|Posted by Ya-Nah on May 30, 2016 at 9:35 PM|
This is an excerpt from an essay that I recently completed about some of my experiences.
She’s Like a Superhero
The sun is rising now over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. From the window, I can see the silhouette of the mountains in the distance and trees that line the hotel parking lot. My daughter is still asleep. She keeps tossing the blankets around in her sleep, and she giggled once. I’m drinking my second cup of the Lipton tea that came with the motel room, and counting my blessings for being alive. We are staying in Amador County, where the towns were manifested and desolated by the California Gold Rush. A few of the little Gold Rush settlements are still in working condition, but dozens of boom towns have dropped off of the map since the mid-1800s. Some of my ancestors come from here.
Envision Miwok communities in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California. Today, a series of country roads and highways will get you here. My ancestors come from a village on the north side of a sacred mountain. The area is home to oak trees and endangered frogs, and there is an artesian well that comes right out of the mountain. It isn’t thriving the way it did before the United States moved in. The original people left to find jobs to provide for families, but that place in the foothills that we call Buena Vista is still home to them.
With the advent of Indian gaming, one of the younger people started to think about becoming rich off of that place. She waited for an elder to become dependent on her, and then she acquired the land. She tried to do it alone with just her children and one casino investor, but soon she was forced to accept a partner who brought in another casino investor and her children. Before long, they built an outdoor kitchen and invited people to look at the beautiful place where they wished to build their casino. People visited and ate at the sacred homeland, and they admired its beauty. None of them knew that the outdoor kitchen stood on top of the place where the outhouses used to be, but there were always a lot of flies.
Great Auntie Bea could have told them, but she considers the land sacred, so they probably don’t want her around now that they plan to desecrate it. If the casino was built, it could eradicate the burial tradition forever. Since the casino profiteers got ahold of the land, only one person has been able to be buried there. It is good that we have not had to bury a family member for quite a while; it is sad that we may never be able to do so again.
The profiteers are organized as the “Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians,” and that organization has taken around $15 million from the California Gambling Control Commission out of the revenue sharing trust fund that was set up to benefit the non-gaming federally recognized tribes. Tribes with thousands of acres of land and thousands of members receive the same amount of money as the Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians, which has only about a dozen members and around 100 acres of land. Since it is much less expensive to take care of fewer members and fewer acres, the Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians can afford to show financial largesse to local non-profit and student organizations, making them popular within the Chican@ and Native American communities, which should know much better.
The interruption of the burial tradition began when the Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians took control of the property in 1997. Auntie Bea and I still go to the cemetery together when we can, and celebrate the living and the dead. We refuse to quietly allow the burial tradition to be crushed beneath a casino. Auntie Bea would like to be buried in the cemetery at Buena Vista Rancheria, where her grandfather told her that she would be someday. However, the landowner, the Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians, has ignored requests for mediation on the subject, and that is an outrage.
It would take Auntie Bea over 900 years to accumulate $15 million from her Social Security, and she might not live that long. Early in 2013, Auntie Bea lost her apartment. She had just gotten too old to take care of an apartment on her own, and she was too independent to allow someone else to do it for her. A couple of months after that, she completed and turned in an application for American Indian housing assistance. She didn’t do it on her own. It turned out that one of the ladies from the Veterans’ Association helped her complete the application, and then drove her straight to the Chico Rancheria Housing Corporation office to turn it in.
Less than a week later, my auntie was notified that she was not eligible for their services. I had to interrogate her to find out that it was because she could not be verified Indian. She was ready to just give up, but I decided to call the CRHC to explain that the situation was urgent. My conversation with a woman in that office went something like this:
“Did you call the BIA? She’s from the Buena Vista Rancheria, but she has to sue the United States of America for federal recognition.”
“I did call the BIA, and they cannot verify her enrollment with a tribe. They referred me to the Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians, and there is no one in that office who can verify her enrollment until next week.”
“Well, she isn’t enrolled with the casino profiteers. She is Miwok, and she has a roll number with the BIA, but the court case for federal recognition probably won’t be over for years, and she’s homeless now.”
“Our policy requires her to be an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe.”
“Do you know much about California history?”
“Yes, but we get HUD funding, and we need to follow the rules.”
“Alright, let’s see what happens next week.”
After the conversation, I looked on Facebook and found out that the chairwoman of the Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians had gone to New York for a Prince benefit concert. Prince is a skinny pop music icon. When the chairwoman returned to her office, she verified that Auntie Bea was unenrolled with the casino profiteers.
Auntie Bea has lived through Indian Reorganization, Termination, Civil Rights, and now Casinos. If I start complaining about my husband, Great Auntie says that I have to live my life and get a divorce so that I won’t be unfair to someone else I might meet and fall in love with. She entertains me with her stories about her first husband. My favorite one is about how he would take her with him to dynamite old tree stumps in the orchards. He had explained that if the blasting went wrong, he didn’t want to die alone. It sounds just as romantic as it is funny, but he turned out to be a bum. He left her and disappeared so thoroughly that she had to hire a private investigator to find him so that she could get a divorce. Her second husband was wonderful. He’s the one I remember.
I’m not Catholic enough to want a divorce. If I have to pay for it, I will file for a separation. Sometimes my husband says that he will file for divorce, but as far as I know, he hasn’t, and he has a warrant for marijuana possession in Yolo County, so he doesn’t want to go to the courthouse. He can file for free because he doesn’t have any reported income. If California wasn’t a community property state, I wouldn’t give it a second thought.
Last fall, Auntie Bea and I caused an accident. Technically, it’s the fault of whoever rear-ended the good Samaritan who stopped as we were crossing the street. One would normally stop for an elderly lady crossing the street with a wheelchair, and Great Auntie Bea is an elderly lady. She was just like a superhero in a doublewide chrome wheelchair with a blue vinyl seat and all sorts of treasures hanging from the handle bars, but she won’t walk an extra block to a crosswalk sometimes.
After the accident, an onlooker tried to get the cops to come out to do a welfare check on Auntie Bea, and if they had, it would have been the second or third of that day, but I guess that they just took note of it and planned to visit her again in the evening. It was just a fender bender, but it made me imagine a tableau of twisted metal and orange flames in the background as a cop asks Auntie Bea if she is feeling alright. Meanwhile, she would continue walking at her own pace toward Carl’s Jr., telling the officer to mind his own business. I would laugh inappropriately if that happened.
Her wandering took its toll on her health, but the social service workers kept telling me that things would have to get much worse before the courts would conserve her if the doctors wouldn’t do it. Lapses in her memory and orientation started to happen every so often while she was on the streets, and that is very uncharacteristic of Auntie Bea. The hospitals would occasionally admit her for diabetic symptoms but that was all. She denies that she is diabetic, and talking to someone who has unregulated diabetes can be a lot like talking to a crazy person. If she was conserved, someone would have completed the Medi-Cal application and set her up in a nursing facility, but she wouldn’t or couldn’t do that for herself. What she wants to do is rent her own place for half of her income and get a puppy dog and a kitty cat.
This year, she is finally living in a nursing facility in Sacramento where I can visit her, call her, and not worry about where she’s at or if she has a roof over her head. A doctor finally conserved her, and the social workers there asked me if I knew how bad it had gotten for her. Of course I did, and it drove me crazy to watch other doctors just write down her symptoms and then send her back out on the streets. She is going to be 85 this year.