Tribal Recognition Race Sparks Speculation about Tejon Ranch Casino Plans

By Patric Hedlund
Frazier Park, CA (Friday, Nov. 6, 2009)—Native American and conservation groups are buzzing with rumors that a deal is being secretly developed between Tejon Ranch Company interests and one or more tribes seeking federal recognition in this region. Talk of an Indian gambling casino are linked with this rumor.

Thirteen 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 is a first step toward securing federal recognition.

In an interview in October, Dominguez said the process to attain federal recognition is lengthy and that it rarely succeeds.
Kathryn Montes Morgan, chair of the Tejon Indian Tribe, which splintered from Dominguez’ tribe, filed a petition for federal recognition almost five years later, on October 27, 2000, according to federal records. She is Dominguez’ cousin, but their petitions for federal recognition—and the people they each represent—are separate.

California became a state just as the ‘49er’s Gold Rush began. Prospectors and settlers were flooding in from other parts of the country and from around the world. They wanted Indian land. Morgan represents some of the native people of the San Joaquin Valley who were removed from their homelands in 1853 to California’s first reservation.
The Sebastian Indian Reservation was 75,000 acres at Tejon Pass in what was then Tulare County (today’s Kern County was carved from Tulare). The reservation was part of what became Tejon Ranch. Dominguez says her Kitanemuk and Yowlumne ancestors intermarried and that they were the native residents of the Tejon lands, living there long before the reservation was formed.

“The Yowlumne part of our family is from the mouth of the Kern River south, and the lands of the Katinemuk started at the base of the mountains to the east. We would gather acorns in that area and camp at Castac Lake and head over to Cuddy Valley to pick the best pine nuts; it would take a week to do that. They would also go up Pine Mountain. In the plains they had the elk runs between the mountains and Kern Lake—those are words from their mouth,” she says, telling a stirring tale about finding depositions in the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles after years of searching for evidence to support her family’s claim for tribal recognition. The depositions were given in 1922 for a court case filed by Indian people against Tejon Ranch, she said.

Fast Forward
This summer, Dominguez said she received news that another Native American group from this region had accelerated its efforts to obtain federal recognition. She was told that they had funds from an investor who paid for lawyers and lobbyists in Washington, D.C. That group was Kathryn Morgan’s Tejon Indian tribe.

Federal recognition of a tribe brings with it numerous benefits and privileges, including medical, housing and educational assistance. But the big prize in recent years has become the right to build an Indian gaming casino. Dominguez says her people are not interested in developing a casino.

This is how Dominguez puts it: “Our families’ journey toward Federal Recognition has been to reestablish the dignity and respect our families are entitled to as the Indigenous People of the land. In the beginning, ‘casino’ was not even a word in the room. That word has dramatically changed the way people around us interact with us, including those who say they are interested in helping us achieve our goal” of obtaining federal recognition.

Morgan, on the other hand, has said that a casino is likely to follow if her group receives federal recognition. It appears she has made a commitment to an investor who is counting on that happening.

On October 5 the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to give the Tejon Mountain Village, LLC a green light to move forward with plans to develop multiple resort hotels—750 resort and spa rooms, plus 3,450 homes and a commercial center. During the hearing that preceded the vote, Attorney L. Adam Lazar (speaking on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity about water concerns) asked the supervisors why no one had divulged that there are plans to build a casino on Tejon Ranch land. Supervisor McQuiston, who was chairing the hearing, sharply replied that he knew of no such plan.

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

Interested legal analysts have noted Tejon Ranch’s use of secrecy in the past and speculates that if Tejon Ranch or its affiliates’ were involved in this effort, “it would be a money-laundering type of operation, not directly traceable to them….”
On Friday, Nov. 6 at 10:30 a.m. The Mountain Enterprise exchanged emails with Barry Zoeller, spokesman for Tejon Ranch Company. We asked if there is an agreement between Tejon Ranch or its affiliates with any Native American group seeking federal recognition. We also asked if any Tejon Ranch land (or that of any of its joint ventures or subsidiaries) is being considered as a location for a gaming casino. Zoeller answered “No” to both questions.

On Friday, Nov. 6 at 5 p.m. a report by Tami Mlcoch of Channel 17 news from Bakersfield showed Morgan and a group of about 30 people traveling onto Tejon Ranch land to visit a cemetery and a schoolhouse which Morgan said were established by her extended family. This is the same cemetery and schoolhouse which Dominguez claims and says her family has been maintaining for many years.
In that report, Morgan and Mlcoch said “a Las Vegas businessman,” who the group refused to name, has invested more than $200,000 in helping the Tejon band obtain federal recogniton. John Johnston, Ph.D. (of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History) confirmed the history of Morgan’s tribe being brought with other San Joaquin Valley Indian peoples to the reservation established on the ranch in the 1850s. While standing on the Tejon property, Morgan said she is seeking a “land base” along with her claim to recognition.

Dominguez’ tribe—the people who lived there traditionally—and some of Morgan’s tribe continued living on Tejon Ranch after the reservation was dismantled. They remained well into the 20th century, while the owners of the ranch tried many tactics to evict them, Dominguez said.

On the morning of November 6 The Mountain Enterprise asked Zoeller if Tejon Ranch Company or any of its business associates had provided funding to any California tribes to support efforts to seek federal recognition in Washington D. C. Zoeller again answered, “No.”

Channel 17 carried this statement from Tejon Ranch Company on its 5 p.m. report that day: “Tejon Ranch has absolutely no plans nor any interest in selling any of its property, or using any of its land for the development of an Indian gaming casino.”


[Report updated Saturday, Nov. 7 at 1 a.m. and 1:40 p.m; Sunday, Nov. 8 at 8 a.m. and Nov. 11 at 3:30 p.m.–PH]

The statement below was written by Dee Dominguez. She made a presentation hosted by the TriCounty Watchdogs on September 27, in advance of the Tejon Mountain Village hearing before the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

By Dee Dominguez
Recently I was asked to speak about the Native American Cultural Sites on Tejon Ranch, but, to me it did not seem adequate, since the Indigenous people are intricately tied to the land, and air and all that is in that space, including the plants, water, our beloved Condor, and the fact that Tejon Ranch is our ancestral land where my ancestors have lived since time immemorial, and their remains are buried throughout the ranch lands.

I am a descendent of the people who lived on the Tejon Ranch lands since time immemorial.  My cultural heritage is Kitanemuk and Yowlumne. The Kitanemuk are from the mountains at the end of the San Joaquin Valley, and the Yowlumne side is the end of the San Joaquin Valley from the Kern River to the mountains. I am the Chairwoman, of the Kitanemuk & Yowlumne Tejon Indians, a California Indian Tribe.

We are so fortunate that the California condor lives in our area. The condor does not live in Los Angeles, or even Bakersfield, but only in our mountains where we also live. The condor is the largest bird in the United States with a wing span up to 9.5 to 10 feet wide, and it is here that condor lives.

Our Indian families say that people learned to live in the world by following the lifeways of the animals. Recently, in the fires of 2007 where fires were in San Diego, the San Gabriel Mountains, and from Hwy 126 to Frazier Park. The biologists at Hopper Mountain were very concerned about two baby condor nests in the mountains. Usually when a baby condor is sick, a biologist who is skilled in mountain hiking will hike up the most rugget terrain to reach the condor nest and retrieve the baby condor and hike back down the mountain to take the baby condor to a veterinarian. If the condor nest cannot be reached by hiking, a biologist will repel on a line from a helicoptor to the condor nest to retrieve the baby condor to take it to a veterinarian. However, the fire was so hot, the flames so high, windy, and smokey that it was not safe to send a hiker up the mountains or to repel from a helicoptor.

The biologists were also evacuated from Hopper Mountain, all they could do was wait.

After the fire, they learned that all the adult condors had flown northwest, away from the fires. And that the adult condor parents took turns flying through the fire, wind and smoke to reach their condor chick nest to feed the baby, stay with the baby and flew out of the fire, wind and smoke.  The following day, the other parent condor would fly through the fire, wind and smoke to care for the baby condor.

This is a family condor story, that will be a story handed down through the generations of how the animals and condor are examples for people to care for their family.

When a landowner purchases a property with a special and unique feature,  in this case the California condor, the landowner has the responsibility to provide adequate care for that unique feature.  Unfortunately, all of us remember the lawsuit that Tejon Ranch filed to prevent the condor from being released from the Wind Wolves Preserve/ San Emidio Ranch.  Tejon Ranch did not want the California condor flying over Tejon Ranch.  But, how do you notify a condor it can no longer fly in an area it has flown in since time immemorial?

We also remember when Adult Condor 8 (AC8)  was shot and killed on the Tejon Ranch property by a hunter who had a permit to hunt pigs.  She was shot and was left to die in a tree.   

Our Tribe tried unsuccessfully for over two years to bring her carcass back to Kern County for use by our Tribal families and other Tribes throughout the state for our Condor ceremonies. We were unsuccessful primarily because we are an unrecognized Tribe. We had also solicited and received support from the California Indian Legal Service in securing a legal opinion in how our Tribe could legally receive her with our status as an unrecognized tribe.

AC8 should have been returned to Kern County, she is national treasure from our land.

I am also on the list of Most Likely Descendent (MLD) with the State of California, Native American Heritage Commission. A few years ago I was sent to the Tejon Ranchlands as the MLD when the ranch reported a grave had been accidently damaged. What I found was not one damaged grave but an entire cemetary bulldozed. As an MLD it is a most difficult thing to witness these human atrocities. Who wants to go and see the remains of their ancestors scattered by people who obviously have no sense of dignity or respect for a culture not of their own?

Development is not a good thing for the Indian people. Whenever I hear the word development, I run in the opposite direction as fast as I can. I have come to the end of the road, and must now turn and face what may happen. 

A few years ago, I witnessed the destruction of an Indian cemetery in Los Angeles at the Playa Vista /Ballona Wetlands development.  Over 400 Native American graves were opened and taken apart, desecrated.  A very large and long conveyor belt was also implemented, where buckets of earth were shaken. Many Indian people, including myself, protested this and yes, there were Indian people who agreed to the removal of the graves. Some Indian people will sign an agreement to destroy a cemetery and it is usually due to a promise of something in return.

I am hearing that the identified cemetaries on the Tejon Ranch lands will be covered and sealed. What kind of people are expected to inhabit these new homes on Tejon Ranch that leads the landowner to assume they will vandalize the cemeteries? What kind of people are we to expect to come into the mountain communities to inhabit these new homes? Why not accept and acknowledge the cemetaries as cemetaries and embrace them as an honored part of the land?

What will happen to other graves and cemetaries not identified? Will a disaster such as the one that occured at Ballona Wetlands /Playa Vista happen here in our community? I hope not, and I hope that if it does happen, that everyone here will stand up and say "No!"

You may ask, ‘Aren’t  cemeteries protected by law?’ Indian Cemeteries had equal protection as all other cemeteries until approximately 1975 when the California Real Estate industry successfully lobbied for  change in the state law to exclude Indian cemeteries. The law needs to be changed back to provide full protection to all cemeteries, and not discriminate against the cemeteries of first people to bury their loved ones here.


This is part of the November 06, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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