Local News

Tuesday, Jan 03 2012 10:00 PM

Tejon tribe gains recognition, raising possibility of local casino

By The Bakersfield Californian

The Tejon Indian tribe learned Tuesday it has gained federal recognition, which will mean big changes for members and that an Indian gaming casino is likely in Kern County's near-term future.

For right now, though, tribal vice chairman Jim Appodaca said, tribe members all still trying to catch their breath.

"We really don't know what's next," he said. "The council will meet and we'll start putting together a plan."

While a casino is the bigger "what if?" to the general public, Appodaca excitedly talked about federal money for tribal health care, education and housing.

"This means we can take care of our elders and send our children to school," he said.

The tribe will also be able to purchase land, which will become sovereign to the tribe. That means the tribe can legally establish a gaming casino on that land, likely somewhere near Mettler close to Interstate 5, according to a 2009 Californian article.

The Tejons first filed a formal request for recognition in 2006.

Appodaca and his aunt, Tribal Chairwoman Kathy Morgan, have been working nearly 18 years to gain recognition for the tribe.

Appodaca estimated there were about 300 registered Tejon members in the immediate area with another 100 to 200 scattered nearby.

The tribe has regular meetings and four major events a year, he said in the 2009 article.

A couple of its members are trained as archeologists and regularly called to check construction sites for Native American habitation. The tribe is also contacting a linguist to help bring back its language, as the Tubatulabal in the Kern River Valley did several years ago.

A reservation existed at one time but was dissolved in the 1960s and when the U.S. government listed all recognized tribes in the 1970s, the Tejons were inadvertently left off.

But documentation on the Tejons is extensive. The federal government knew about them, set aside lands for them, helped build a church and school on those lands and even sent representatives to check on them after the 1952 earthquake.

It was that documentation that helped the Tejon tribe gain recognition in such a rapid amount of time. Other tribes have waited 30 years or more.

"We were able to show we had a government-to-government relationship with the United States and there was no real argument because we used their own documents to prove it," Appodaca said.

In their quest to gain recognition, the Tejons had the help of an unnamed "financial backer" who had paid $300,000-plus to the tribe's attorneys as of November 2009.

Clearly, the backer is banking on a casino, which, back in 2009, was a "crap shoot," according to Appodaca.

It's looking more and more like a wise investment given Tuesday's announcement.

-- Lois Henry, Californian staff writer

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