The 1987 Supreme Court decision to open up Indian gaming nationwide had a dramatic economic impact on the lives of California's Indian tribes much like the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island had on their cultural identities. In a few short years, California Indians went from being the poorest people in the state to among the richest, and from being virtually invisible to being the state's most powerful political lobby.
For the Cabazon and Morongo tribes of Southern California, the plaintiffs in the landmark Supreme Court case, the wealth they have achieved through gambling casinos was unimaginable twenty years ago. Years of excruciating poverty have not been lost on three-time chairwoman Mary Ann Andreas of the Morongo tribe, whose reservation is near Palm Springs. As she remembers the dirt floor shack of her childhood, it would have been impossible to imagine the wealth and influence the tribe now holds. For Viejas tribal Chairman Anthony Pico, the abundance of today harks back to the times before contact with Europeans.
But even as some Native peoples prosper, the state wants to charge a gaming tax, which would be much greater than the standard corporate rate, a challenge to the newly found abundance of California's tribes. For Chairman Wayne Mitchum of the Colusa Tribe of Wintu, the largest employer in Colusa county, income from gaming has made possible the opening of the only dialysis center to service both native and non-native populations in the county. If Governor Schwarzenegger succeeds in raising gaming taxes, the dialysis center and the tribal-funded Wellness Center may be closed.
California's "Lost" Tribes explores the conflicts over Indian gaming and places them in the context of both California and Native American history. The film examines the historical underpinnings of tribal sovereignty and the evolution of tribal gaming rights over the last 30 years. It illustrates the impact of gaming on Indian self-determination, and the challenges that Native people face in insuring that their newly found prosperity will be there for future generations. The film also provides insight into the thinking and motivation of those who oppose the expansion of Indian gaming.
Concern over gaming is especially heightened by the development of rural lands for casinos, often placing tribes at odds with organic farmers and tract-home developers as stakes are claimed in the rush for the state's last rural lands. California's "Lost" Tribes was directed by award-winning filmmaker Jed Riffe.
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