HOME OF THE BRAVE
Christine Walker had already enraged many of those she governed. For more than two years, the secretive leader of the Chemehuevi Indians had used the unique powers and autonomy of her tribal government's semisovereign status to undertake what many describe as a systematic course of despotism and corruption.
Allegations of embezzlement, election rigging, civil rights violations and outright theft by Walker's government flowed freely through the 200 or so tribal members on the Chemehuevi Indian Reservation.
They were seething, but unsure how to deal with the superstitious, middle-aged woman who had taken over their tribe and seemed to be contorting their once-placid lives in ways they could not combat.
But the tribal members were not the only ones Walker had outraged. More than 400 mostly white retirees rented mobile-home sites and boat slips at the tribe's scenic resort on the California shore of Lake Havasu. The resort was the bedrock of the tribe's economic strength.
Yet Walker was trying to raise rents at the resort--in some cases by as much as 300 percent--and threatening to evict folks who had been coming to the lake for years to play on its clear waters.
The reservation was a tinderbox of rage, and the spark came one Thursday morning in January.
It was a small matter, and would have passed unnoticed if people were not so scared and frustrated. But on that day, the American flag was not raised over the marina.
The problem, it would later turn out, was that a clip used to fasten the flag to its cord had broken. Rumor, however misguided, spread quickly through the reservation--Walker, her detractors concluded, was so arrogant she wouldn't even fly the American flag. She was a dictator, and this just proved it.
Enough is enough, they said. Christine Walker simply has to go.
For want of a clip, the flag did not fly, and for want of a flag, the Chemehuevi Indian Reservation was thrown into open revolution.
"That's when we knew it was a full-out dictatorship," says tribal member Rusty Two Crows. "That just pissed everybody off."
Within the next four days, the reservation took a plunge that would spawn months of ugly turmoil and civil unrest, a power struggle worthy of a banana republic from which the tribe has yet to recover.
Every day for the next three months, a protest line was set up outside the double-wide trailer that served as tribal offices. Protesters besieged the place, taunting and challenging Walker and her government. With demonstrations by day and graffiti warfare by night, the dissidents waged a psychological campaign of attrition against Walker, trying to break her reign and drive her from office.
Walker responded by hiring armed mercenaries, holing up in her house and continuing to govern while refusing to talk with those who once elected her.
Each side claimed that the other made death threats, and several times gunfire erupted, although no one was hurt and it was unclear who was doing the shooting.
Finally, the stand-off culminated on April 23, when federal agents, acting on complaints from the dissidents and homeowners, raided the tribe's council house and Walker's home, hauling away a truckload of documents as part of an investigation into alleged corruption by Walker's regime, and possible complicity by some employees of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Walker and her embattled political retinue fled the reservation, saying they feared for their lives. They have since returned only once--with armed sheriff's department escorts--to collect their personal belongings.
Within days dissident tribal members took control of the council-house trailer and installed their own government, vowing that Walker's regime would not be allowed to return.
A modicum of peace returned to the reservation, but the turmoil is far from over. Walker will not renounce her post and is trying to govern in exile, still recognized by the BIA as the tribe's rightful leader.
Although it clearly seems to represent the will of most tribal members, the makeshift tribal government has not gained recognition from the BIA and has no legal authority to conduct business.
The tribe's bank accounts have been frozen, its resort business is on the verge of collapse and conspiracy theories abound as to who is trying to save the tribe and who is trying to drive it under.
The dissidents claim Walker's tyrannical tenure was designed to oust them from the reservation so she could sell it out for an ambitious gambling resort. Upon seizing the council house, they found documents linking Walker's government to the Cabazon Indian tribe, a small Southern California band whose notorious reputation chills many who have heard the stories about its gambling wealth, shadowy attempts to manufacture weapons and the unsolved murders linked to the tribe.
Walker's supporters say she was trying to save the tribe from financial self-destruction after years of inept tribal governance, and that it is her opponents who want to sell out the reservation.
Had it happened in another country--say, with "freedom fighters" in Nicaragua--the Chemehuevi Rebellion might have garnered attention from national political leaders, at least prompting them to take sides in the dispute. Several hundred of this country's own, after all, are waging a battle to regain their civil rights and return democracy to their government.
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.
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.
After investigating the charges, the postal service eventually yanked the tribe's contract to run the post office in February of this year. Jim Murray, who oversees contracts for the postal service's San Bernardino office, says the post office was shut down because "we just had problems, contractual problems, a variety of things," but would not elaborate.
"Some of the problems are still under investigation, so I'd rather not get into specific things," he says. No charges have been filed against anyone involved with the post office.
After the 1990 election, the nine-member council consisted of Walker, two of her sisters, a daughter, a son-in-law, the son-in-law's uncle, two distant cousins and one outsider--Busena Escobar--who from then on was never told when and where the council would meet, says her son, Ron Escobar.
After gaining full control, tribal members say, Walker began her reign of terror.
Anyone who spoke out against her was placed on the "86" list and banned from using the restaurant, resort or tribal grocery store. "They were denying us our civil rights," says Ron Escobar, who was placed on the 86 list. "If you opposed Ms. Walker's administration in one way or another, you were put on some kind of list. A blackball list or an 86 list, an eviction list. There was always something going."
In some cases, Irene Kellywood says, the blacklist meant mothers had to drive more than 40 miles into Needles to buy formula for their babies or do without if they had no way to get to town.
The council also controlled about 70 jobs, which were prized by tribal members who had no other way to earn a living on the reservation. Walker purged her opponents from the payrolls, members say. Rusty Two Crows says he was fired from his job at the campground because he spoke openly about problems in Walker's administration.
Osley Saunooke, a Cherokee with more than a quarter-century in Indian affairs who was hired by Walker as an adviser, denies that Walker fired people or barred them from businesses for political reasons. Those who found their names on various lists deserved it, Saunooke says, because they were drunk, abusive or did not perform their jobs.
"They're just lying," Saunooke says. "They were wrong. Their arguments are without any foundation."
But minutes of tribal meetings found after the dissidents seized control of the tribal house contradict Saunooke's claims. "Robin Wood employed at Boathouse and was protesting against the Tribe," say the minutes of a January 10, 1992, meeting. "Richie said he told Martha to dismiss her."
"Anyone who opposed her and her council, especially those who were more vocal, were the ones she targeted the most," says Irene Kellywood, who was ousted as the tribe's secretary treasurer by Walker. "They were the ones who were harassed. They were terminated from their jobs."
In addition to the disciplinary actions, the Walker government retreated behind a veil of secrecy. Regular council meetings were closed to the tribe, and even the council house was shut off. Tribal members could not see their elected leaders without being granted an appointment.
Without explanation, things began to go awry. The ferry that carried people back and forth across the lake to Lake Havasu City broke and was never fixed. The community center, which had been built with a federal grant, was fenced off and left unused. An airport--really just a landing strip and some lights--also built with federal funds was completed but closed.
Money seemed to be going into the council house but not coming out, tribal members say. In 1991 the tribe received more than $40,000 in federal money for agricultural programs, for instance, yet there is not a cow, chicken or crop on the reservation.
Money was also coming in for a substance-abuse program and for a Head Start program, but they didn't exist, says Rusty Two Crows. Documents found after Walker's government fled suggest that the councilmembers may have doubled their salaries and paid themselves fees for managing the resort, although the facts are difficult to piece together because federal agents seized so many records, Kellywood says.
"They didn't let anybody outside their own little clique know what was going on," she says. "They shut tribal members out of their own tribal affairs. Things that they have every right to know about. They've completely shut the door on us. You can't even run for council, unless you were a member of her family."
Walker systematically stripped the tribe of its right to freely elect the council, Two Crows says. She placed her cohorts in all positions of authority on the reservation. Members who spoke out against her could lose their jobs and be banished from the tribal businesses. They could not even enter the council chambers to pay their utility bills.
Tribal businesses suffered, and services were cut. The tribe even stopped helping with funeral expenses when the elders, including those who had fought to revive the dormant reservation, died, Two Crows says.
Tribal members complained frequently to the BIA, notes Nick Alvarez, a member of the dissident council and son of a former tribal chairman, but the agency did not seem to take the allegations seriously.
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."
Amid the threats, gunfire sometimes erupted, though no one was hurt. One night more than 40 shots were reportedly fired between two houses at the tribal housing complex.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office, which along with the federal government has jurisdiction over the reservation and keeps two deputies stationed there, was repeatedly responding to disturbance calls.
"We probably arrested an equal number of both sides," says Sergeant John Massey. "It was emotional. There were a lot of feelings that were running at a high level."
Eventually, Walker was driven into hiding as a virtual recluse. She stepped up her use of the 86 list, barring tribal members and non-Indians alike from businesses and firing those who joined in the protests against her government, tribal members say.
Walker also tried to bring in her own security force, and in the eyes of tribal members that is when the chairman made a pact with the devil.
One day, armed members of the Cabazon Indian tribe police force arrived at the reservation to guard Walker and her dwindling group of supporters.
The Cabazons, a Southern California tribe even smaller than the Chemehuevis, carried with them a notoriety well beyond their limited numbers.
The Cabazons had been linked in newspaper reports to several killings and bizarre schemes. In the late 1970s, the tribe turned its management over to John Philip Nichols, a mysterious, onetime Evangelical with purported ties to the Central Intelligence Agency and other governmental bodies.
Within a period of years, the Cabazons were transformed from a dirt-poor unknown tribe to international entrepreneurs, thanks to Nichols' connections and inventive spirit.
The tribe opened a bingo hall on its reservation and defied California authorities to shut it down. Their successful lawsuits eventually led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the way for gaming on Indian reservations.
But there was reportedly a darker side to Nichols and the Cabazons as well. The tribe bid for government contracts to manufacture munitions and biological weapons on its reservation, an investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 1991. Nichols also tried to involve the tribe in the business of manufacturing night-vision goggles, presumably for the Nicaraguan contras.
Nichols was eventually imprisoned for soliciting murder contracts on five people who he claimed were selling heroin to his girlfriend. His sons, Mark Nichols and John Paul Nichols, took over the day-to-day affairs of the Cabazon tribe.
These Cabazon tribal police were hired by Walker to guard her and restore order on the Chemehuevi Indian Reservation. Their arrival put the reservation on edge.
"It was real scary," says Irene Kellywood. "There were a lot of people who were frightened. There were a lot of people that feared for their lives. They had weapons, shotguns and pistols."
Alerted by tribal members, San Bernardino sheriff's deputies came out and disarmed the Cabazon police officers. "They were not recognized as a law enforcement agency," says San Bernardino County sheriff spokeswoman Nancy Wegner. "They were carrying weapons illegally, and that's why we confiscated them."
Although disarmed, the Cabazons stayed to protect Walker because that's what she was paying them for. In all, tribal members say, Walker paid the Cabazon police as much as $85,000 to provide security for her.
In that charged atmosphere--with hired guns guarding the tribal government from its members--the feds briefly stepped into the fray. Agents from the FBI and the Inspector General's Office of the Department of the Interior raided the reservation, seizing documents from tribal council headquarters and Walker's home.
To date, the raid has produced no criminal charges or indictments, and the agencies involved did not wish to discuss their investigation. "The case is simply ongoing," says one agent familiar with it. "The voluminous materials are being analyzed, and that's about the size of it at this point in time."
Asked if the BIA, as well as the tribe, was a target of the investigation, the agent said all allegations were being checked, "and that is one of the allegations."
Glenn Feldman, a Phoenix attorney who represents both Walker's exiled government and the Cabazon tribe, thinks the government is blowing smoke.
"They've had that stuff for more than four months and nothing has come out of it," Feldman says. "I view it as more of a fishing expedition. If they were looking for something specific, you'd think they could have found it in four months."
After the raid, Feldman says, Walker and her council fled for their lives, and he won't reveal their whereabouts. "They're off the reservation. I'm not going to tell you where they are," he says. "They have some concerns about their personal security."
In exile Walker has retained BIA recognition as the tribe's official leader, and recently won a lawsuit to have the tribe's mail forwarded to her through a post office box in Parker.
That has left the reservation hanging in the balance. Technically, the dissident government has no money. It is using cash flow to try to keep the resort and other businesses open but is barely scraping by.
A $104,000 payment on the loan that helped the tribe buy the resort was due July 1, but hasn't been paid to the BIA. Wilson Barber, the Phoenix area director, says the bureau has talked with Walker and is considering calling the note and taking over the resort.
"I imagine it's chaos right now," Barber says. "I don't know that there's any real management efforts going on by either group."
Barber's blithe dismissal of their financial plight burns the dissident tribal councilmembers. "We've had meetings with them. We've written letters. It's like all our appeals are falling on deaf ears," says Irene Kellywood.
The dissident council has asked the BIA to approve changes in the tribal constitution that would allow it to call a new election, formally vote in an official government and get on with its business, but the requests have stalled in the bureaucracy.
From exile Walker has also submitted her own proposed constitutional changes, and the Department of the Interior, which must approve any elections on constitutional amendments, is weighing both requests, Barber says. "The requests from the interim tribal council and from Christine Walker's administration are currently in D.C. awaiting either approval or disapproval by the secretary of the Interior," Barber says.
@body:For now, the reservation can only wait and watch their tribe's financial ruin compound. The government in place can't rule, and the government that can rule is too scared to return.
That leaves plenty of time for members to gather at the Sail Inn and debate over beers why Walker behaved the way she did.
Two Crows, a leader in the efforts to oust Walker, believes the answer was among the paperwork dissidents found after they seized control of the council house.
The admitted conspiracy connoisseur believes that Walker was trying to push tribal members and non-Indians alike off the reservation to make way for a mammoth development, including gambling.
Among the tribal files, dissidents found a proposal from a California real estate company to build a $105 million resort, complete with casino, that was projected to draw more than $21 million a year in gambling receipts, of which the tribe would get a cut.
Osley Saunooke, Walker's adviser, says the council was not seriously considering the proposal. However, dissidents found another document that was even more disturbing. Just two weeks before fleeing the reservation, Walker signed a contract turning over management of the resort--and seeming to give carte blanche development rights--to a California company called Major Management.
Who signed the contract for Major Management? John Paul Nichols, son of the mysterious man who took over the Cabazon Indian tribe and led them into gambling and their other notorious activities.
"This could have been a carbon copy of what happened on the Cabazon Reservation," says interim council chairman Matt Leivas. "I truly believe she was masterminding this along with . . . company from the Cabazons."
John Paul Nichols says there was no Cabazon effort to take over the reservation. Walker's government approached Major Management about taking over the resort and exploring development prospects, he says, and the company agreed.
But after seeing how chaotic and unstable the Walker regime was, Nichols says, the company decided it didn't want anything more to do with the Chemehuevis.
"We had no clue that things at Chemehuevi were as bad as they were," Nichols says. "Otherwise, we never would have entered into that agreement."
Whatever Walker's intentions, they have been quashed as the tribe awaits its fate. Lawsuits and appeals are likely to drag on. The dissidents suspect they will have to sue the BIA to win recognition. The Walker administration, through the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, is still pursuing eviction proceedings against leaseholders who would not sign new contracts.
Walker's administration is also pushing its way through California courts trying to win the right to establish its own armed police force.
In the meantime, the tribal community center and the airport have been reopened. The kids are again playing ball at the tribal field, where most of the graffiti has been washed away. Calm, even if temporary, has returned to the Chemehuevi Valley, and the flag is flying, every day, over the marina.
EXCUSE ME, IS THIS A UNIVERSITY OR A PRI... v9-16-92
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