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Graton Rancheria tribe's growth likely limited

The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria's constitution, and recent changes made to it, are a partial map to how the tribe has evolved as a body politic since 2000, when it had 400 members and had just won federal recognition.

The tribe now has about 1,300 citizens and is on the doorstep of potentially great wealth, with its 3,000-slot machine casino set to open this year.

And in its new constitution, which the federal government approved in January, the tribe takes steps that are likely to sharply limit its future growth.

Also evident in the constitution is that from the start the tribe has anchored considerable authority in its General Council, made up of all its adult members -- just under 800 people -- as opposed to its seven-member Tribal Council.

The tribe also has laid the groundwork for a legal system that includes a net of civil rights protections for its members as well as methods to resolve disputes.

Indian-law experts outside the tribe say the constitution shows it is maturing as a political entity.

"It's a very modern, sophisticated document that reflects what the tribal leadership and their lawyers have learned" since the tribe was restored by an act of Congress in 2000, said George Forman, an Indian-law attorney based in San Rafael.

The tribe first adopted its constitution in 2002. This January, it adopted a revised version that included key changes to the section governing who can become a citizen.

Those changes were made largely because the tribe's casino project -- and the income it promises tribal members -- has caused applications for citizenship to mushroom, said Graton Rancheria Chairman Greg Sarris.

"We are being bombarded," he said this week.

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