Barbara News-Press, which had supported Marshall during an unsuccessful recall campaign in 2003, said in an editorial that it was finally time for her to quit "for the good of our county." The Santa Maria Times took a similar stand.

Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock, in a March 10 letter to Marshall, called the comments "insulting, condescending and disgraceful." A copy of the letter was sent to the tribe.

He wrote: "I feel compelled to join the growing sentiment in Santa Barbara County that you need to apologize directly to the Chumash individually and to the county collectively. And then you need to back that apology with your resignation from the Board of Supervisors."

On a late afternoon last week in the main room of their tribal hall, which overlooks the new Chumash Casino and the Santa Ynez Valley vineyards that surround it, Armenta and Ortega briefly tried to make light of controversy.

Neither is a Lakers fan, they said. "I prefer the sophistication of ice hockey," Ortega said. Armenta couldn't think of any sport he really cared that much about. It happened that he was a couple days away from a courtside seat for a Lakers game at Staples Center in Los Angeles as a guest of Bank of America, which had financed the tribe's new casino and hotel project.

"I wish I had time to sit on the couch more," Armenta said. "But we're all pretty busy these days. I have bought nine new trucks since 1981, though. I'm sorry if that offends her."

But the humor wasn't lasting. In the recent book, "New Capitalists: Law, Politics and Identity Surrounding Casino Gaming on Native American Land," UC Santa Barbara instructor Eve Darian-Smith devoted a chapter to the Chumash Casino and controversies surrounding it. Among the quotes she attributed to Marshall, which the supervisor has not denied, were these:

* "The other thing is that these are not real sophisticated people, and I want to say that as nicely as I can ... 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."

* "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 the money, but I wonder what else."

Saying he had genuinely believed the Board of Supervisors would join him in calling for Marshall's resignation, Armenta said: "I don't care what people say about me. These are comments that insulted my parents. They insulted my kids. They insulted every member of our tribe, and we are Gail Marshall's constituents. It's not going to fade away. I don't see the tribe letting it fade away."

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