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The Queen of Coyote Valley

Nobody really gives a damn about the Indians. They’re invisible until some tumultuous event like the 1995 shootings in Round Valley gets every one tut-tutting and hustling down to the video store for vicarious empathy via Dances With Wolves, arguably one of the larger atrocities endured by contemporary Native Americans.

Nowhere has collective guilt mixed so thoroughly with our desire not to be troubled by the results of not-so-benign neglect than in the passage of California’s Proposition 5, The Indian Gaming and Self Reliance Act of 1998. In one fell swoop voters gave California Natives exclusive rights to operate games of chance as the path to self-sufficiency and an illusory sovereignty. The Indians are not our problem any more because we’ve given them a sure fire source of income. And we’ve generously thrown in sovereignty, the unchecked right to spend the gambling revenues however they like.

How’s it worked out in Ukiah? Take a look at the Shodakai Casino on the Coyote Valley Rancheria just north of Ukiah.

Coyote Valley and its casino is ruled by a PC-certified despot by the name of Priscilla Hunter. Hunter has long been the darling of the Dances With Wolves types to whom Hunter, as an Indian, a woman and a lesbian, represents so many oppressions under one roof that local liberals practically swoon at her feet. Hunter takes such pride in her comprehensive virtue, totemic division, she's even given herself the nickname PC, which she wears embroidered on her blouses.

She’s also parlayed race, gender and sexual orientation into big heaps of cash for herself, her family and her core supporters, not that she’s the only person out there working the PC circuit.

But there is nothing benign, PC rhetoric aside, about Priscilla Hunter. She rules Coyote Valley with a Machiavellian ruthlessness and cunning that is truly breathtaking. Of course Hunter has had excellent teachers — white male bureaucrats from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, under whose auspices 150 years of the reservation system has resulted in an American apartheid of Soweto-quality ghettos dotting the Western landscape.

Hunter maintains her control of Coyote Valley and the casino through nepotism and patronage. She controls the flow of money from the casino and she controls grants from the government. Dissent is crushed by the simple expedient of cutting off the monthly stipend from casino profits to any tribal member who dares challenge her rule. Jobs at the casino go only to people who support her, as does reservation housing. To openly criticize Priscilla Hunter is to risk losing your job, your house, your share of the casino profits, and possibly even membership in the Coyote tribe itself.

Yet the tribal government is nominally a democracy, whose structure and rules are dictated by the BIA. Hunter sidesteps the normal democratic checks to absolute power in two ways: Supporters of her regime are rewarded with the best jobs and housing. They are also allowed to “win” with suspicious frequency at the casino, as are family members of key supporters. And Hunter loyalists are given free rein to exploit other less-favored tribal members through drug sales, chances to “win” at casino games, and even to assault critics with impunity.

And it’s all secret. Hiding behind tribal sovereignty and white society’s indifference, with a big boost from the white Indians who buy into crudely false and manipulative PC rhetoric, Hunter maintains her dictatorship and conceals her crimes, while presenting the outward appearance of a working democracy to the myopic eye of the BIA bureaucrats, whose own 150 year history of managing Indian affairs has consisted primarily of keeping the money flowing from Congress to their own blotted bureaucracy. The help that does manage to trickle down to Native people is almost an oversight. The BIA deals only with tribal governments, and if that government is corrupt, well, that’s an Indian problem. Just as long as the forms are filled out right the BIA looks the other way. Neglect is the order of the day.

But slightly over half the members of Coyote Valley Rancheria are not happy with the Hunter dictatorship, and have forced a special election to vote her and her cronies out. Hunter did everything she could to block the election, including locking the doors to the tribal community center and posting armed guards to make sure the opposition to her spectacularly corrupt regime didn’t get in the door. But the election took place nonetheless and Hunter was voted out—twice. Both times Hunter demanded a recount and both times ballots that were cast the first time could not be located for the recount, giving Hunter the majority needed to remain in office.

That’s when the AVA received an anonymous phone call asking us to attend a Ukiah meeting of tribal members fed up with the mini-dictatorship flourishing less than two miles north of Ukiah.. But Hunter subverted the meeting by showing up with her discredited tribal council and declaring the gathering a Tribal Council meeting which required the exclusion of non-members. Guess who got the heave-ho first? Hunter sent an armed Tribal cop to demand this reporter leave, and although I was under no obligation to depart since I’d not only been invited and the session was convened at a private Ukiah motel conference room where Hunter’s tribal cops have no jurisdiction, I left. Why? My hosts were afraid to risk Hunter’s wrath by arguing for me to stay. Nor did anyone seem inclined to hold out for open and honest government, probably because to do so one risks homelessness and even one’s identity as an Indian.

At Coyote Valley, Indians are getting it all over again.

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