Last modified: 2013-05-08 by rick wyatt
Keywords: augustine band of mission indians | native american | california |
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image by Chrystian Kretowicz, 16 January 2008
It started on April 13, 1956 when the Commissioner of Indian Affairs prepared and approved the original Augustine Membership Roll of 11 persons. It was followed by the establishment of the Augustine Band of Mission Indians by the
Executive Order later that year and setting aside 500 acres of the desert tract of land on the Eastern outskirts of the town of Coachella as their reservation (@ 25 miles southeast of Palm Springs). The land was totally useless and couldn't support its inhabitants who slowly drifted away to the big cities where they lived in extreme poverty and rapidly died out. The abandoned reservation became an illegal dump site littered with thousands of tires, junked cars, refrigerators, carcasses of farm animals and various other debris - it was a big wasteland among the date plantations.
The last surviving member of the tribe - Roberta Ann Augustine - lived in Inglewood, CA, married an African-American man and had three children - she died in 1986 and it appeared to be an end of the Augustine Nation. Her offspring, raised as Afro-Americans had only vague ideas of their Indian heritage. And here comes Ms. Diane Bennett - CEO of Paragon Gaming Ltd, a Nevada development corporation, and a daughter of William Bennett, famous Las Vegas developer (Circus Circus). Sifting through the old records she stumbles on the died-out nation and starts a search for the descendants of the last Augustine. She finds the daughter of the late Roberta Ann - Maryann Martin - enlightens her of the Indian origin and prompts and guides her to gain a federal recognition for herself and two younger brothers of their Indian status.
In 1991 the Bureau of Indian Affairs certifies Maryann Martin and her brothers as Indians - the Nation is reborn. Meanwhile, the Indian casinos start sprouting all over California like mushrooms after the rainfall. The Reagan administration found in the 1980s a cheap way to wean the Indian tribes from the federal handouts and the Supreme Court approved gambling on Indian reservations as a way to promote the development and self-sufficiency among at least some Indian Nations. The laws written at that time (1988) are so vague and full of loopholes that almost two decades later, armies of high-priced lawyers are still debating the definition of a slot machine. The efforts of Ms. Bennett are slowly coming to the fruition. Maryann Martin moves with her three children and African-American husband, William Ray Vance, to the trailer on the recovered reservation and promptly receives $1 million from the federal government to set up the tribal government, for housing and for cleanup of the land.
The Augustine Nation of Three is soon reduced to just One, after Ms. Martin's brothers are killed in the separate, drug-related, shootouts on the streets of Banning, CA (a town west of Palm Springs). She takes care of her brothers four children in addition to her three and builds herself an opulent mansion in Banning. The Indian status of the children would be determined on their maturity and depends on the ruling of what percentage of the Indian blood is required to be declared an Indian. Finally, the $16-million casino opens on the reservation in 2002 with 349 slot machines and 10 tables. Everybody is happy - at the opening ceremonies, the long-term Chairman of the powerful and ultra-rich Agua Caliente Nation of Palm Springs, Richard Milanovich declared, with the straight face, how proud is he that another Indian nation, no matter how small, is preserved and prosperous - all that looking at the totally black woman - sort of 'Indian International'.
Maryann Martin changed her name to Maryann Green in 2007, presumably, after another marriage. She is publicity shy, there are no pictures of her available and she doesn't grant any interviews. The casino, at present time, expanded to over 700 slot machines, covers 32,000 sq. ft, has two bars, a fast-food joint and an elegant, award-winning restaurant - Cafe 54. The 'Nation' of Augustine employs 8 non-Indian people in the tribal government, led by Las Vegas lawyer - Karen Kupcha as the Administrator, and scores of managers and workers in the casino operation.
Chrystian Kretowicz, 16 January 2008
The flag of this peculiar nation is displayed around the clock in front of the administrative office behind the casino on the corner of Avenue 54 and Van Buren Boulevard in Coachella, CA.
Chrystian Kretowicz, 16 January 2008
image by Chrystian Kretowicz, 4 June 2010
On my last week's vacation trip to Palm Springs and vicinity I did encounter a new flag of the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians, flying in front of the tribal office behind the Augustine Casino in Coachella. The new flag is without the golden legend previously written along the bottom edge of the flag, displaying just the tribal logo on it.
Chrystian Kretowicz, 4 June 2010