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Gov. Davis Picks Tribal Leader for State Panel

Appointment Might Improve Relations with State's Native Americans

By James P. Sweeney
The San Diego Union Tribune, December 3, 1999

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Gray Davis named a Southern California tribal leader to a powerful state board yesterday in a rare appointment that underscores the emergence of the state's American Indian population.

Brenda Soulliere, vice chairwoman of the Cabazon band of Indio, was named to a regional water quality control board that serves the Colorado River Basin region.

Soulliere and aides to the governor said it was the first time in recent memory that a California Indian had been named to a state panel not otherwise involved in Native American affairs.

"It's a change in an attitude and I honestly believe that's come about as a result of gaming," said Nikki Symington, a spokeswoman for San Diego's Viejas band. "State government just had to begin to look at and recognize the state's Indian population."

Until recently, the state and many of its 107 federally recognized Indian tribes had been locked in a bitter, 10-year standoff over the legal status of tribal casinos.

Throughout that fight, tribal leaders steadfastly asserted their sovereignty as independent governments.

"Cabazon and, I believe, some other tribes and the state of California, we all understand the state is here, the Indian tribes are here, we're all going to have to work together," Soulliere said.

The first member of her tribe to earn a four-year college degree, Soulliere said she has been involved with local water issues as Cabazon's representative on the Coachella Valley Association of Governments.

"Water issues are very important to Native Americans and the Coachella Valley as a whole," she said. "The region has some of the finest water quality in the world and we'd like to keep it that way."

The state's regional water boards make important decisions on discharge permits and other matters affecting local water supplies. As such, they are closely monitored and at times heavily lobbied by industry and environmentalists.

Davis, a Democrat, was elected with support from the tribes and recently negotiated agreements that would legalize their flourishing casinos. But he has struggled to fill hundreds of positions in his new administration and aides said he was not trying to send any message with Soulliere's appointment.

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