By Patric Hedlund
After five years of denials, the announcement many had been expecting has been released: a gambling casino is being planned near the northern base of the Grapevine, just north of Outlets at Tejon shopping mall.
The statement was released June 25 by Kathryn Montes Morgan, the current leader of a Kern County tribal faction now referred to as the Tejon Indian Tribe. She said she cannot reveal the exact location of land being acquired by the tribe, but reports speak of a 300-acre parcel near the intersection of the Interstate 5, Highway 99 and Highway 166, near Mettler.
Morgan and her business manager spoke of “2,000 jobs” to “benefit Kern County.” Casinos bring in tax revenue.
In 1996 Morgan’s cousin, Delia ‘Dee’ Dominguez, tribal chairwoman of the Tinoqui-Chalola Council of Kitanemuk and Yowlumne Tejon Indians, filed documents to regain federal recognition for the unified tribe. Dominguez said she was not in favor of the tribe running a gambling casino. In interviews reported by The Mountain Enterprise in November 2009, Dominguez said Morgan broke off after the casino dispute.
Morgan became chairwoman of her own faction. Her group rapidly signed on with Las Vegas casino investor Cannery Casino Resorts and high-octane Washington, D.C. attorneys, Patton Boggs, LLP. In 2008 lobbyist Boggs is reported to have been paid $120,000 and lobbyist Tew Cardenas, LLP was paid $50,000 by the Tejon Indian Tribe to help gain recognition.
The events fit in neatly with the I-5 corridor development by the Tejon Ranch Company, said tribal members and attorney L. Adam Lazar at the Kern County Board of Supervisors hearing to approve Tejon Mountain Village October 5, 2009. Officers of the TriCounty Watchdogs have made the same statement in numerous public forums. Tejon Ranch officials publicly denied knowledge of such a plan.
On December 30, 2011 U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs Larry J. Echo Hawk issued a memo to “reaffirm” the Tejon Indian Tribe. The memo said the tribe had been accidentally dropped from tribal rolls in 1978 because of “an administrative error.” The reaffirmation was a quick way to reverse that error.
Morgan’s lobbyist team had pulled an end-run at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), causing Native American publications around the country to express surprise. Other waiting tribes protested. It is typically an arduous path to become recognized as a tribe by the federal government, requiring extensive proof to define who is a member of the tribe. Tribal recognition gives members rights and benefits, including the ability to build a casino.
On January 17, 2012 an investigation was launched by the Office of Inspector General (OIG). Their report said Echo Hawk did not follow established legal procedures.
In April 2012 Echo Hawk resigned, leaving behind confusion. Dominguez and her family, plus possibly hundreds of other descendants of the original Tejon Indian people, were not included by Morgan as members.
On May 4, 2013 the BIA held a hearing at Bakersfield College to begin to establish a legal process for defining membership in the Tejon Tribe. It appears the BIA has made little progress on that front.
Meanwhile, Morgan and her supporters are moving forward, reportedly receiving $1.1 million a year from the state Indian Gaming Fund.
May 4, 2013 at BIA hearing on controversy about membership in the Tejon Indian Tribe
Chairwoman Dee Dominguez at May 2013 hearing
Chairwoman Kathryn Morgan and BIA representative Robert Eben at May 2013 hearing
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This is part of the July 4, 2014 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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