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Greg Sarris — professor, novelist and Indian leader — has been the face of the Graton Rancheria since the tribe was restored by an act of Congress a decade ago, and the point man as it seeks to build a casino next to Rohnert Park.

But one of his staunchest casino adversaries, who has spent several years researching U.S. Census records, claims Sarris doesn't have a trace of Indian heritage.

"Mr. Sarris possesses no Native American blood, and specifically, no Coast Miwok and/or Southern Pomo blood, and thus is not qualified to be a member of the (FIGR) Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria," Marilee Montgomery wrote in a Feb. 8 letter to federal and state officials.

She has asked the U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees Indian tribes, to review the information she discovered "and if applicable, de-certify" Sarris as tribal chairman.

Sarris said Montgomery's allegations are "horrendously offensive to me and my family."

"I have immediate blood family members, at least 40 in this tribe," he said.

He accused Montgomery and her group, Stop the 101 Casino, of trying to sow divisiveness within the 1202-member tribe by casting doubt on his legitimacy. He called it a "divide and conquer" strategy.

Sarris offered to take a blood test to prove his Indian heritage, but also said Wednesday that the tribe would have to approve such a step.

The controversy is fueled as much by the circumstances of Sarris's birth as it is the question of the reliability of Census records versus tribal oral traditions.

Sarris, 58, who grew up in Santa Rosa's desirable Proctor Terrace neighborhood, was adopted at birth and says he didn't find out he was Indian until he was in his early thirties.

His unwed, 16-year-old Jewish mother died at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, less than two weeks after he was born. Only years later, through his own research, Sarris said, did he discover that his father was part-Filipino, part-Indian descended from Native Americans who inhabited Marin and Sonoma counties.

Montgomery said it is impossible not to sympathize with the circumstances of Sarris' life. But she said her own research of Census, Social Security and other records reveals he is not the great-great grandson of Tom Smith of Coast/Miwok ancestry and Emily Stewart, a part Miwok and resident of Tomales, as a tribe genealogy describes.

Records dating back to 1870 and corroborated in subsequent population surveys show Sarris "is the great-great grandson of Joseph P. Stewart, a barber born in Pennsylvania and Emily B. Stewart, who was born in Maine," she said.

For Sarris and other tribal members who defend him, Montgomery's claims are not only flawed, but infuriating, what Sarris described as "racist and evil."

In a letter sent by the tribe to federal officials, they said that casino opponents attacking their "well respected" chairman and questioning their self-governance and membership is part of a pattern of the dominant society denying American Indian identity, experience and history.

"My Tribe and its members have been able and continue to document and trace our genealogies for establishing who is an Indian and eligible for membership in our Tribe," states a letter signed by Graton Vice-Chairwoman Lorelle Ross. "We certainly do not need Stop the Casino to explain our identities for us, or assume an antiquated paternalistic view of a local Tribe .<th>.<th>."

But Montgomery said she is simply trying to get at the truth.

"Greg Sarris is a government official, leader of a sovereign nation. As a government official, he is subject to all kinds of scrutiny, this being one kind," she said.

In addition to writing six books, one of which was adapted into an HBO movie produced by Robert Redford, Sarris is a professor of Indian studies at Sonoma State University.

The chances that the Bureau of Indian Affairs will launch an investigation based on Montgomery's letter alone appear remote because it usually takes complaints from tribal members to prompt action.

"The tribes determine their membership," BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling said Wednesday. She said the tribe also dictates membership requirements.

But casino critics such as Cheryl Schmit of Stand up for California, said questions about the legitimacy of tribal members can lead to internal squabbles and turnover of leadership. She said some tribes have accepted non-Indians members, which she described as a serious problem and "a California phenomenon" since voters a decade ago approved Las-Vegas style gaming only on Indian lands.

Ensuring that tribal members are Indian, she said, is something to which citizens are entitled.

"It's not racist, but it is racial, because the voters of California carved out an exception for Native Americans to have slot machines and gaming activity," she said.

But members of the Graton Rancheria who were interviewed this week said they have no doubt Sarris is part Indian and a bona fide tribal member.

"He belongs to our family," said Linda Trujillo, who works as a receptionist at the tribal offices in Rohnert Park.

She said she and Sarris are cousins. She her grandmother, who was born Juanita Sarrgossa, was the sister of Evelyn Sarrgossa, Sarris's grandmother.

And Trujillo said she met their mother, "Nettie Smith," an Indian who "didn't speak one word of English."

"I remember Nettie Smith. She was a typical Indian of the day, a short rotund woman," said Arthur "Tooch" Colombo, a Graton Rancheria member who said he is likely a distant cousin of Sarris'.

"He's definitely got some Coast Miwok blood in him," Colombo said.

But Montgomery maintained that some Native Americans, including members of Sarris' tribe, were skeptical of his lineage in 2003 when the tribe unveiled its proposed large casino resort in partnership with Station Casinos of Las Vegas.

Her subsequent research, she said, documented how it is virtually impossible for Sarris to be an Indian through his father, Emilio Hilario, as he asserts.

In particular, she said Census records show the maiden name of Reinette Sarrgossa, the maternal grandmother of Hilario, was Stewart, not Smith, and her parents were born on the East Coast.

She details her research along with copies of census records on her group's Web site, stopthecasino101.com.

But Sarris said written records are inconsistent and "don't tell the whole story — that's the bottom line."

He said he relies in part on oral traditions within the tribe and photos that link him to Pomos and Miwoks.

He noted other inconsistencies in public records that are not reflected in the research by his critic. On his father's birth certificate, his mother is identified as "Mexican," he said. And when his great grandmother, Reinette, died, he said her parents were listed as "unknown."

Sarris said old public documents cannot be counted on when it comes to California Indians, who often concealed their heritage because of the prejudice and mistreatment they experienced.

"There were slavery laws until 1868 when Indians were indentured, bought and sold," he said. "We weren't citizens until 1924."

But Montgomery said some Native Americans, interested in safeguarding tribal membership, have thanked her for researching Sarris' roots.

"I have real solid evidence. Maybe he does, too," she said. "Oral tradition is nice, but documentation is better."

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