Morongo Tribal Chairman to Retire After Decades in Government

City News Service

After nearly 40 years in tribal government, Morongo Band of Mission Indians Tribal Council Chairman Robert Martin will retire on Thursday, it was announced Tuesday.

Martin, 70, who led the tribe in 1987 when it helped secure a crucial U.S. Supreme Court decision that confirmed the legitimacy of Indian gaming and the sovereignty of Indian tribes across the nation, opted not seek reelection to the tribe’s top post.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my journey as I worked with our Tribal Council, our membership and leaders in all branches of governments to advance self-reliance and tribal sovereignty,” Martin said. “I’m proud of the great progress our tribe and our Tribal Council have made together during my tenure as we created new economic and educational opportunities for our members, our region, and all of Indian Country.”

Martin was first elected to the Tribal Council in 1983. He was serving his second term as chairman when the tribe joined a fellow small Cahuilla tribe — the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians — in its lawsuit against the state of California.

State and county officials had sought to shut down small bingo parlors on each of the reservations, as well as a card club on the Cabazon Indian Reservation. The case made its way to the U.S Supreme Court, culminating in a victory that helped expand Indian gaming nationwide, and broadened the established definition of tribal sovereignty.

“That watershed decision fueled an economic and social renaissance that brought roads, clean water, housing, health care, jobs and education to reservations across the U.S.,” the Morongo tribe said in a statement.

“Chairman Robert Martin has — and will continue to be a pillar in Indian Country,” said Assemblyman James Ramos, a resident of the nearby San Manuel Indian Reservation in San Bernardino County, and the first Native American to be elected to the Assembly. “Chairman Martin serves as a role model for so many of us and I thank him for his teachings.”

Martin went on to serve 18 total years as chairman and another 11 years on the Tribal Council over the next four decades.

Heoversaw construction of the original Casino Morongo in 1994 and, a decade later, development of the $250 million Morongo Casino Resort & Spa. The towering 27-story resort remains the tallest building between Los Angeles and the Arizona border, according to the tribe. It was expanded last year, and continues to generate revenue that contributes to the funding of health care, public safety, fire protection and other tribal services.

The tribe now boasts a diversified business portfolio with ventures in finance, health care, manufacturing and retail that combine to generate nearly $3 billion annually in regional economic activity, according to the tribe. Tribal businesses employ 2,500 people, making the tribe one of Riverside County’s largest employers, tribal officials said.

Charles Martin, who is not related to Robert Martin, was elected as the new chairman and will be seated July 1. He has served 12 years on the Tribal Council.

“Hardworking, engaging and entrepreneurial, Chairman Robert Martin’s leadership transcended generations and cultures,” he said. “He is an inspiration and a role model for tribal leaders everywhere, and we look forward to benefiting from his continuing wisdom and counsel for many years to come.”

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