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Chukchansi Chucks Out 60 Members as Tribe Squabbles Over Casino Riches

The Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians – who own the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in Coarsegold, California — have expelled at least 60 tribal members via the controversial practice of disenrollment. Critics described the move as an attack by the tribe on its own people, motivated by greed for casino revenue, The Fresno Bee Reports.

The Chukchansi Gold Hotel & Casino appears to be the source of years of political squabbling among the tribe, which had led to the disenrollment of more than half its tribal members. (Image: Chukchansi Gold)

“It was determined that these individuals do not meet the requirements for Tribal enrollment and it was necessary to suspend their memberships as part of a formal review and disenrollment hearing,” tribal council chairwoman Jennifer Ruiz told The Bee in a written statement.

What is Tribal Disenrollment?

Disenrollment strips members and their descendants of their tribal identity and their citizenship of a tribal nation, along with the benefits associated with that citizenship, such as housing, healthcare, and their share of casino revenue. The power of disenrollment is ostensibly used to correct tribal rolls and preserve the integrity of the tribe, but it is also too often wielded as a political or economic weapon.

Around 80 of America’s 567 federally recognized tribes are known to have used the practice, but the Chukchansi are among the worst offenders. Since the casino opened in 2003, the tribe has disenrolled more than half its members, including those with documented ancestry, families descended from founding members, and some of the last native speakers of the tribal language.

In many cases, the Chukchansi disenrollments have occurred between rival factions jostling for control of the tribal council and casino wealth.

Armed Confrontation

In October 2014, this power struggle spilled over into violence when about 20 armed men from a rival faction stormed the casino following a disputed election, sending customers running for cover. The men ordered security guards at gunpoint into a secure area of the building, where they were handcuffed and reportedly assaulted.

Incredibly, the group claimed it had stormed the premises to gather casino documents and audit information that was overdue for submission to the National Indian Gaming Commission in order to avoid receiving a penalty charge for late filing of accounts.

The casino was ordered closed by a federal judge and remained so for over a year, costing the tribe millions.

The leader of the coup, Tex McDonald, turned himself in weeks later and was sentenced to 485 days for false imprisonment after accepting a plea bargain.

More Than 60 Disenrolled?

While tribal leadership officially put the latest round of disenrollments at 60, Cathy Cory, a former tribal member whose family was disenrolled in 2006, said she believed closer to 125 were impacted.

“It’s generational trauma for the Indian people of California,” she told The Bee. “To have your birthright stolen by your own tribe is hurtful, ridiculous and unnecessary.

“It’s all about the money and the power, nothing about the people and the fact that each one of us is a gift even to be here existing,” she added.

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