Disenrollment is a hot topic in the American Indian community, in Southern California and around the country. The BIA revealed Jan. 9 it had received complaints that 50 previously unregistered tribal members the bureau had reinstated had been barred from tribal-government elections by the San Pasqual Band of Diegueno Mission Indians in Valley Center. Tribal security guards and San Diego County sheriff’s deputies reportedly blocked those legitimate voters from the polls even after the BIA disclosed the previous disenrollments were based on mistakes.

California records from the 1700s and 1800s upon which genealogists rely can be spotty. Indians—who were often abused, raped and hunted with impunity—often hid their heritage or identified with their Spanish, Mexican or Anglo ancestors on documents collected by schools, missions and the federal government. These documents are now being dusted off to prove or disprove tribal identity.

“We are adamant about not allowing the federal government to define our tribe,” Perry says. “It’s a sovereignty issue.”

Tribal Council members (from left) Nathan Banda, Chairman Anthony Rivera, Fran Yorba and Chris Lobo say they lead the one true Juaneño tribe
John Gilhooley
Tribal Council members (from left) Nathan Banda, Chairman Anthony Rivera, Fran Yorba and Chris Lobo say they lead the one true Juaneño tribe

Rivera’s tribal council is sticking to its genealogical guns. In December, the council pleaded to the state Native American Heritage Commission to “clean up” the list of most likely descendants (MLDs) it distributes to developers in need of American Indian monitors to deal with Native American remains uncovered during construction. For 30 years, Belardes has been doing this work on some of Orange County’s most contentious developments. Until the panel, which is considering his tribe’s request, changes the way MLDs are selected, “the Native American Heritage Commission does a disservice to this tribe,” Rivera said.

His group claims the largest membership, with around 900 families. It is the one true Juaneño tribe, says Rivera, who called the other groups “interested parties.” That conclusion is based on Department of Interior findings that indicate his group is the main petitioner when it comes to the tribal-recognition process that Belardes started because it is easier for the government to deal directly with one representative. “Interested parties” are also invited to submit documents, petitions and testimony, but the government clearly states it will not choose or identify an ultimate tribal leader.

Ocampo confided he, too, is being accused of not being Juaneño—by the vice chairwoman he appointed.

“I don’t pay much attention to it,” he said. “All she is doing is splitting the tribe once again. They get carried away with their own importance.”

He is “very disappointed in the way these supposed leaders are acting” and believes each leader should step aside and allow all Juaneños to elect one chairman for the good of the tribe. If Rivera does not sign off on that, Ocampo suggests, the remaining groups should join forces. “Then we can say, ‘Here we are, Mr. Rivera. Would you like to join our group?’”


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