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Rincon members face legal battle over heritage

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A group challenging the heritage of some members of the Rincon Band of Mission Indians took its case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this week.

Among those coming under question is tribal chairman John Currier.

The court heard oral arguments Tuesday and now both sides will wait for a ruling, which isn't expected to come until summer.

Former chairman Edward Arviso is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit filed against officials in the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim that the BIA is not carrying out its authority to disenroll certain members according to the tribe's enrollment ordinance.

"There are persons who are not Indian who are being treated as if they're Indian and receiving all the privileges of the Indians on the Rincon reservation," said attorney Lester Marston of the Los Angeles firm Rapport & Marston, who is representing the plaintiffs.

"They're coming from one family," he said. "They have gained control of the tribal government, so the real Indians' vote is being diluted."

In question is the lineage of Jose Maria Calac, and whether he was full-blooded or three-quarters Indian.

Currier is among the great-grandchildren of Calac and would be less than the required one-eighth Indian, critics say, if Calac wasn't full-blooded Indian.

The plaintiffs cite a 1989 decision by the Rincon enrollment committee, which ruled that fourth-generation descendants of Jose Maria Calac were ineligible.

The decision was appealed to the BIA, who upheld the decision, but, according to the suit, did not try to enforce the findings and was then instructed by the Interior Department to not get involved.

"We want (the BIA) to do what they're obligated to do under federal and tribal law," Marston said. "The tribe knows that we're right."

A settlement in the case was reached, an agreement that would ultimately reinstate the enrollment committee's 1989 decision.

But the district court ruled that the settlement would affect the Rincon tribe's right to determine its own citizenship.

Marston said the judges didn't understand the settlement agreement and that it didn't conflict with the admission rules.

Related Article:

Rincon Band re-elects Currier (Dec. 14, 2005)

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