The Bear Growls: Tribal sovereignty needs to end

Soboba Casino

The various pacts setting up tribal sovereignty were made long before anyone entering into them considered that one day the Indians would be building large casinos and soliciting non-tribal members to come onto “their” land.  The folly of “tribal sovereignty” was enacted long before it was considered that tribal members and their employees will routinely commit violent crimes against non-tribal members of the public, but have no legitimate law enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute the casino employee perpetrators.   Or run these casinos with no legitimate regulatory oversight, with most of the Indian “gaming commissions” mere puppets for the casinos themselves, sometimes using the same people in conflicting positions.  These Indian “gaming commissions” almost make the Nevada Gaming Control Board look as if it legitimately acts to protect the public from casino wrongdoing.

In the Soboba case, the Riverside County Sheriff essentially says the “reservation” is too dangerous for non-tribal members to enter.  Deputies are turned away by these puffy-chested, bloated, self-important tribal “leaders.”  How much more ridiculous can it get?

I realize there are much bigger issues facing our country, but the stupidity of tribal sovereignty gets worse and worse as the Indian casinos take more advantage of the public with virtually no regulation over their conduct.  Other tribal business entities have hidden behind sovereignty as well.  Being forced to use the tribal kangaroo courts to settle civil disputes prevents many legitimate businesses from wanting to do business with the Indians, to the detriment of the tribes as well as the businesses.  Why do we stand for this? What can we do at this point?

In a discussion of this issue on Green Chip, my friend Biglad made the following observations: The tribal leaders are both stupid and greedy. They can’t see the forest for the trees. …  there are a few exceptions. If they were smart, they would assimilate their business and commercial operations into mainstream America. They have been given an opportunity to improve their communities, but most fail to do so. We should eliminate the sovereign nations around the country. The current reservations should be given the status and borders of a county in the State they are in, and be subject to the same laws as the rest of us. If they do a good job the current tribal leaders will continue in power as elected officials. If they don’t, then they will be voted out like any politician. But alas, that would be the fair and proper thing to do. Given the pathetic bunch we presently have running our country, I doubt if anyone has the intestinal fortitude to take on the challenge of ending this favoritism towards Indians and the special privileges they have been handed.  Largely they have squandered their opportunity.  It is time for them to become productive members of the mainstream United States, not be part of a silly “sovereign nation.”  

Changing the status of the reservations to counties within the states they’re located in (parishes in Louisiana) makes sense and is a good step.  Sadly, I doubt if many of our politicians have the courage to get the system moving towards eliminating the present inequities and special, favored treatment given to this small minority of people. Without some action, Indian casino thugs like the creeps at Fantasy Springs will continue to commit crimes against patrons with impunity, and the thugs in charge of Soboba will continue to resist legitimate law enforcement.  These things are to the detriment of all of us, Indians and non-Indians alike.

Additional sources:

Riverside County sheriff calls for closure of Soboba tribe’s casino

RIVERSIDE, CA – Riverside County Sheriff Stanley Sniff on Tuesday called on federal authorities to shut down the Soboba Casino, saying that the tribal council had ordered security officers to block or delay his deputies from entering the troubled reservation, where five members have been shot to death during confrontations with his department.

… Soboba tribal chairman vows to stop Riverside County deputies at reservation gate

RIVERSIDE, CA – Despite the threat of arrest and possible closure of their casino, leaders of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians said Wednesday that they would continue stopping law enforcement officers at the gates of their reservation unless they were responding to an emergency.

AMERICAN INDIAN SOVEREIGNTY: NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T, by Peter d’Errico, Legal Studies Department, University of Massachusetts/Amherst
No doubt the Indian tribes were at one time sovereign and even now the tribes are sometimes described as being sovereign. The blunt fact, however, is that an Indian tribe is sovereign to the extent that the United States permits it to be sovereign — neither more nor less. [364 F.Supp. at 194.]

Indian Gaming and Tribal Sovereignty — The Casino Compromise, by Steven Andrew Light and Kathryn R.L. Rand

This book provides the clearest and most complete account to date of the laws and politics of Indian gaming. Steven Light and Kathryn Rand explain how it has become one of today’s most politically charged phenomena: at stake are a host of competing legal rights and political interests for tribal, state, and federal governments. As Indian gaming grows, policymakers struggle with balancing its economic and social costs and benefits.



  1. In the case of the Pechanga tribe of Riverside, County Ca, members of certain families questioned the membership of my extended family and they filed disenrollment papers against my family.

    family members of mine and another extended family targeted for disenrollment counter filed disenrollment papers against those who had filed against us because those families had questionable ties to the tribe themselves.

    Once those other families had been cleared from disenrollment, by the way with less than a legal quorum of the enrollment committee, their family members were allowed to vote on our families disenrollment cases and they predictably voted to kick us out of our tribe.

    The Pechanga constitution says tribal officials are to “uphold the individual rights of each member without malice or prejudice.”

    The Pechanga tribal council violated their own constitution by allowing biased enrollment committee members from families whoose membership credentials my family had challenged to vote on our case.

    Not to mention that the whole tribe had voted in 2005 to end disenrollment as a part of Pechanga law but my family line, the descendants of original allottee Paulina Hunter, were disenrolled in 2006 anyway.

    The powers that be at Pechanga vilolated other Pechanga laws as well in our disenrollment proceedings but who can make them, because of sovereignty, follow their own laws?

  2. It is not only power struggles within the tribes that are a problem. We have bureaucrats whose very existence is linked to continued recognition of the tribes and their reservations. We have politicians whose re-election campaigns are heavily influenced by Indian contributions. A treaty can mention fishing rights and although most people would think that means subsistence fishing by tribal members it really means the right of the tribe to engage in massive commercial fishing operations unrestrained by the laws to which competing businesses are subject.
    States are not going to assert any meaningful control over the tribal casinos when the politicians are so dependent upon the Indian casino money. Many of these ‘tribes’ have but the slimest claims to Indian heritage to begin with. The tribal designations are really viewed as ‘potential casino owner designations’. Thats all they are. Tribal existence is created by lobbyists and lawyers. Its not historically accurate at all.

  3. I received the following email:

    This is about a Bad Beat I was involved in, and shows the trouble with
    Tribal sovereignty. I was playing poker at Royal River Casino in
    Flandreau, South Dakota on Feb. 2, 2008. They have a Bad Beat, which
    was $96,000. To win, A’s over 10’s full house or better has to be
    beat by four of a kind or better. I was sitting in the #8 seat, and
    was dealt QQ. I bet and several other players stayed. The flop was
    AQ3, which gave me trips. I bet and and the player in seat #3 raised
    and we capped. The turn was the last Queen, giving me 4 of a kind. I
    bet and again the player in #3 reraised and we capped. After the
    turn, the player in seat #9 said something about Bad Beat. The last
    card was a rag, and we filled over our cards. He had pocket A’s, so
    we hit the Bad Beat. He would get $48,000, myself $24,000, and the
    table would split $24,000. After an hour or so of waiting, the
    manager(who happened to also be the dealer in this hand) said she
    thought she heard someone say Bad Beat, and they would not pay it out.
    She admitted it was after the BB was dealt, and had no bearing on
    the hand but still would not pay. Since that time, we have appealed
    to the Santee Sioux Gaming Commission. At the hearing, even the other
    dealers said the player who said BB had been warned for weeks about
    saying Bad Beat and should have been kicked out of the poker room
    before this happened, which would have given honest players protection
    against this happening. They also said he is always intoxicated,
    which is against the casino rules. It was the casinos responsibility
    to prevent this from occuring, and on top of that, whatever was said
    was after the Bad Beat was dealt. Everything was in our favor, and
    even the casino lawyers recommened we be paid. We thought for sure we
    would be paid after the hearing, but the Tribal Gaming Commission
    denied our appeal. I think this was done for 2 reasons, 1) they just
    did not want to pay, or 2) politics, The head of the Gaming
    commission, Ryan Kills-A-Hundred, was running for Chief. I think he
    wanted to show his power. Since that time, he lost the election for
    that position. We now have appealed to the Santee Sioux Tribal Court,
    but the Judge is hired by the tribes, so it is doubtful payment will
    come. During the last 6 months, the BB has been froze, and will stay
    so until the appeals have been exhausted. The casino admits to having
    lost hundreds of thousands in revenue in the last 6 months since the
    BB has been frozen and the number of players is down. Usually 4-5
    tables play nightly, they are down to 1-2 tables at the most. So,
    they have lost hundreds of thousands in poker revenue to protect
    $96,000 which comes from the rake, and has to be paid out sometime.
    If we were able to go though the state judicial system, this probably
    would have been found in our favor in no time, but due to Tribal
    sovereignty, we are stuck in their courts. On another note, since the
    BB has been froze from Feb. 2, there have been 2 other Bad Beat’s hit,
    but were also not paid out because the money is froze, which further
    angered the players still going to Royal River. When we hit the BB,
    is was after almost 110,00 hands had been played. I was involved in a
    once in a lifetime hand, and was paid nothing. Players have to be
    aware there are no protections in Tribal Casinos, and you take your
    chances playing in them. If you need to verify this, you can call
    Sherry Kriescher at Royal River Casino or ask for the poker room. The
    phone number is 1(800) 833-8666.

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