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Jewish World Review Feb. 16, 2001 / 23 Shevat, 5761

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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The jackpot casino Carmel tribe? -- ON Saturday, amid pouring rain in Monterey, Calif., Chief Tony Cerda blessed and cleansed some 13 other members of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe dressed in animal skins, moccasins and hats or feathered headdresses. Then members danced, chanted and marched about a mile to a Monterey Catholic diocese office where, in an "F-Troop" moment, Cerda left a "peace pouch" of tobacco, sage and acorn meal.

Next stop: the Carmel mission.

Accompanying Cerda were two members of the Beverly Hills Publicist Tribe, who made press-kit offerings to reporters.

What was it all about?

"All we want them to do," according to Cerda, "is look at our history, and honor our ancestors and honor our history." Cerda believes his ancestors were the first to greet Junipero Serra in Monterey. "All we want is a little letter saying that."

The Catholic Church is not busy typing said letter. Monsignor Charles Fatooh explained that the church does not have the expertise to recognize tribes. But the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs does. Let Cerda knock on Uncle Sam's door.

Sacramento attorney Howard Dickstein, who represents a number of other tribes, explained that there is a theory buzzing about that Cerda's tribe wants to use the church to leap-frog over other tribes that have been seeking official federal recognition for years.

It's the Trojan horse theory, Dickstein explained: "You get the Catholic Church to recognize you. Get the federal government to recognize you. Then get the land."

With land comes the C-word: casino.

Costanoan Rumsen marchers Gloria Castro and her sister Delia Casados insisted they don't want a casino. Castro said she just wants a letter. Casados would like a letter and the right to sell crafts in church gift shops.

Perhaps the Costanoan Rumsens, who now live in Southern California, would have earned more trust if their requests hadn't been all over the reservation. In October, the tribe's publicists sent a letter to church lawyers with a list of 16 "requests," since rescinded. They included a "letter of recognition," a request that all literature refer to the C-R tribe and that the church "include Rumsen Indians in all Mission celebrations." (Why not just show up for Mass?)

Also, the letter requested that a plaque dedicated to the contribution of Native Americans be changed so that the word "Indians" reads "Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Indians." Nice. While the tribe says that it simply wants recognition for its contribution to the mission, it wanted the church to airbrush out the six other tribes, which -- according to church historian Brother John O'Brien -- helped build the mission.

Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation tribal chairman Rudy Rosales was not smoking a peace pipe when Cerda and crew conga'd to the Royal Presidio Chapel. As far as Rosales is concerned, the church has done a fine, if not official, job of recognizing members of his tribe.

Said Rosales: "You can't live in the past and keep holding grudges against people. I mean, sure, they treated the Indians bad. But we're supposed to keep that up here for the rest of our lives? I mean, it's a memory we should hold, but it's not a grudge we should hold against the church. I mean, I'm Catholic."

Another reason the church doesn't trust Cerda and company: Yesterday, not for the first time, publicist Chris Harris threatened to sue the church. "If they're worried about (the tribe) taking over the mission, well, they should worry, because now that's what we're going to do."

And: "We eventually will sue with a top attorney."

Even a papoose knows that top attorneys don't take cases to win letters of recognition. Can they blame others for thinking that what they call heritage, they spell s-l-o-t m-a-c-h-i-n-e?

Comment JWR contributor Debra J. Saunders's column by clicking here.


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