Tribal Brouhaha Over SoCal Casino

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – Jamul Indians sued the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a casino company for $4 million, claiming they dug up their ancestors’ remains and dumped them by a freeway.
     Two members of the Jamul Indian Village in San Diego County say their ancestors’ cemetery was excavated and “unceremoniously dumped” on a Caltrans highway construction site, with the approval of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other members of the Indian community, whom they also sued.
     No one lives on the 6-acre Jamul Indian Village east of San Diego, though about 20 tribal members lived there in the 1970s, according to publicly available information. The group also is known as Kumeyaay, for their language, and by the misleading name of Mission Indians, a name applied to a congeries of tribes and bands who gathered around the missions built by the early Catholic missionaries.
     Plaintiffs Walter Rosales and Karen Toggery claim the casino project and cemetery excavation are taking place without proper permits and violate environmental law.
     “No permit has been posted by defendants to excavate soil from the cemetery and deposit it on state property,” according to the federal complaint. “Nor have they notified the San Diego County coroner of their intent to disturb human remains on the site.”
     The excavations are part of a $360 million construction project for Hollywood Casino Jamul, 20 miles east of San Diego, expected to open in 2016. The project is led by the Jamul Indian Village – an Indian community the plaintiffs claim is illegally building a casino on land they don’t own.
     The plaintiffs, who are members of the village, they claim that they – not the village -beneficially own the 4-acre cemetery where their ancestors are buried, therefore the land does not qualify for gambling.
     “Moreover, the JIV [Jamul Indian Village] has never been qualified to be organized or reorganized as a tribe under the Indian Reorganization Act, since it has never resided on a reservation,” the complaint states.
     The Indian Reservation Act of 1934 initiated major changes to federal treatment of Native Americans, and led to complications still being dealt with. It aimed to reverse the federal policy of isolating Indians on reservations, so they could be “assimilated.” This led to an unfortunate “termination” policy in which tribes were written out of existence, a policy that was reversed later, leaving many Indians landless.
     The plaintiffs in the present case say the Jamul Indian Village began work at the cemetery knowing the plaintiffs’ ancestral remains were there.
     “Now, their most recent declarations under oath admit that they began construction, with knowledge of the interment of Rosales and Toggery’s families remains and funerary objects on the government’s portion of the Indian cemetery, and intentionally had them excavated and removed,” the complaint states.
     In a separate case last week a federal judge ruled against a church group that claimed the casino was being built on land that was not part of an Indian reservation. U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller denied the plaintiffs’ requests for a writ of mandate, preliminary injunction and environmental review and allowed the project to begin.
     Patrick Webb, attorney for the plaintiffs in the new case, said his clients do not expect to receive gaming profits from the proposed casino, but that they “remain members [of JIV] as far as they are concerned.” He said they have a separate lawsuit against Caltrans in the California’s 4th District Court of Appeal.
     California is the nation’s largest Indian gaming state, with 69 casinos owned by 62 tribes and bands. The casinos report more than $7 billion in annual revenue.
     Plaintiffs seek punitive damages of $4 million from defendants, which include two BIA officials, the tribal government and the businesses building and managing the casino, which include Penn National Gaming and San Diego Gaming Ventures.
     The plaintiffs are represented by Patrick Webb with Webb & Carey of San Diego.
     Defendants declined to comment on the lawsuit.