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August 08, 2013

Clifford M. LaChappa, Chairman of the Barona Band of Mission Indians

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today. —Dennis Zotigh, NMAI 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Clifford M. LaChappa, chairman of the Barona Band of Mission Indians

Barona-Chairman-Clifford LaChappa
Clifford M. LaChappa, chairman of the Barona Band of Mission Indians. Photo courtesy of the Barona Band of Mission Indians.
What responsibilities do you have as chairman? 

I consider my main responsibility to be providing for the general welfare of all tribal members, including children, who are the future of our people. Our Tribal Council also manages the band's various businesses and departments. 

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your band? 

Culturally, our people have always looked after one another. When the opportunity to engage in high stakes bingo and ultimately casino-style gaming came along, I was on the tribal council, and we saw it as an opportunity to help look after our people, especially our elders and youth. In addition, my years in college taught me the basics of running a business. I spent 26 years at a local utility company. I started as a laborer and worked my way up to management, thus developing my business leadership skills. 

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

Viejas Chairman Anthony Pico, a U.S. Army paratrooper in Vietnam and distinguished advocate for tribal sovereignty who has led his people with honor and dignity for many years. 

Where is the Barona Band of Mission Indians located? 

Rural eastern San Diego County, California.

Where was your band originally from?

Prior to the creation of the Barona Indian Reservation, our people lived on the Capitan Grande Reservation, which was established by the federal government in 1875. Long before living on a reservation, our ancestors traveled across Southern California in tune with the seasons and what nature provided. 

Does the Barona Band have a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system? 

Tribal elders are respected for their knowledge and wisdom and are often consulted on custom and tradition.

What is a significant point in history from your band that you would like to share? 

As with all Native people, there are many significant points in our history, but one that changed our path not too long ago was when the City of San Diego purchased our original reservation in 1932 to build a water reservoir. Our people were removed from their land and forced to find a new home. With the guidance of then Chief Ramon Ames, our people pooled their money together and purchased what is today known as our home, the Barona Indian Reservation. 

Approximately how many members are in your band?

There are approximately 500 members, with approximately 300 over the age of 18. 

What are the criteria to become a member of your band?

Our membership requirement is through blood quantum. Each member is required to have one-eighth Barona blood.

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

Over the last 20 years, with the economic success of our people, we have had the privilege of protecting our language through the creation of a 297-page dictionary. Our goal is for all of our tribal members to become fluent speakers, and with that in mind we provide language classes for our community. 

What economic enterprises does your band own?

The Barona Resort & Casino, the Barona Creek Golf Club, and the Barona gas station. 

What annual events does your band sponsor?

The Barona Band of Mission Indians believes in giving back to our surrounding community. With that in mind, the band sponsors many, many worthwhile events and causes throughout San Diego, and even throughout California. On the reservation, the tribe hosts an annual Traditional Gathering in August and the Barona Powwow in late August/early September. 

What attractions are available for visitors on your land? 

The Barona Resort & Casino—2,000 slots and video-poker machines and over 80 table games, including poker, blackjack, Pai Gow poker, three- and four-card poker, and more. We also offer an endless variety of fresh, bold cuisine at Barona's six casino restaurants, including our award-winning all-you-can-eat buffet. Play golf at one of the top courses in California, the Barona Creek Golf Club. In addition to the casino resort, Barona has San Diego County’s first museum on an Indian reservation dedicated to the perpetuation and presentation of the local Kumeyaay–Diegueño Native culture. The Barona Museum offers a unique educational journey for visitors of all ages.

How is your band government set up?

We have a seven-member Tribal Council comprised of a chairman, vice chairman, and five council members. Our General Council is comprised of all our adult members (18 years and older). The General Council meets once a month.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

We are elected to serve four-year terms, with no term limits. The terms are staggered to maintain continuity on the Tribal Council.

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

Education is the key to success. The more you learn, the more you will be able to accomplish in life. Never stop learning. It is important to give back to your community in order to keep our people strong and united. 

Thank you. 

Other interviews in this series: 
Ben Shelley, President of the Navajo Nation
Councilman Jonathan Perry, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah)
John Sirois, Chairman, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation
Thurman Cournoyer Sr., Yankton Sioux Tribal Chairman 
Jimmy R. Newton, Jr., Chairman, Southern Ute Indian Tribe 
Cara Cowen Watts, Cherokee Nation Tribal Council
Scott N. BigHorse, Assistant Principal Chief, Osage Nation


Series banner, from left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All images used with permission. 


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Chairman LaChappa exemplifies leadership and insight at a time when it is vitally needed by tribes nationally.

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