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Tribes cut off members in bloodline clashes

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POSTED March 18, 2012 5:14 p.m.

PALA  (AP) — Disputes over bloodlines have led California tribes to cut off members in what some charge are moves to limit the number of people receiving lucrative payouts of casino profits and benefits.

Citing estimates from the American Indian Movement, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday that some two dozen tribes have removed more than 3,000 members from their rolls over the past 15 years.

The Pala Band of Mission Indians in northern San Diego County is one of the latest to be embroiled in a tussle over ancestry that led to 162 descendants of a prominent tribal leader being cut off from their $7,500 monthly share of casino profits and other benefits.

"Somewhere, as tribes have tried to reconstruct their sense of nationhood, particularly in tribes with casino money, they hit upon disenrollment as a way to settle disputes over personality issues and money," David Wilkins, professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota, told the Times.

The Pala dispute centers on whether a revered tribal elder, Margarita Owlinguish Britten, who died in 1925, had a white father. If she was half Indian, as the tribe has ruled, that means her descendants with less than 1/16th of Pala blood are not entitled to tribal membership.

Tribe chairman Robert Smith said evidence — a tribal document that was changed in the 1950s — shows Britten was not a full-blooded Indian. "This is not about money, this is about what's right," he said.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has ruled repeatedly that Britten's father was an Indian and has urged the tribe to reinstate the members, but has no power to enforce that decision.

A bureau document listing Britten and her seven children as members of the Cupeno Indians who were relocated in 1903 to the San Luis Rey River area of San Diego County does not list any father for Britten, however.

One of her descendants, King Freeman, a former tribe chairman, said the dispute centered on declining profits from the tribe's casino. The tribe's monthly payouts were reduced by $500 in January, he said. "This is all about greed," Freeman told the Times.

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