Casino Talk Increases as Branch of Tejon Tribe Wins Federal Recognition

  • Is this scene from Four Winds Casino in Michigan what we will be seeing at the base of the Grapevine from the Tejon Indian Tribe?

    Is this scene from Four Winds Casino in Michigan what we will be seeing at the base of the Grapevine from the Tejon Indian Tribe?

By Patric Hedlund

A branch of the Tejon Indian Tribe has regained its place on the list of federally recognized tribes. Although the tribe entered into a treaty with the United States government in 1851 as a sovereign entity, it was later dropped from the register of recognized tribes.

On January 3, 2012 a letter from the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, said an “administrative error” had caused the delisting. Tribal recognition has been restored. The announcement was signed by Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk.

Speculation began almost immediately throughout the state about the tribe’s plans to affiliate with Tejon Ranch Company and a Las Vegas casino investor to establish a gambling facility, possibly at the northern base of the Grapevine on Tejon Ranch land. A spokesperson from Tejon Ranch has denied such plans in the past.

Fifteen years ago Delia “Dee” Dominguez filed a Letter of Intent to petition for U.S. government recognition on behalf of her tribe. She is listed as the contact for the Tinoqui-Chalola Council of Kitanemuk and Yowlumne Tejon Indians. These families, she says, have inhabited “since time immemorial” the land later divided into the Spanish land grants that were consolidated in the mid- 19th century to form what is today known as Tejon Ranch. Her letter is dated January 15, 1996. It was a first step for contemporary members of the tribe to renew their federal recognition.

In an interview in 2009 Dominguez said the process to attain federal recognition is lengthy, expensive and “it rarely succeeds.” Dominguez said she did not have the funds for the lobbyists and attorneys necessary to pursue the tribe’s re-registration.

Kathryn Montes Morgan, Domninguez’ cousin, is the chair of the Tejon Indian Tribe which splintered from Dominguez’ tribe to file their own petition for federal recognition five years later, on October 27, 2000, according to federal records.

Dominguez said that her own group was born and raised on the land now owned by the Tejon Ranch Company and that she is opposed to a casino. Her cousin’s group originated further north but intermarried with the Tinoqui- Chalola Kitanemuk and Yowlumne Tejon Indians, Dominguez said. All were brought together to the Sebastian Indian Reservation on Tejon land in the 1850s.

Morgan’s group invested about $200,000 in attorneys and lobbyists between 2008- 2009.

William C. Wortman, managing director of Millenium Gaming, Inc. from Nevada is said to be the source of the funding for Morgan’s appeal.

On September 30, 2010 Millenium Gaming’s subsidiary Cannery Casino Resorts announced a joint venture with Tribal Financial Advisors to “identify, pursue and enter into agreements with Native American indian tribes throughout the United States for the financing…and management of…existing or new gaming properties,” according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Their announcement also said the joint venture would help tribes obtain capital investment.

Searches of such databases as by The Mountain Enterprise in 2009 yielded records showing that in 2008 lobbyist Patton Boggs, LLP is reported to have been paid $120,000, and lobbyist Tew Cardenas was paid $50,000 by the Tejon Indian Tribe. The industry category for their lobbying is listed as “Casino/Gambling.” Payments reported in 2009 diminished to $20,000, paid to the Patton Boggs firm.

Some researchers point to a history of questionable dealings by California’s first Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Edward Fitzgerald Beale is alleged to have used federal money to set up the Sebastian Indian Reservation but then took title to that and adjacent land as his private property. Beale became a multimillionaire while the Tejon Indians lost claim to their traditional land holdings.

The 270,000 acre Tejon Ranch, now called "the largest private contiguous landholding in California," was sold by the Beale family to the Chandler family of Los Angeles (who also owned the Los Angeles Times newspaper). Civil litigation in the 1920s by the tribe attempted to regain ownership of their lands, challenging a murky set of decisions by the State of California against Indian ownership of their traditional lands, and questionable actions by Beale. The suit went to the Supreme Court. The powerful Chandler family prevailed. Some time after that the tribe suddenly learned they had been left off the register of recognized tribes. Lack of “recognized” status meant they had lost rights of sovereignty and other benefits.

Ownership of the original Tejon land is now held by Tejon Ranch Company, a corporation with stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange (as TRC) engaged in agribusiness, mining and land development.

TRC’s development activities include the Tejon Industrial Complex and travel centers at the base of the Grapevine; Tejon Mountain Village (a proposed resort community approved by Kern County for 3,450 homes, six resort hotels, a commercial center and two golf courses); and the proposed Centennial development (still seeking approval from Los Angeles County) with a projected 23,000 homes plus commercial centers.

According to Dominguez, many of the Tinoqui-Chalola Kitanemuk and Yowlumne Tejon Indian families continued to live on their ancestral land until they were forced off by the Tejon Ranch Corporation. A schoolhouse and a graveyard are claimed by both factions of the tribe.

Renewed federal recognition enables Morgan’s segment of the tribe, reportedly about 210 people, to receive federal health, education and welfare benefits in addition to providing a variety of rights, but does not entitle them to reclaim land ownership.

Morgan stated in a television interview last week that the idea of a casino “is so far in the future that I can’t even talk about it now.”

The Bakersfield Californian (which has Tejon Ranch CEO Bob Stine on its board) ran a tepid editorial on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012 saying casino plans are good for the finances of the Tejon Indians but could cause problems for low income people of Kern County who could become addicted to gambling.

This is part of the January 13, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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