By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
Wilson Barber, Phoenix area director of the BIA whose office has jurisdiction over the Chemehuevi Indian Reservation, says he has never seen any proof of the dissidents' claims that money was being mishandled.
As for potential civil rights violations and tribal politics, Barber says, that is the tribe's problem. "The tribes have the authority to establish their own election ordinances and procedures, and determine candidates," Barber says. "As a tribe is a sovereign entity, they should have the mechanism and the forms to address any improprieties. They have to look at that themselves."
Members did try to play within the rules, they say. In 1991 they circulated recall petitions for Walker and her council and turned them in. But it was Walker and her council who decided if the petitions were valid, and they threw them out.
In 1991 Walker abruptly moved the annual meeting so many members were shut out, members say, and virtually all communication between the tribe and its elected leaders was severed.
@body:At the same time she was alienating the tribe, Walker was outraging another potentially volatile force, the retirees who rented lots from the tribe, some of whom had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars on the assurance of long-term leases.
In 1991 the tribal council informed the more than 400 leaseholders that their contracts were no longer valid because they had not been properly signed and approved when they were negotiated. Based on BIA appraisals of the rental lots, leaseholders were told that they would have to sign new leases, with rent increases of up to 300 percent.
Renters, who concede they were paying rents below fair market value, were nonetheless incensed by the size of the increases. Further, the new leases would have allowed unlimited hikes in future years and given the tribe the right to evict them at almost any time, say leaseholders.
"We checked out all the other parks up and down the river area and found out that in reality we might have been 15 or 20 percent below some of them," says Jim Whited, the mechanic who is now president of the Havasu Landing Homeowners Association. "When you get hit with something in the 300 percent range, that's what really got things upset."
The majority of the renters refused to sign the new leases and hired an attorney to negotiate what they thought would be justifiable increases. But Walker was not willing to negotiate, they say.
Instead, she announced that anyone not signing new leases would be evicted. And her council created a new set of fees for the resort. Beginning January 13, 1992, anyone who did not have a signed, valid lease would have to pay $5 every time they wanted to enter the resort and $8 every time they wanted to launch a boat. Those who had signed new leases would be given their customary free access to all resort facilities.
The homeowners were incensed. "We found out right off the bat that there was no way we could talk to the council," Whited says. "I really think she was just motivated [as] someone getting drunk on power. She seems to be a very vindictive person anyway, and she started using this power, first against the Indians and then . . . against the non-Indians."
The new charges, which would have made renters pay $5 every time they wanted to get to their houses, were four days away from taking effect when the morning came that the flag did not fly at the marina.
@body:Two days after the flag mishap had galvanized their opposition, dissident tribal members and non-Indians met at the senior citizens center for an impassioned meeting. Something had to be done about Walker, they agreed. The following Monday, a protest line that would last for more than 100 days was started in front of the tribal house.
The war was on. Dissidents waged it with demonstrations and graffiti on the tribal buildings. Their message did not embrace subtlety. "Live, be happy and be merry for tomorrow you shall die," said one message spray-painted near the reservation baseball field.
Day after day, Walker and her government arrived at work to be greeted by yelling protesters. Not just tribal members, but non-Indian retirees would take a day away from their boats and join in the protests.
Walker, by her own admission, got scared and knew the majority of the tribe had turned against her.
"There's about 12 of us and that includes women and children, against more than 200," Walker said in the interview shortly before she fled the reservation. "We don't even sleep well at night. They want to see us dead. They want to kill us."
The dissidents claim they did not want Walker dead, although it did not hurt their cause to suggest the possibility. At one point, Rusty Two Crows says, a cousin of his handed an owl feather to one of Walker's bodyguards and asked him to deliver it to her. The bodyguard, not a Chemehuevi, did so, unaware that in the Chemehuevi tribe an owl feather symbolizes a death curse.
"She had a shit," Two Crows crows. "She thought it was a death pox."
As the protests dragged on, the reservation was immersed in 24-hour tension, and Walker supporters struck back with their own polemics. White homeowners who had thrown in with the dissident tribal members found this hand-scrawled message waiting for them one day. "Some of you shit-for-brains honky protesters are ignorant of the laws and precedent. I wish you would get the fuck off Chemehuevi land. Go back where you came from."