More than 75 members of the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians have been notified they face expulsion in another round of disenrollments that have roiled the tribe in recent years.
Tribal Chairman Harvey Hopkins sent out letters this month to adults and some children identifying them for potential removal from the approximate 1,200-member tribe. The letters contend they don't meet criteria for lineal descent because they, their parents or their grandparents were members of other tribes.
Coming at a time when the tribe's River Rock Casino is suffering the bruising effects of competition from the newly opened Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park, some suspect it's another way to trim expenses by reducing the number of Dry Creek tribal members who get a monthly "per capita" distribution of casino profits.
"The rest of per capita won't be affected if you remove people," said Liz DeRouen, a former chairman of the tribe who was disenrolled four years ago after she lost an election to Hopkins in 2004.
She and Hopkins blame each other for the $150 million debt the tribe owes to bondholders who financed construction of the casino and for the fact it hasn't been paid off.
Last year, DeRouen's eldest daughter, Layla Elgin DeRouen, 30, was kicked out of the tribe after she declared her candidacy for secretary-treasurer of the five-member board of directors.
Now her two younger daughters, LaVon DeRouen, 28, and Hailey Ferroni, 23, have been notified they face expulsion.
There have been a number of contentious enrollment reductions involving tribes that own casinos. The implications go beyond the monthly distribution payments, housing and educational benefits that disenrolled members lose.
Some say they also face a loss of their cultural identity.
"It's the most hurtful thing native people can do to their own people," said Nancy Cordova of Windsor, whose husband, Stan, and their daughter were booted out of the Dry Creek tribe where they belonged for decades.
Now Stan and Nancy Cordova's son and his minor children, along with her daughter's children, are being put on notice that they face expulsion.
The ostensible reason was that Stan Cordova's mother was a member of a Covelo tribe when he was a child, even though he would go on to become a chairman of the Dry Creek Rancheria where his father and grandmother belonged.
Disenrollments can pit cousin again cousin, since most tribal members are related. Members are disenrolled if they are not able to meet Dry Creek requirements to be descended from someone who was living on the rancheria when it was established in 1915. They also cannot have been a member of another tribe.
Hopkins said in an interview at the tribe's Santa Rosa offices that Dry Creek has never stopped taking a look at enrollment since members rejected a proposal to grandfather in all members in a disputed referendum vote in 2006.
"It comes out of a continuous audit by the enrollment committee," he said of the ongoing review of membership status.
He said there were meetings held last year to potentially change the tribe's constitution to grandfather in existing tribal members and end the controversial disenrollments .
"Five people showed up," at one meeting and "six at another, and we have 640 adult members," Hopkins said.