Table Mountain Rancheria
The ‘Sickness of greed’
by Kathy Lewis
"Tis the season for giving and sharing and for children's hearts to be filled with the magic of wonder and love -- with one sick exception. Table Mountain Rancheria sent fliers out to all Indian children inviting them to a Christmas party. Food would be eaten and gifts given by Santa himself. The little ones look forward to sharing this day with their friends and relatives. For many, it is the only gifts they will receive.
However, for 16 little ones, eyes all aglow, this was not to be. Because their parents are fighting for their rightful place as tribal members, and doing all they can to protect their heritage as Indian people, their children were thrown out.
Tribal Council Chairman Leann Walker Grant ordered them escorted, with their families, from the celebration. Glowing eyes filled with tears as they passed the tables of food and gifts, their cousins and friends looking on. How does one explain this to their little hearts and try to heal what was done to them for years to come?" Laura L. Wass, American Indian Legacy Center, December 23, 2005 Fresno Bee
Ironically, it was not that long ago that Chairperson Leann Walker-Grant was also on the outside fighting to get in, and the individuals she had escorted out helped her get her recognition.
Many of these family members live in poverty, on public assistance, and struggle to make ends meet. Their family members at Table Mountain received a $200,000 Christmas bonus, in addition to their $20,000 monthly per-capita income. And if that wasn't enough, they also threw in another $10,000, making a grand total of $230,000 just in the month of November, 2005.
Proposition 5 and Proposition 1A were supposed to bring economic growth for all of the Indian people, not just a select few. It is way past time to send Table Mountain Rancheria a message, and that is the public is going to support need and not greed, by boycotting the casino. Kathy Lewis December 28, 2005 Fresno Bee
In a September 17, 2006 Fresno Bee Article titled '$737,203 jackpot called a mistake', Sornpaserd Unkeowannulack, trying his luck Friday afternoon at a nickel slot machine at the Table Mountain Casino, was stunned when the machine — which goes by the name Deep Pockets — announced he had hit a $737,203 jackpot. Also stunned were casino officials, who told Unkeowannulack that his jackpot was a mistake.
*"Our history speaks for itself," said Dan Casas, Table Mountain's tribal attorney. "We welcome this opportunity to defend our reputation and our integrity. If the process revealed he was owed a jackpot, we would have paid it, and probably used him for an advertisement. He's a valued customer, with a 21/2-year history of play. Our desire is to use our best players to advertise the casino."
Mayewski and Casas are confident that the jackpot was a malfunction and that their position is defensible. "It's like going to an ATM where the maximum withdrawal is $300 and having the machine spit out $30,000," Casas said. "Is that money really yours?"
Because of a malfunction in the system, approximately 75 adult members of Table Mountain Rancheria have been allowed to cheat their brothers, their sisters, their children, their cousins, their nephews and nieces out of being recogonized as a tribal members even though they meet the same enrollment criteria as other tribal members do. Perhaps someone should ask them when they go to an ATM to withdraw some of their $500,000.00 yearly per capita payments, is all that money really yours?
In the October 9, 2005 The Fresno Bee newspaper article titled "Dispute clouds casino proposal:
Table Mountain says it has claims to the land Big Sandy wants to use". A dispute between two local Indian tribes each claiming to have historical ties to a piece of land in the Fresno County foothills could jeopardize plans for a new $250 million casino and hotel.
The National Indian Gaming Commission is now trying to determine whether the Big Sandy Band of Western Mono Indians has jurisdiction to game on the 40 acres in the Friant-Auberry area where it is proposing to build one of the largest casinos in the Valley.
Plans call for the Big Sandy Rancheria to lease the land from tribal member Sherrill Anne McCabe-Esteves. McCabe-Esteves' family has owned the land since 1920.
But now another tribe has come forward claiming it also has ties to the land. Table Mountain Rancheria says one of its tribal members once owned the land. The dispute centers around the tribal affiliation of Frank McCabe — the grandfather of McCabe-Esteves.
Table Mountain claims that Frank McCabe is listed on its base rolls in 1916 as a tribal member. The tribe says that Frank McCabe later married a Big Sandy tribal member and at some point moved onto its rancheria. But Big Sandy tribal members say that according to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs 1933 California Roll Book, Frank McCabe belonged to their tribe.
...Ric Contreras, tribal executive officer for Big Sandy Rancheria, said Table Mountain is making these claims because the tribe is concerned about competition in the area. Table Mountain currently operates a casino within two miles of the site where Big Sandy wants to put its casino. Said Contreras: "We know where we stand on it. Competitors are always going to be making all kinds of accusations."
But Dan Casas, attorney for Table Mountain, said his tribe doesn't want gaming on the land because of its historical significance. He says the land was once the site of an Indian village and contains ancient burial grounds and a sweat lodge. "We do not oppose their right to game," he said. "We are opposed and we will fight to the bitter end the desecration of a sacred site."
This is not the first time Table Mountain has expressed concerns about plans by Big Sandy Rancheria to build a new casino in the area. At a public meeting last month, the tribe said the site has *historical significance to its members. They also cited concerns about the lack of water in the area and increased traffic as reasons they oppose the project.
Tragically, Table Mountain will acknowledge a deceased Indian as a tribal member in order to retain individual per capita payments of over half a million dollars a year, but fail to recognize Maryiln Brantley, pictured to the right in the center, as a tribal member even though her ancestors names appear on both the 1916 and 1933 rolls. Her family has lived within the Table Mountain Rancheria or land that is within the jurisdiction that tribal officials claim is theirs.
…The result is two Table Mountain tribes: an affluent one that lives on the rancheria and a poor one that lives outside it. Those who get casino checks own expensive houses, drive new cars and have no money worries. Those who don't, live in shacks, trailers or cramped apartments, drive old cars and are buried in debt. Lewis lives off the reservation in a two-room trailer with her daughter, her mother and occasionally one of her three brothers. She doesn't get a penny from the casino profits, and both the tribal council that controls it and ordinary members have turned their backs on her. "It's disheartening because they're supposed to be your relatives," she says (Kathy Lewis). The final blow came last year, when the council finally admitted Lewis' father, son of the former chief. (Tribal members declined to talk to TIME.) Since then, Lewis says, her father has cut off all communication with her and her brothers, none of whom are members. "It's all because of greed, selfishness, setting them apart," she says. *Click here to read the entire Time Magazine story “Family Feud”
< Kathy Lewis, center, and her family
In a September 21, 2006 Fresno Bee letter titled Tribes answer to no one by Christopher Larsen:
...Legalized gambling on Indian reservations has generated more revenue in less time than anyone imagined when Congress first authorized it. Do more Indians earn college degrees now? Where are the hospitals, libraries and universities built with gambling revenue? Where are the tribal courts protecting basic constitutional rights under the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968?
I am not pointing to a great moral flaw in Indians. I am pointing to a great moral flaw in human beings. Give anyone a windfall, and he or she is more likely to incline toward Paris Hilton than Warren Buffet. Government restrains itself with a system of checks and balances. Tribal governments have no checks or balances. They answer to no one, even in federal court.
Mayor Alan Autry is a nice guy, but if he had $16 million for naming rights, and his power to run the city were unchecked, anybody with any sense would leave town. Sooner or later, there's gonna be trouble.
This Paris Hilton type attitude is noted in an April 13, 2006 Fresno Bee newspaper article titled 'Single-vehicle accident probed' and leads one to question the reputation and integrity of Table Mountain Tribal Officials:
"Authorities are investigating a single-vehicle crash that injured a man on the property of a Table Mountain Rancheria *tribal council member. The April 4 incident left a 35-year-old man injured when a 2006 Hummer belonging to tribal official and former casino President Aaron Jones rolled down a 25-foot cliff after traveling off a curve in his private driveway, according to a Fresno County sheriff's report.
Four other people in the Hummer, including the unidentified driver, left the scene of the crash at 24687 Sky Harbour Road in Friant, according to the California Highway Patrol.
CHP spokesman Matt Radke said officers are investigating the case as a possible hit-and-run because the driver fled and an injured person was left behind.
The injured passenger, John Garcia, was found to be highly intoxicated, Radke said. Firefighters freed Garcia from the car, which was on its side, by cutting off the roof with power tools and using the "jaws of life," the report stated. He was taken to University Medical Center.
The red Hummer is registered to and owned by Jones, according to the report, and Radke said one witness told an officer Jones was the driver. But officers had not confirmed that as of Wednesday.
There was a strong odor of alcohol inside the car, according to the sheriff's report, but Radke said detectives cannot investigate for drunken driving because the driver was not immediately identified or located.
Dan Casas, the tribe's attorney, said Jones gave a statement to "a local police department" at 2 a.m. Wednesday, *eight days after the crash. He said he didn't know which department Jones spoke to. Jones had learned that officers wanted to talk to him, and cooperated fully with the probe, Casas said.
Casas, however, said he did not know whether Jones was driving the Hummer; he said he had no other details about the wreck.
The property where the wreck occurred was purchased by Jones, 51, and his wife, Jeri Jones, in November, according to county records.
The crash was reported at 3:25a.m. to the Sheriff's Department by OnStar, the in-vehicle system for emergency road service. OnStar reported that a man was heard saying he had been "knocked out," the report said.
The Table Mountain Police Department was somehow notified and its officers were the first to respond, though the crash *did not occur on tribal land and was not in its jurisdiction.
Table Mountain police contacted the CHP and *told the department that officers did not need to respond, the report said. Tribal police said the *Hummer was stuck in the mud and said they were taking care of the situation.
Radke confirmed that the CHP was waved off the call, though he did not know why or by whom. He also said the CHP was contacted again and asked to respond to the wreck an hour later.
The Table Mountain police chief, identified by a tribal police employee as Frank Marquiz, could not be reached for comment. Two sheriff's deputies arrived at Jones' property, which has two houses, at 4:14 a.m. After getting through the entrance, they drove down a long, curvy road on the property.
Before reaching the crash site, the deputies were approached by a *Table Mountain police officer, Jeral Richardson, who told them the Hummer was stuck in the mud. He also said someone was still in the vehicle, but that the *person was OK, the report stated.
The deputies traveled a mile down the private road, finding the Hummer lying on its driver's side down the cliff, the report stated. Eric Cervantes found tire tracks that went off the road in that direction.
"It appeared to me that the Hummer drove off of the cliff from the roadway while trying to make the sharp curve," the deputy wrote.
The Hummer had sustained major damage and all its side windows were shattered.
Inside the vehicle, the deputies found Garcia, who was in and out of consciousness.
"John told me that his *entire body was in pain but he couldn't get out because he was stuck inside of the Hummer," Cervantes wrote.
When Cervantes asked him who had been driving the Hummer, Garcia said he didn't know. Fresno County fire officials were then called to the crash to cut Garcia out.
At 5:30 a.m., while Cervantes was still at the scene, a woman identified by a firefighter as *Jones' wife approached him, mistaking him for another deputy she claimed to be related to.
"Oh, you're not Ryan Burk," she said, according to the report. "I'm related to Ryan Burk. I thought you might have been him."
Later, when deputies tried to find the woman to get a statement, *she was gone.
Unfortunately, another accident involving a Table Mountain police officer also raises questions about the reputation and integrity of Table Mountain Officials. In a June 29, 2006 newspaper article titled 'Ex-Table Mountain officer injured in crash sues tribe', a former Table Mountain casino police officer who was seriously injured while on patrol has sued the tribe for breach of contract, saying tribal leaders have turned their backs on him. Rick Temple, an American Indian, became paralyzed from the waist down when his patrol car crashed on Winchell Cove Road in September 2003.
He contends Table Mountain Rancheria leaders told him when he was hired in June 2002 that he would receive the same benefits as a Fresno police officer or a Highway Patrol officer injured in the line of duty — a portion of his pay for life, a sum he says is about $25,000 a year.
Table Mountain Rancheria's lawyers, Dan Casas and Tim Jones, say tribal leaders never promised Temple or any other employee police benefits. If Temple has a claim against the tribe, he should address it to the tribal council, not the local courts, they say.
…Temple grew up with the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians in Mendocino County, but now lives in Clovis with his wife, Esmeralda, and their four sons —Rey, 12, Rick Jr., 10, Elyaz, 6, and Micco, 3. He said he graduated from a police academy and he has certificates that qualified him to be a highway patrolman or a police officer. He said he chose to work for Table Mountain Rancheria because "I always wanted to work with and for my Native American people."
…Temple said he was on patrol on Sept. 16, 2003, when an animal suddenly darted in front of his vehicle. He said he swerved and missed the animal and swerved again to miss a huge tree. His vehicle then went off an embankment but landed hard on its four wheels.
Temple said he knew he was in trouble because he couldn't move his legs. After he was rescued, doctors gave him the bad news — a severely pinched spinal cord.
Casas agreed it was "a freak accident" because the patrol car was not damaged. In the hospital for months, Temple said, no one from the rancheria visited him.
Out of the hospital, Temple said, he is in constant pain and on medication. Bills have piled up, and Temple said his family barely survives on $1,600 a month from workers' compensation.
Casas said the tribe has helped Temple and his family. The tribe could have contested his application for state workers' compensation, but didn't. The tribe also paid for health insurance for Temple and his family for two years while he recovered from his injuries, Casas said.
Temple said that's not enough, especially for one of their own: "They left me and my family out to dry."
75 adult tribal members of Table Mountain Rancheria have left their brothers, their sisters, their children, their cousins, their nephews and nieces out to dry because of a sickness called greed.