CORNING, Calif., June 12, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- For more than nine weeks, the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians has been in a state of government upheaval, which has led to general chaos within the tribal community. However, on Wednesday evening, the chaos hit a violent low point, when four members of the duly elected and federally recognized Tribal Council went to the Rolling Hills Casino to meet with the Tribal Chairman and the Casino's CEO and was met instead with an orchestrated, hostile mob of about 100 people – some who were tribal members, many who were not.
The Tribal Council consists of Chairman Andrew Freeman, Vice Chairman David Swearinger, Treasurer Leslie Lohse, Secretary Geraldine Freeman and Member at Large Allen Swearinger, per a June 9 clarification letter from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Chairman Freeman has been working with a faction that has been trying to overthrow the Paskenta government and on April 12 took physical control over the casino. Since then, the Tribal Council has attempted to meet with the Chairman on several occasions, but he has consistently cancelled informal meetings with Vice Chairman David Swearinger, and in mid-May, he cancelled a formal mediation that had been calendared through a professional mediator.
Before Wednesday, the Tribal Council had not attempted to enter the casino property because given the armed presence, they felt it was unsafe. However, they made the move on Wednesday after representatives from several state and federal agencies told them that, as the Tribal Council, they should just walk onto the property because they are the owners. So they did.
The Tribal Council members, who were unarmed and operating in good faith, were physically pushed, verbally abused, threatened, taunted and ultimately blocked from entering the facility. Tehama County Sheriff's officials at the scene refused to intervene. The Casino CEO and upper managers, who are not members of the tribe and who orchestrated the unrest, stood on one of the casino decks, watching the melee, drinking cokes and laughing. With the assistance of the California Highway Patrol, Tribal Police attempted to enter the casino parking lot to extract the Tribal Council, but were met with hostile resistance and were unable to get to the Tribal Council for 45 minutes. In the end, the Tribal Council was able to leave the tribal property, without incident, but with grave concern for their safety.
One member of Council, Geraldine Freeman, a tribal elder who is ironically a cousin of the family that was mobbing, was pushed down on the asphalt, spraining her wrist and sustaining injuries to her back and neck.
"They just pushed me. I'm an elder and they pushed me down. And law enforcement just watched the whole thing," said Gerri Freeman, who holds the position of Secretary of the Tribal Council. "I've never seen anything like it. It all broke my heart."
The Tribal Council held firm and endured the physical assaults and verbal threats for more than four hours, finally leaving the facility around 10 pm, when the sun fully descended.
The incident strengthened the Tribal Council's resolve to continue their efforts to regain control of the casino and protect the Paskenta tribe and its members.
"Paskenta has never been a violent tribe. The Nomlaki people are peaceful and respectful of government process," said Tribal Council Vice Chairman David Swearinger. "As we stood there enduring that behavior and language, having people tell us that they were going to kill us, we became all the more resolved that we must save our tribe. We are a tribe of about 300, and only one family was represented last night. They were a fraction of the mob, but these are the people who have been attempting to take over the government. If we leave our peaceful members in their hands, there is no question our tribe will cease to exist."
The Tribal Council on Thursday communicated with tribal members who are supportive of their leadership, letting them know about the incident and telling them that they had directed Tribal Police, their lawyers, and loyal staff to hold firm, but stay safe. The Tribal Council noted that mobilizing the mob was a desperate act by casino management, adding that they were aware of reports that managers had been cleaning out their desks, preparing to flee if federal officials sweep the building. The Council added that the managers had run away when they saw the four council members and two gaming commissioners enter the parking lot, "putting our people in front of them, like cowards."
"The safety of our tribal members and patrons is our first priority," Swearinger said. "We continue to be baffled that the NIGC has not closed the casino when we, the federally recognized Tribal Council, are not able to even enter the casino, much less run it. I am personally shocked that the Department of Justice and the Attorney General aren't out here to lock down the facility until this leadership issue can be resolved. This is dangerous – truly dangerous. At one point we were told someone had been shot; everyone started to panic. It wasn't true, but that's the kind of thing that can create bloodshed. And it was never more clear that outsiders are creating this unrest. They were laughing at us. In many ways this is history repeating itself. But it also made me very focused that we have to stay strong and see this through."
SOURCE Paskenta Tribal Council