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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Monday, October 20, 2003

Buying back a heritage.

The LA Times reports on how many of the casino tribes in California are using gambling profits to buy back ancestral lands. These purchases are helping tribes to recover from the devastation they suffered as a result of contact with Europeans, including the ravages of disease and an extermination campaign run by Gold Rush miners and others who came to the state in the mid-19th century. By 1900, the California tribes that still existed had only a fraction of their former numbers, and (with very few exceptions) had lost almost all of their ancestral lands. As opposed to the large reservations found in many other parts of the western US, reservations in California were often measured in acres rather than square miles. And even the tribes with comparatively large reservations suffered from 'checkerboarding,' where a tribe had title to alternate sections of land -- resulting in a pattern of Indian and non-Indian land ownership that looks much like the red and black squares on a checkerboard.

The success of tribal gambling in California, particularly since the early 1990s, has helped the state's Indians move from being some of that state's poorest people to being among the wealthiest. While not all tribes have gambling enterprises, those that do are turning some of their profits toward the purchase of lands owned by non-Indians within or adjacent to existing reservations.

The Morongo tribe's history is not unlike that of many in Southern California with successful casinos.

When its reservation was established in 1877, it had no significant resources beyond sand and gravel. In the 1960s, tribal members were still living in dilapidated trailers, surviving on federal subsidies and fetching water from open ditches.

Non-Indians for decades used the tribe's barren homeland as a dumping ground for garbage and waste ranging from lawn trimmings to toxic chemicals.

All that changed with the advent of reservation gambling in 1983. Within 10 years, the tribe was awash in cash, having eliminated the last welfare case on its 32,000-acre reservation.

A few miles south of Millard Canyon rises the latest symbol of Morongo determination: a 23-story, $250-million casino-resort hotel expected to open next year. The complex will stand 10 stories higher than the Riverside County Administration Center and is expected to generate about $2.8 billion in economic benefits for the Inland Empire over the next five years.

In the meantime, tribal planner Tom Linton continues to investigate possible land acquisitions. "We recently bought a 45-acre ranch inside the reservation borders," he said, "and 280 acres adjacent to the freeway, which had been sold in the late 1950s by a tribal family in desperate need of money.

"Not everything we buy will be developed," Linton said. "Some will be left just the way it is."

That kind of talk "may not sound logical to some non-Indians," acknowledged tribal attorney Howard Dickstein. "But in many cases, these land acquisitions are attempts to fulfill an emotional promise handed down for generations: If there is any way possible, we will get our land back."


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