It was a great idea at the time. Leasing land from an Indian tribe and being able to view the beautiful Colorado River in a rural atmosphere. And some former California residents were told they were dealing with the U.S. government and not the Colorado River Indian Tribes. It was trust land, or so thought residents of Big River.
Other California "resorts" on CRIT lands, Water Wheel, Twin Palms, Hidden Valley and Paradise Point, have felt the brunt of alleged unfair lease practices by CRIT.
On a windy Saturday afternoon, a gathering of over 100 residents impacted by CRIT announced they are going to work together to get a controversy ended.
The problem and the controversy centers on this question: does the western boundary of the CRIT reservation extend into California?
According to attorney Tim Moore, the answer is no. Moore contends CRIT never got congressional authorization for the reservation's boundary to extend into California.
The history of CRIT's handling of some resorts has left former lessees with a bitter taste in their mouths.
At the Nov. 24 meeting, held at resort called Hidden Valley, Moore outlined history of the California resorts impacted by CRIT.
In 2000, Red Rooster Resort residents were given a 30-day eviction notice. Residents sold their mobile homes and personal property at distressed prices and any structures left standing were bulldozed down. Moore said the residents were not given any type of court order.
Years earlier, Riverbend Resort residents received the same treatment, receiving eviction notices. They left and that resort was turned into the tribal enterprise, Aha Quin.
Then CRIT tried to evict residents in July 2001, when Paradise Point residents received letters from the tribe informing them they would have month to month "permits" to occupy "Indian country."
The resident didn't leave and challenged the tribe. That's when Moore became involved. CRIT cut off their electricity by telling Southern California Edison to do so and also cut off their sewer connection.
Moore describes the Paradise residents as "hearty souls" who live there with their generators and Port-A-Potties.
On Jan. 1, 2002, residents of Twin Palms were given eviction notices. Manager Robert Thweatt refused to go without a court order. He is still there with other residents.
Hidden Valley is a partnership of CRIT and Deseret Trust. There is a problem now with Deseret Trust, the Homeowners Association and CRIT, which involves the raising of fees and a cutback of services.
It was standing room only at the Saturday meeting as Moore and Bob Johnson, the owner of the corporation and manager of Water Wheel, discussed CRIT's actions. There was a large contingent of residents from Big River.
"The reason we're here today is try to get the boundary dispute done and finished to conclusion. We need everyone's support. Fifty years the dispute has been bouncing around and we need a conclusion," Moore said.
"I have commercial interest on the river and yours is residential. It is the same grief and issue. We have the law and truth on our side and CRIT has the money and time on their side," Johnson said.
Johnson was particularly upset about his situation when he read an October online article published by CRIT stating he was evicted from Water Wheel because of back rent problems.
Johnson's case is in tribal court and plans to go to federal court. He and his attorneys doubt if they'll win at the tribal court level.
In a letter to CRIT from Moore regarding the article it stated, "The rent issue has been under appeal for several years, pursuant to the provisions of Section 25 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Johnson's appeal asserts CRIT and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are responsible for damages to Water Wheel for over 11 years interference with business operations and refusal to permit expansion of the facility."
Johnson did acknowledge at the meeting that his lease ended on July 7, 2007. However, in his appeal, he's asking for a 15 year extension because he was denied development.
The current issue of the CRIT's online publication printed a retraction about the Water Wheel case.
It was evident lessees of the tribal resorts/community were frustrated with threats of eviction and correspondence from tribal departments.
The California Indian Reservation Act of April 8, 1864, called the Four Reservations Act, was implemented before the CRIT Reservation in California without congressional approval.
CRIT was established on March 3, 1865 in the territory of Arizona.
In 1964, Public Law 88-302 prohibits the Secretary of Interior from granting any authority on behalf of CRIT in the disputed boundary area until a final boundary is determined.
On Jan. 17, 1969, Sec. of the Interior Stewart Udall issued an opinion defining the upper two-thirds of the disputed boundary area as a fixed line along the location of the 1876 meander line.
Moore maintains the Secretarial Order is CRIT's only authority for its control over the disputed boundary area. The Order was not authorized by Congress; and the Secretary does not have the authority to define the reservation to include land in California.
Moore told the audience Riverside Sheriff's Office will not allow the removal of residents like Red Rooster without a state or federal court order. They are working with California state legislators and they plan to interact with Arizona to get the dispute resolved.
In February 1997, CRIT took over the Big River Development. In 1964, CRIT agreed to lease 8,000 acres to the Central California Land Company. By 1971, people were moving in.
In 1991 the Resolution Trust Corporation assumed control of the property from San Jacinto Savings and Loan, in Texas.
In 1993, CRIT begain negotiations to acquire Big River. CRIT was able to acquire the subdivision with casino revenue.
The 90-minute meeting concluded with people getting assignments to keep the momentum up to find a solution.