Tribal Sovereignty, Local Government and the California Tribal Business Alliance



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Tribal Sovereignty, Local Government and the California Tribal Business Alliance
Speech by Chris Devers, Chairman of the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians and member of the California Tribal Business Alliance Board of Directors

To the Association of Bay Area Governments, April 28, 2005


Thank you for inviting me here today to speak. Before I get started, I want to recognize the Costanoan people who for thousands of years have called the San Francisco Bay Area their home.
As you heard, I’m the Chairman of the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians. Our business enterprises include more than 50 acres of oranges, avocados and lemons, our casino enterprise, and a joint venture in Native Threads, a clothing manufacturer. I’m also here representing the California Tribal Business Alliance, a new association of six tribes operating gaming facilities under the terms of tribal-state compacts. CTBA addresses an array of public policy matters of importance to the diverse business interests of the founding tribes.
Our new compacts, unlike previous compacts, provide for a CEQA-like environmental review, mandatory local government agreements, workers’ rights, enhanced patron protections, and more revenue sharing with the state than all other California tribal casinos combined. The legislation ratifying our compacts was supported by the California State Association of Counties, the League of California Cities, the Sierra Club, and the Planning and Conservation League.
Since our compacts went into operation, we formed CTBA to act on behalf of our members in partnership with federal, state and local governments, and with business, community, and civic organizations across California. We believe these relationships will be productive alliances based on mutual respect and cooperation that will protect and advance our members’ status as sovereign nations.
I should note that we are proud members of the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties, among other groups. There are no other tribal governments affiliated with CSAC and the League, but we felt it was important to join because our relationships with local governments are among our most prized partnerships. While the state is important, of course, because that is the government with which we have tribal gaming agreements, local governments are our neighbors, the people with whom we must get along every day. So we and our neighboring governments try very hard to take an enlightened approach to issues that have proven divisive elsewhere in the state.
We are all here today to see if there is a way to reconcile tribal government sovereignty and tribes’ need for economic development with your wish to keep a local handle on land use. I’m here today to say that between people of good will, it can be done.
But first, I’d like to back up and set some context for this discussion, which must feel like it came upon you very quickly in recent months. I want to talk about sovereignty and California Indian history, not to lay a load of historical guilt at your feet, but to make sure we see each
California Tribal Business Alliance ⊕ 1530 J St., Suite 250, Sacramento, CA 95814 ⊕ www.caltba.org

other’s perspective as we start this day of discussion. It has been my view that the local news writing has virtually ignored these critical elements in the debate.


When Europe began to colonize America, they immediately encountered the people already living here – the Indians. By the 1600s, British colonists began negotiating treaties with Indian nations, recognizing their sovereign status. By the time of the American Revolution, the practice of negotiating with tribes as sovereigns through treaties was well established.
In recognition of tribal sovereign status, the new United States constitution reserved the power to regulate commerce with Indian tribes to the Congress. Early court cases solidified this relationship and clarified enduring legal principles. Among them:


  • Tribes are sovereigns, and state laws do not apply to them unless Congress consents.




  • Tribal rights, including those to land and self-governance, are “inherent,” that is they are not granted to tribes by the United States. Tribes had these rights before America was colonized, and these rights are retained by virtue of prior and continuing sovereign status. Tribes retain rights not affirmatively removed by Congress.

These principles are still in operation, and today, tribal governments have jurisdiction over their land and their people. Tribal governments operate democratically elected tribal councils, with the authority to consider tribal legislation, develop tribal law enforcement agencies and court systems, define their membership criteria, and tax their members. Those tribal governments also have the responsibility to provide for their members’ health and welfare and to protect the sovereignty of their tribe.


In the early 1800s in eastern United States, tribes were being removed to reservations. But, in California, events were taking a very different course, and the result today is that the situation in California is very different from other states. As usual.
The Indians along California’s coast from San Diego to north of Sonoma were pulled into the Spanish missions beginning in 1769. Many of the Indian people from this area were swept into the missions at San Francisco, San Rafael and Sonoma. Indians in California were valued by the Hispanics for their labor. So they were not shipped out of sight into reservations. Many were allowed to live in tribal communities around the missions called “rancherias.”
The arrival of Americans during the Gold Rush was most devastating to Indians. Treaties setting aside land were negotiated with the tribes in 1951, but were abandoned by the US Senate. Later, a number of reservations were established in the northern and southern parts of California. But in the vast central swath of the state, including the Bay Area, Indians were indentured or enslaved, or they fled to places that held little economic value to the American settlers. In these communities, they were able to maintain customs and languages and retain traditional leadership patterns.
A federal survey in 1905 found that northern California Indians were living in scattered bands. Congress began making annual appropriations to buy lands for these bands, and ultimately 82 rancherias were established.
California Tribal Business Alliance ⊕ 1530 J St., Suite 250, Sacramento, CA 95814 ⊕ www.caltba.org

In the 1950s, federal policy became one of forced assimilation. 38 rancheria tribes were “terminated.” Their lands were switched from Indian trust land to private property with none of the communal, sovereign control retained. They were promised improvements to their lands to make them usable, but those improvements never materialized. Most of the land was sold or lost for unpaid taxes.


In the 1980s, 27 terminated tribes were re-established through litigation. Three were reinstated through acts of Congress. By virtue of having been restored to federal recognition, these tribes, like the rest of the 109 tribes in California, have the rights I mentioned earlier –to establish a land base for their people, to self-governance, and to immunity from suit in state court. They also have a duty to take care of their members’ welfare.
Since the termination era, non-Indian communities grew and Californians forgot about the presence of Indian tribes -- until the tribes began to assert their right and their duty to bring economic development to their members. Indians are proud people, and they carry a history thousands of years old. Some of our brothers and sisters are still struggling financially today. Reservations and rancherias need the ability to borrow that financial capital to make improvements to their land. But under the terms of banking today, it is nearly impossible to put up the collateral necessary to get that financing. Gaming is about the only enterprise that generates enough money to bring those loans and investors.

You’re here because you are trying to figure out how to reconcile tribal sovereignty and tribal economic development with your view of how the land should be used, and I commend you for taking this day to come to this meeting.


I’m here to tell you that it can be done, and it is done in many places in California. Our six tribes all operate thriving casinos, and I’m proud to say that we all have excellent relationships with both the state and with the local communities where we operate.
We view our relationships with our local governments as among the most important we have. As leaders of our tribes, we speak very frequently with the leaders of the local governments. Our member tribes have cemented this relationship with binding local agreements dealing with the impacts of our casinos.
Some other tribes have criticized us for making these local agreements, saying we are giving away our sovereignty. Believe me, the members of the CTBA and I, as chairman of my tribe, take sovereignty every bit as seriously as other tribes. We don’t wear it like a chip on the shoulder, daring state and local government to knock it off.  Rather, we believe our sovereignty should be used in a statesmanlike way to build government-to-government partnerships and alliances for the long-term good of both the tribes and local governments.
The language from the preamble to the Rumsey/Yolo County agreement says it well: “we enter these agreements as a responsible exercise of our sovereignty and in recognition of the fact that the tribes’ long-term government and business interests are best served by accommodating the legitimate needs of neighboring governments.
“The local agreements represent a concerted effort on the part of the tribe and the county to

California Tribal Business Alliance ⊕ 1530 J St., Suite 250, Sacramento, CA 95814 ⊕ www.caltba.org

achieve a positive and constructive resolution of significant issues that could otherwise sever the long-term government-to-government relationship between the tribe and the county to the detriment of both parties. Instead, this agreement reflects an enhancement of the relationship and a continuing desire by the tribe and the county to take an enlightened approach to issues that have proven divisive elsewhere in the state.”
These agreements embody the theme of mutual respect and cooperation that we believe is the basis for a successful relationship between your local governments and the tribes in your area.
We are all share the burden of a troubled past relationship. I have talked about the past, but you did not commit those wrongs on California Indians. Yet, as local leaders, you must help sort out the present relationship of tribes and local communities. Together, we are writing the modern history of California Indians.
Thank you.

Chris Devers is Chairmen of the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians. Chairman Devers worked to open Pauma's current gaming facility, Casino Pauma, and as tribal chairman is leading Pauma's gaming expansion projects. In 2004, Chairman Devers was one of five tribal leaders to work alongside Governor Schwarzenegger to reach agreement on an amended compact that benefits the five tribes and the State of California.



California Tribal Business Alliance ⊕ 1530 J St., Suite 250, Sacramento, CA 95814 ⊕ www.caltba.org

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