Articles of Interest

Ending Our Self-Deception Regarding the Term ‘Indigenous’ Steven Newcomb

steven newcomb copy copySteven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) is co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute and author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Fulcrum, 2008). He has been studying U.S. federal Indian law and international law since the early 1980s


Given that the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is about to convene in New York for its 14th session, it seems fitting to once again revisit the term “indigenous” in the context of the United Nations. In his amazing book A Poetic for Sociology (1977), Richard H. Brown say that “the ‘thing itself’ is emergent in the process of its being named.” (p. 148). We might say that we became “emergent” as “indigenous” when others began to apply that word to us, and especially when we made the decision to begin applying the word “indigenous” to ourselves.

Interpretative implications followed when we “became emergent” as “indigenous,” for it is not possible to use a word without also using the interpretations that accompany that word in different contexts and for different purposes. In the context of the U.N. the word “indigenous” means “colonized.” And the phrase “indigenous peoples” means, peoples that have been colonized (forced under domination) and never decolonized.

What is typically called decolonization is partly a mental process which involves becoming highly conscious of the way in which dominating colonizers have used their language and their meanings to dominate us. Given that our nations and peoples have been metaphorically “woven” into a deceptive language “web” of domination, there is much to be gained by examining each linguistic strand, along with the metaphor “indigenous” in the context of the United Nations.

Becoming highly conscious requires ending self-deception wherever it exists. We need to become hyper conscious of when and the extent to which we have named ourselves with words that benefit the colonizers, while maintaining the processes and patterns of domination. The word “Indigenous” is an example of how using dominating words to name ourselves can serve to reinforce rather than end the colonization and domination of our nations and our lives.

The United Nations Human Rights Centre (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland has published a series of what it has called “Human Rights Facts Sheets.” The “sheets,” the UNHRC tells us, “are intended to assist an ever-wider audience in better understanding basic human rights” and to better understand “what the United Nations is doing to promote and protect” those rights.

That probably sounds great to the average person. But what if it turns out that the very idea of “human rights” in the context of the U.N. is one of the phrases that actually serves to reinforce rather than end colonization and domination for our nations and peoples? How? By framing our existence on the basis of human “individuals” and thereby drawing attention from our identity as original nations of Great Turtle Island. And by failing, due to that individualized focus, to challenge the assumption of “State” domination over our originally and still rightfully free nations. The United Nations considers “human rights” to be “rights” of individual humans under or beneath the presumed authority, control, and domination of “the state.”

What if the phrase “Indigenous peoples” is also being used to keep our originally and still rightfully free nations down and under the presumed domination of the states? After all, the states of the U.N. system tend to presume that our nations are validly under the dominating “thumb” of both the states and the international state system.

The “fact sheets,” so we are told, have also been published to enable people to better understand “the international machinery available to help realize those rights.” The use of a machinery metaphor indicates that the entire subject is being thought of against the cultural backdrop of an industrial and mechanistic worldview generally associated with the French philosopher René Decartes.

“The Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Fact Sheet No. 9, provides us with the UN Human Rights Centre explanation of the term “indigenous peoples.” It explains how the phrase “human rights” is to be interpreted in relation to peoples termed as “indigenous.” The context itself is revealed by focusing on the dominating peoples who are also considered to be the “non-indigenous” peoples.

How does the fact sheet pamphlet characterize the non-indigenous peoples? Here are some of the phrases used for that purpose: they are “peoples of different cultures or ethnic origins [who] arrived” to the place where the original peoples were living, and “the new arrivals later becoming dominant.” How did they become dominant? “[T]hrough conquest, settlement or other means.” They became dominant, in other words, through various means and techniques of domination such as “conquest” and “settlement.”

Other clarifying phrases in the pamphlet include: “whenever dominant neighbouring [sic] peoples have expanded their territories.” How did these “dominant” (dominating) peoples expand their territories? By “settlers from far away” acquiring “new lands by force.” The lands of the peoples deemed to be “indigenous” are being called “new” lands. How did the invading dominating peoples acquire the lands the UN pamphlet calls “new?” By seizing or assuming a right of domination over the territories of those nations and peoples already existing in the places the invaders desired to acquire and take by force.

Thus, the terms invading, force, dominant, settlers, expand their territories, and conquest are indicators of the Domination System within which individual “human rights” are being conceptualized. Those who are considered to be in need of “human” rights are those peoples that the invaders deemed non-human or subhuman at the time of the invasion of the lands and territories of the original peoples. The peoples of today are considered in need of “human” rights because of the invaders engaged in both domination and dehumanization.

But here the key point: The concept of “rights” called “human” in the UN does not posit a need to end the state system of domination that was initially imposed on the original pre-invasion, pre-domination, pre-dehumanized peoples. The system of domination created by states is considered the bedrock that is to be maintained because that system of domination is considered to be a matter of “national security” for the system of state domination.

Moreover, the “human” rights of peoples termed “indigenous” are not considered to include a right to maintain a form of nationhood and territoriality that is able to contradict the domination system of the state that the UN Human Rights Centre says has been dominating original nations and peoples.

The UN high-level plenary meeting that was erroneously known as a “World Conference on Indigenous Peoples” produced an Outcome Document that some have praised as noteworthy. However, that document does not even purport to begin addressing let alone ending the state system of domination that has been imposed on our nations and peoples. We need something more than the typical view of rights called “human” to end the conceptual and behavioral system of state domination that has been and continues to be used against our nations and peoples.


Native Woman Named VP of Food & Beverage at Pechanga Resort & Casino Lynn Armitage 4/10/15

Pam Toscano

Just as Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Calif., is expected to embark on a multi-million-dollar expansion, Pam Toscano is breaking new ground of her own. The 48-year-old member of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians has recently become the first female vice president of food and beverage at the property. And she said she has her Native mother to thank for it.   

“She is just a pistol, and has pushed me every time I have thought, ‘OK, I’m done,’” said Toscano. “She has really inspired me to be part of the tribe and ensure that the business is giving back to the tribal members.”   

This former hairdresser is the first woman and first Native to head up food and beverage at Pechanga in the 20 years the resort and casino has been in business.

Toscano and Pechanga have grown up together. She started working for the casino when it first opened in 1995, under tents and in trailers, as a money changer and server. “We were so small that we had combined positions. So I changed money, and served cokes and peanuts,” she recalled. Through the years, the mother of four was promoted to a number of managerial roles in slots, cashiering, and food and beverage -- she served as the director of food and beverage for 10 years -- before being named vice president.   

So why her?

Toscano believes that loyalty landed her the job. “Loyalty to the tribe, to the property, the years invested, and the knowledge of working at this property for so long; I think that really nailed it for me.” 

RELATED: Tocabe x2: Native American Eatery in Denver Doubles-down on Success

The new vice president and only woman on Pechanga’s nine-member leadership team, Toscano oversees 11 dining establishments, including the 454-seat buffet, the nine-station food court, hotel catering, banquets and room service. “My short-term goal is to increase revenue at the restaurant and get us through the expansion.” Long-term? She claimed, “The sky’s the limit for this department.”

Toscano said when she isn’t busy managing at least 1,200 Pechanga food and beverage employees, she likes hanging out with her five grandchildren, who she refers to as her “hobby.” The busy executive, who loves to work, said, “That’s all I have time for at this point.”   

Lynn Armitage is a contributing business writer to Indian Country Today Media Network, and an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.



San Diego Padres Sign Wheelchair-Bound Pitcher To Deal For 20th Straight Season

Matt Lachappa

In 1996, Matt LaChappa was a minor-league pitcher for the San Diego Padres when he suffered a heart attack at just 20 years old. The injury ended his career and resulted in health complications that have since put LaChappa in a wheelchair.

For the Padres, his story could have simply been the story of a prospect who tragically failed to pan out. Instead, the organization has gone out of its way to make sure LaChappa has been cared for. San Diego has signed him to a minor league contract every year since 1996. The 2015 season is his 20th season with the team.

The act is far from ceremonial: By signing a contract with the club, LaChappa is able to get health care through the organization -- a huge gift for someone in his situation.


LaChappa had come to the Padres after growing up on the Barona Indian Reservation outside of San Diego. His story was first told in 2005 by Orange County Register columnist Steve Bisheff . It reported that LaChappa was incredibly well supported by the community as an up-and-coming athlete.

Bisheff updated his story in 2013, and USA Today confirmed this week that LaChappa has been signed for 2015.

"What happened just devastated so many people," Priscilla Oppenheimer, the Padres' director of minor-league operations, told Bisheff. "Matt was looked up to by everyone in the community. When he signed, about half the tribe came in for the ceremony.

"He's a great kid. He is confined to a wheelchair, has trouble communicating and is barely able to hold a spoon. But his mind is still as sharp as ever. He has an incredible sense of humor and is just a joy to be around."


LaChappa still makes regular visits to watch Padres games. It's no surprise that he remains a dedicated fan of the team. Meanwhile, the club's continued support of a former prospect is sure to earn them additional fans from across the country.

Meet Native America: Robert J. Welch, Jr., Chairman of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians

Chairman Robert Welch Jr

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Howka—hello, my name is Robert J. Welch, Jr. I am the chairman of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.

Where is your tribal community located? 

My tribe is the Capitan Grande Band of Diegueno Mission Indians of California: Viejas (Baron Long) Group of Capitan Grande Band of Mission Indians of the Viejas Reservation, California. The Viejas Reservation is located approximately 35 miles east of San Diego and contains 1,600 acres of land.

Is there a significant point in your people's history that you would like to share?

The Viejas Band originates from the Capitan Grande Reservation and the village of Los Conejos, in the area known today as El Capitan Reservoir. The Capitan Grande Reservation was comprised of 22,000 acres and actually included the original land of two bands: Capitan Grande and Los Conejos. Due to the growing needs of San Diego, in 1935 the city dammed the river and diverted the water. Capitan Grande and Los Conejos tribal members were convinced to sell the heart of their reservation, since the land was inevitably going to be taken by imminent domain by the City of San Diego and flooded by the new reservoir.

A significant point in our history is during this time in the 1930s, when the original members of the Capitan Grande Band and Los Conejos Band were forced to sell their lands. The proceeds from the sale of the land could have been divided equally amongst the current members, allowing them to purchase individual land holdings throughout San Diego, which was, at the time, a small city. Instead, the tribe agreed to stay together and pool their money to buy new lands. After careful consideration by members of the tribe, they bought the Baron Long Ranch. After members of the band relocated, however, the water rights and infrastructure promised never came to fruition. The Viejas Valley became solely dependent on the meager supplies of rainfall and groundwater. Without river water, farming—which the people depended on as their sole source of income—was no longer possible. 

Today, Viejas tribal members are proud owners of a tribal-government-owned and operated casino. There is a job for every tribal member who desires one. There are no Viejas tribal members on welfare or dependent on taxpayers for social services or improvements to their lands. The economic foundation we fought hard to create is providing a better future for our people, from housing and healthcare to college scholarships. In addition, the casino has created nearly 1,700 jobs and contributes millions to the local economy through the purchase of goods and services.

How is your tribal government set up?

The Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians is a sovereign government recognized by the United States as having governmental jurisdiction over its land and tribal members. The tribe’s government consists of two levels: General Council and Tribal Council. The General Council includes all of the band’s voting members. A rigorous form of participatory democracy, the General Council has approval over land use and tribal budgets. The General Council elects the Tribal Council, which includes the chairman, vice chairman, secretary, treasurer, and three council members at-large. Tribal government officials are elected to four-year terms of office. Like local governmental entities, the Tribal Council serves as the executive and legislative branches, and has quasi-judicial powers as well. Like special district boards (water district, port authority, economic enterprise or redevelopment agencies), the Tribal Council also serves as the “board of directors” for Viejas Band economic enterprises, with all tribal members as “shareholders.”

Is there any other functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system? 

The foundation for policies and procedures is our custom and tradition.

Chairman Welch Congressman Peters and others 
Viejas tribal leaders meet with Rep. Scott Peters. From left to right: Councilman Gabriel T. TeSam, Councilman Adrian M. Brown, Congressman Peters, Chairman Welch, and Vice Chairman Victor E. Woods. Photo courtesy of the Viejas Tribal Government. 

How often are elected leaders chosen? 

Tribal government officials are elected to four-year terms of office.

How often does your government meet?

The General Council meets on a monthly basis, and the Tribal Council meets daily.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader? 

As chairman, my goal is to continue to grow programs and infrastructure for the health and welfare of my people, and to diversify our business holdings so that we may continue to be economically independent as a tribe for generations to come. 

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe? Who inspired you as a mentor? 

I have been loved, guided, and supported by two very strong family figures and tribal leaders—my mother and grandfather. I follow in their footsteps as a leader of my tribe.

My mentor was my mother, Carmen Daisy Welch. She was the first and remains the only tribal chairwoman elected by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.

My grandfather, Thomas Hyde, was a member of the Viejas Tribal Council for 40 years, holding virtually every position on the council. He was also a guiding force and mentor in my life.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe? 

There are 264 adult members of the Viejas Band and approximately 80 children. 

What are the criteria to become a member?

The criterion to become a member of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians is to have one-eighth Capitan Grande blood.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?

Unfortunately, the percentage of fluent Kumeyaay language speakers on the Viejas Reservation is very low. However, in recent years the tribe has made the revitalization of the language a priority. The Viejas Tribal Education Center offers a Kumeyaay/English dual language preschool program for tribal children ages 3 to 5 years old. We also have a Kumeyaay Success program at three of the local school district campuses where teachers conduct leadership courses in Kumeyaay to tribal elementary and middle school students. Viejas tribal members also hold weekly Kumeyaay cultural classes for the community where they perform Birdsinging and dance, and teach the children other Kumeyaay cultural traditions. 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

Our enterprises include the Viejas Casino & Resort, 2014 recipient of the prestigious AAA Four Diamond Award. The casino and luxurious new hotel feature incredible gaming, multiple entertainment venues, a wide variety of dining experiences, and high-end shopping and recreation. Visitors will love Viejas Hotel’s modern amenities, streamlined design, and handcrafted, boutique feel. The hotel features a lush, spacious pool and lounge area, a modern fitness center, a convenient, user-friendly business center, 99 luxury rooms, and 29 VIP suites. With the new hotel, the Viejas Band has taken the next step in our ongoing property refinement, providing a premier guest experience. 

Across from the casino is the 255,000-square-foot Viejas Outlets shopping center, with more than 50 of America’s favorite brand-name stores. At the heart of the center is the Show Court, featuring an interactive water fountain by day and dynamic seasonal shows choreographed with lasers and pyrotechnics by night. 

Ma-Tar-Awa RV/Camper Park, which opened in 1976, was the first business venture of the Viejas Band. Sitting on 133 sheltered acres of the Viejas Reservation, Ma-Tar-Awa features a clubhouse, convenience store, laundry facility, propane service, and swimming pool, as well as 88 RV hookups and campsites.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

Aside from the casino, hotel, outlet center, and Ma-Tar-Awa campground, there are several fun attractions at Viejas, including the Viejas Bowl. Viejas Bowl provides the perfect atmosphere for beginners and serious bowlers alike with 12 lanes, unbeatable specials, and Galactic Bowl on Friday and Saturday nights. Plus, a great all-American menu, a wide selection of suds and sodas, and flat screen, hi-def TVs make Viejas Bowl the go-to venue for watching sports—or just hanging out. Also, within the casino is the V Lounge, which offers the perfect atmosphere for mingling, lounging or enjoying the best in local live entertainment and dancing on Friday and Saturday nights.

What annual events does the tribe sponsor? 

The Kumeyaay Indians, whose ancestors welcomed explorer Juan Cabrillo to San Diego with open arms in 1542, continue ancient traditions of hospitality and sharing. We honor these traditions today through generous contributions to a wide variety of charitable and community organizations. Each year, the Viejas Band makes philanthropic donations to local community groups, schools, and service and civic organizations, as well as to charity events sponsored by other commercial businesses. Such support comes directly from the Viejas Tribal Council and its wholly owned business enterprises—Viejas Casino & Resort, Viejas Hotel, Viejas Outlets, Viejas Entertainment and Production, and Ma-Tar-Awa RV/Camper Park.

How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation? 

The Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians is a sovereign government recognized by the United States government as having jurisdiction over its land and tribal members. Tribal governments have autonomy and are not subject to state jurisdiction, based on their inherent sovereignty—tribal governments were governing our lands prior to the founding of the United States, and prior to the signing of treaties with the federal government or the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Along with the other tribal governments throughout the United States, the Viejas Band has a “trust” relationship with the federal government, enforces federal laws, and participates in issues relating to its land and people on a government-to-government basis.

The Viejas Band has become one of the nation’s most respected gaming tribes for its entrepreneurial success and political advocacy of economic sovereignty, and for the example it has set for tribal government businesses throughout the nation.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your community?

The message I consistently share with our youth is, education is the key to success. I highly recommend and encourage our youth to move off the reservation to attend college, pursue employment opportunities, or enlist in the military. I encourage them to broaden their horizons and interact socially with other cultures and communities. Then when they return to the reservation—and they will, because our people are tied to the land—they will be better prepared to run our business through the real-world experiences they have gained. 

In closing, I would like to share the following with the youth: Poor leaders will tell you how many people work for them. Great leaders tell you how many people they work for.

Thank you.

Eyay ahun—thank you.

Chemehuevi tribe give youth lesson on heritage


Danny Leivas teaches his son Thomas how to grind mesquite beans with a mortar and pestle on Saturday during the Chemehuevi tribe’s 2nd Annual Spring Camp. The powder can be eaten or used to make bread or candy.



HAVASU LAKE, Calif. — The mesquite bean was a staple of the nomadic Chemehuevi people for hundreds of years. They used a mortar and pestle to grind the beans into a powder, which can be eaten as is, or used to bake bread.

At the Chemehuevi tribe’s 2nd Annual Nuwuvi Spring Camp on Saturday, Mary Drum, 70, said the mesquite beans can be eaten when they’re green, and they’re usually bitter. When the beans are yellow, they become sweet like honey.

“My mother would save the ground up mesquite beans for winter, and turn them into candy,” Drum said. “There was also mesquite bean wine.”

Drum and other members of the Chemehuevi tribe are using the annual spring camp as an opportunity to teach the youth of the tribe about their heritage.

With a handful of mesquite beans lying on the mortar, a smooth shallow dish-shaped stone, Danny Leivas showed one child how to grind the beans into powder by taking the pestle and smashing the beans into the mortar.

When the beans were turned into a yellow powder, Leivas stuck his finger into the powder and licked the powder off.

“When I was a kid I would just pull the beans off a bush and chew them up,” Leivas said. He then asked those watching if they wanted to try the sweet, nutty tasting powder.

Children also took a shot at archery.

“Our tribe was known for being nomadic,” Drum said. “We hunted big horn sheep and deer, rabbits, and quail.”

Because the Chemehuevi were always on the move, they used the plants to create their shelters. Georgia Lodge used arrow weed laid over a wooden structure to create a thakagan, which was like a gazebo.

Lodge and Leivas also used the arrow weed to create a wikiup, which is a small hut for sleeping in.

During Chemehuevi’s winter camp it was the wikiup that survived the high winds.

“Our tents went rolling away in the wind and kids stayed the night in the wikiup,” said Anna Ochon.

Members of the Peach Springs Hualapai Reservation’s Boys and Girls Club also came down to attend the camp. Cliffany Moa of Peach Springs said they were invited to spring camp last year and had a great time, so they returned.

“We have similar cultures,” Moa said. “It gives these kids a chance to experience something new. “

However, a tolerance for the Havasu heat is not something the two tribes share, and Moa said the Hualapai children were excited to go swimming in the lake.