Family fights tribal demotion

Forty people who were told last month that they are no longer lineal members of the Mooretown Rancheria are fighting back, appealing a Tribal Council decision to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

At stake is more than $1.5 million in casino money and an entire family’s cultural identity.

“[The elders] are in shock that people can do this to them,” said Debra Royce Olney, one of the Concow-Maidu Indians who have been “disenrolled"—demoted to nonlineal status. The group, which comprises one-fifth of the tribe’s voting membership, has hired an attorney specializing in tribal law to take its case to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. “They want a fight, they have a fight,” Royce Olney said.

Last year, the tribe hired an anthropologist to research its history. Based on those findings, the council, dominated by members of the descendants of Katie Archuleta, used that information to decide that Ina Jackson’s children by a previous marriage were not entitled to lineal status and, at a March 15 meeting, voted to disenroll them. The vote came just before scheduled tribal elections that could have shifted power on the council.

Susan Tiesing, a tribal councilmember and spokesperson, said the decision just clarifies the intent of the BIA when, in 1958, it named three distributees: Fred Taylor, Katie Archuleta and Robert Jackson. The BIA also used the phrase “and wife,” referring to Ina Jackson. “She is not a distributee,” Tiesing said.

“It was really just to maintain the integrity of the membership,” she said. “We certainly don’t mean to hurt anybody or anything like that.”

Classified as nonlineal members, Tiesing said, “They still will have housing and educational and health benefits.”

What they won’t get is per capita checks from revenues of the Feather Falls Casino—checks Royce Olney said came to $1,500 a month plus a bonus every three months of $5,000 to $6,000, depending on casino revenues. Fewer lineal members means bigger payments for everyone else, she said.

For Royce Olney, who works at Enloe Medical Center, and her husband, a businessman, it was just “extra money.” But for others in the tribe, particularly elders, $40,000 a year is a living.

“They [the council majority] had an agenda going in, which was to get rid of us,” Royce Olney said. “They’re saying we’re not blood-related to Robert Jackson, but we never claimed to be. Why was [my great-grandmother] on there, then? You can’t tell me six councilmembers can get rid of a family.”

Now, Tiesing said, the council plans to follow up its decision by changing the tribe’s constitution to no longer reference Ina Jackson. The disenrolled members would not be included in the full-membership vote that’s required to amend the document.

“This is family that she had before she even met Robert Jackson,” said Tiesing, who is descended from Katie Archuleta. “They were treated as lineals for many years because that’s what we thought that they were. … We are not real happy that they were receiving benefits all those years when they were not lineal members. They are not from our family. They didn’t grow up at Feather Falls with us, and they know that.”

Royce Olney, who said it’s only a small faction of the Archuleta family pushing the changes, said that she and other descendents from Ina Jackson’s previous marriage actually have more native blood than the Archuletas.

“That’s what really gripes me,” she said. “And I am still a Concow-Maidu Indian.”