By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
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By Stephen Lemons
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The reservation was also retirement heaven for people like Tom Brown, a thin, tanned, former Los Angeles firefighter who put in his years with the department and then bought a mobile home at Havasu Landing Resort so he and his wife could live in the isolated Chemehuevi Valley during the cool months and hit the road in their RV in the summer when temperatures here surpass even those of Phoenix.
For Jim Whited, a non-Indian mechanic whose girth attests to many beers at the Sail Inn bar on the reservation, this was the hometown where he grew up, and watched the Chemehuevi tribe re-form during his life.
But after Christine Walker took over the reservation, Two Crows abandoned his fishing boat to read the tea leaves of a conspiracy he saw unfolding in his own backyard. Brown and Whited--who previously had had little to do with their landlord tribe--wound up walking point with Two Crows in an effort to bring Walker down.
It was a curious alliance between a Chemehuevi and non-Indians, all of whom had come to the reservation to escape and instead found themselves embroiled in a fight for the simplest of liberties.
"Prior to this happening, I really didn't know many of the Indians," says Brown, who started vacationing at the resort in 1961. "I saw them around, but I didn't know them. Today, I count a number of them as friends. I enjoy knowing them. It gives you a different feeling."
@body:Under the Chemehuevi tribe's constitution, council elections are to be held every year, coinciding with an annual meeting of the tribal members. The nine-member council serves staggered terms, so only a few seats are open each year, and the council elects its officers, including the chairman, from within its ranks.
With members scattered across the country and out of it, many of the votes for councilmembers are typically cast by mail.
The elections tended to be innocuous affairs, with more attention paid to the revelry of the annual meeting--with its free food and reunion atmosphere--than to the final tabulations, tribal members say.
That is, until Christine Walker was elected to the council, and the chairmanship, in 1988.
Around the reservation, Walker was known as "Stoneface." She had come to Chemehuevi Valley in 1982 with the tribe lending her some money so she could move there from Alabama.
Walker worked briefly as the food-and-beverage manager at the resort restaurant, but was fired after several months because the accounts would not add up and employees kept quitting on her, according to a 1982 memo sent to tribal councilmembers by the resort manager.
After losing the restaurant job, Walker worked briefly at the security gate that controls access to the resort. That's where she earned the Stoneface nickname, as the guard who never smiled, waved or even acknowledged people as they came and went from the recreation area.
She soon left that job, too, says Rusty Two Crows, who worked with her, apparently because of dissatisfaction on the parts of both employee and employer.
Attempts to interview Walker for this article were unsuccessful, but in an earlier interview with a documentary filmmaker, she maintained that, immediately after her arrival, tribal members started to hate her because she asked too many questions.
"There's a certain group of people out here who are working with other people . . . to overthrow this tribe and have the reservation put up for sale. That is the intent of these people," Walker said during the interview. "I have known it since I moved here in 1982. Those are the kinds of questions I was asking, and these people have hated me ever since."
Tribal members say they have no idea what Walker is talking about and point to the statements as evidence of her paranoia.
"I believe it was a personal vendetta, personal vengeance," says Matthew Leivas, installed as acting tribal chairman after Walker fled. "I can't understand why, because practically everyone here had helped [her] at one time or another."
But Walker said in the earlier interview that she believed the tribe needed to be saved from itself, and that is why she ran for council. Members did not hate her enough to fight her election with any vigor.
When she assumed the chairmanship, however, the reservation began a four-year nose dive into bizarre politics, secrecy and turmoil.
For the first two years of her reign, members say, Walker consolidated her power. The tribal council controlled the elections and other members suddenly found that their petitions to be put on the ballot were being turned down on technicalities.
Many of the council ballots were cast by mail, and the tribal council ran the reservation post office. Walker's grandson and a friend worked at the post office, Rusty Two Crows says, and Two Crows and other tribal members became convinced that Walker had one of them tamper with mail-in ballots to influence the 1989 and 1990 elections.
Tribal members complained furiously to the U.S. Postal Service that Walker had had her relatives and cohorts at the post office tamper with mail and at least four tribal members provided statements to postal investigators claiming that they saw a friend of Walker's grandson tearing up mail and throwing it away, says Rusty Two Crows.