Two longtime Dry Creek Rancheria members who were running for office in a high-profile political battle learned Thursday they lost their appeal to stay in the tribe.
Carmen Cordova Soltanizadeh and Laila Elgin DeRouen said they were informed the Dry Creek board of directors voted 3-2 to disenroll them from the approximate 1,100-member tribe.
"We've been members our entire life," said DeRouen, 29. "There's absolutely no basis for what they've done."
"I am who I am, not because of them," said Soltanizadeh, 34. "We've been a part of the reservation since it begun."
Soltanizadeh said the first indication she got that the vote was against her was Thursday morning, when her $650 monthly per capita payment for being a tribal member was taken out of her bank account.
"It was put in, then reversed. That's how I knew the decision was made," she said.
But by Thursday afternoon, she was informed the money, which is generated by Dry Creek's River Rock Casino, was redeposited by tribal officials who decided she would get the final payment after all, despite her disenrollment.
"By putting it in and taking it out, it was a slap in the face," she said.
The dispute over the status of the two women led to the postponement of tribal elections in November.
DeRouen was running for secretary-treasurer of the five-member tribal board. Soltanizadeh was a candidate for tribal gaming commission.
The two women claim they were selectively disenrolled because they were challenging members of the salaried board who are up for re-election.
Tribal Chairman Harvey Hopkins, who is running for re-election, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
But he and other tribal leaders said previously there is an automatic vetting of all candidates for office to ensure they are legitimate members of the tribe.
The two women are daughters of previous chairpersons, Liz Elgin DeRouen and Stan Cordova, who were among 30 members kicked out of the tribe in a wave of controversial disenrollments.
Following the glut of disenrollments in 2009, Hopkins was temporarily recalled from office, but managed to subsequently be reinstated in another election.
Disputes over tribal membership have increased across the country with the onset of Indian casinos, including California, where Las Vegas style gambling on Indian lands was legalized in 2000.
At stake are not only payments from casino profits, but eligibility for educational, health, housing and other benefits for tribal members.
The Dry Creek Band of Pomo opened the first Indian casino in Sonoma County in 2002, on their 75-acre rancheria near Geyserville. Enrollment disputes escalated afterwards.
Soltanizadeh and her supporters say it's more than a struggle for money and power.
"It's to get our tribe back and get things running the moral way, the Indian way, not the casino way," she said.
A second Indian casino in the county is being built by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria next to Rohnert Park.
The Graton Rancheria touts its policy of not disenrolling members once they have been accepted into the tribe.
But the Dry Creek Rancheria's constitution, or "Articles of Association," does not have a statute of limitations, i.e. a time limit for challenging the status of an enrolled member.
To be members of Dry Creek, members have to show they are descended from someone who was living on the rancheria when it was established in 1915 and cannot have been a member of another tribe.