By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
But instead, it happened to a bunch of relatively poor Indians on the California-Arizona border, and no one from the federal government seems much inclined to pay the matter any mind.
"You think Noriega was bad," says John Paul Kennedy, a Salt Lake City attorney representing the dissident tribal council. "I've been representing Indians for over 20 years, tribal governments, and I've never seen anything as egregious as this, and I've never seen the BIA act so irresponsibly as they have in this situation."
@body:Life on the Chemehuevi Indian Reservation before Christine Walker had been so easy. It was a year-round summer camp for vacationers and retirees from Arizona and California. They lived in mobile homes on lots rented from the tribe and hauled in their boats and jet skis.
There were fishing and parasailing and two bars at which to quaff a cold one anytime during the day.
Tribal members staffed the resort, mobile-home park and a nearby campground. The businesses allowed them to live on tribal homelands that had once been all but abandoned, when there was little to do in the area and the Chemehuevis had scattered across the country.
The reservation sits amid small mountains and scrubland just the other side of the Arizona state line, where the Colorado River, weary from carving the Grand Canyon, begins easing its way into the California flatlands.
Through history's serendipity and some determined effort, the tribe ended up securing for itself a beautiful, potentially lucrative lakefront oasis. The tribe controls about 24 miles of shoreline on the western side of Lake Havasu, which swallowed a large chunk of Chemehuevi homelands when it was formed.
Southern cousins of the Paiutes, the Chemehuevi in the 1800s lived in western Arizona and parts of California and Nevada, mostly along the Colorado River.
In 1907, during one of its many efforts to divvy up land for Native Americans, Congress set aside 36,000 acres of the tribe's traditional grounds in trust, including the then-little-coveted valley that is now under Lake Havasu.
Chemehuevi members continued to live in the valley until the 1930s, when Congress decided to build Parker Dam. According to a congressional aide who has plumbed the tribe's history, the area BIA agent in 1938 rounded up the only adult Chemehuevis he could find in the immediate area--17 of them--and had them vote to sell some of their land back to the government.
The tribe was paid more than $100,000, with the money held by the government in a trust fund, and for all intents and purposes the Chemehuevis ceased to exist as an autonomous band. Those remaining in the valley scattered, moving to nearby Parker, or elsewhere, and the reservation was virtually abandoned, save for one or two holdouts who remained on reservation land not consumed by the lake.
When Lake Havasu was finished, 2,340 acres of shoreline had been formed on what once was reservation land. The federal government leased out the land to private interests for vacation homes and a resort. Havasu Landing Resort, as it was called, grew over the years to include a marina, restaurant, bar and several hundred mobile-home sites.
But some of the older tribal members who had grown up in the valley, and descendants of others, grieved over the loss of their tribal land and decided they wanted their reservation back.
After decades of effort, they won formal recognition as a tribe in 1970, and then pushed to return to the lake.
In 1974 the Department of the Interior agreed that the shoreline and some adjacent area was in fact Indian trust land to which the Chemehuevis were entitled. The tribe agreed to pay off private interests that had made improvements on the land and was lent $1 million by the federal government to buy out the Havasu Landing Resort so they could run it and make some money.
At that time, only one or two tribal members still lived on the land. But several dozen moved back to staff and manage the resort, and the Chemehuevis set out to reestablish their tribe.
Over time, more and more members and descendants returned to the reservation, lured by the hope of affirming their birthright and finding work at the resort and other tribal businesses. Almost 200 of the tribe's estimated 600 members now live on the reservation.
Federal grants were used to build 85 houses on the northern end of the reservation, and for years the secluded oasis seemed to thrive.
It was a schizophrenic setting, the combined Indian reservation and white people's resort, but it served both sides well.
A Chemehuevi like Rusty Two Crows--whose legal name was Raymond Sandate before he came to the reservation--could move there in 1979 after he was busted in Louisiana for smuggling marijuana and decided maybe it was time to return to the homeland and take up fishing.
With flowing black hair and a ball cap that reads "Rebel," Two Crows was happy smoking a little dope, spending the days on his boat and dabbling in conspiracy theories.
As a retired drug smuggler, the 34-year-old feels qualified to scour tabloid newspapers and television shows and ruminate about things such as the Kennedy assassination and possible CIA complicity in the explosion of a Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland. It was a Two Crows who would soberly attempt to decipher the method behind Christine Walker's administration.