Betting Big on a Dream: Coming Home to a “We” Culture


"It was a culture that at its root was a "we" culture—we with one another, we with everything that was here. And it was a culture that I want to call a home culture. We were home. We were safe. We were connected. How do we undo the homeless culture and come home where it's we again?" - Greg Sarris

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Music Credits
Series Theme Music: "Soiridh Leis" from the CD Journey Between by Baka Beyond. Used with permission from Hannibal Records, a Rykodisc label;
 “Field Trip” and “Duet” by Jordan Tice Trio from the album THE SECRET HISTORY; Patuxent Music CD-230; 2011; Contact:,


Bioneers Series XIII - Program 05-13


Betting Big on a Dream:

Coming Home to a “We” Culture



00:00               Welcome (00:04)


00:04               Sarris teaser (00:24)


It was a culture that at its root was a "we" culture—we with one another, we with everything that was here. And it was a culture that I want to call a home culture. We were home. We were safe. We were connected. How do we undo the homeless culture and come home where it's we again?


00:28               Macy (00:09)


It’s all alive, it’s all connected, it’s all intelligent, it’s all relatives…


00:37               Bioneers Teaser  (00:27)


We stand at the threshold of a historic opportunity in the human experiment: to re-imagine how to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations.


It's a revolution from the heart of nature - and the human heart.


In this series - The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature - we celebrate social and scientific innovators with breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet - creating a future environment of hope.


01:04               Theme music fade out (00:06)


01:10               Opening underwriting narration (00:11)


Support for The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature is provided in part by Organic Valley Family of Farms and Mary’s Gone Crackers.


01:21     NARRATION 1 (1:45)


What does it mean to be a modern Indian in the United States today? It means being the heartbeat of people whose spirits refused to be conquered in the face of genocide. It means sustaining your culture and values through serial traumas of slavery, dispossession, diaspora and denial of your heritage and identity.


It means not closing your heart despite unimaginable suffering, loss and disrespect. It means sustaining your “original instructions” to be grateful -- to practice reverence and kinship with community and Creation –- and to enjoy life.


It means inviting all people to re-indigenize ourselves – to become native to our place, our community, and the circle of life.


Given the extreme economic disenfranchisement Native American tribes and nations have endured, being an Indian in modern times has given rise to Indian Casinos: one of their only real economic options, other than destructive resource extraction industries.


As the elected leader and chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria in Northern California, Greg Sarris found himself staring down the barrel of massive community resistance to his tribe’s proposed casino. Was it possible to create a casino that would uphold traditional values and benefit the land and local community? Let’s put it this way. You wouldn’t want to bet against him.


This is "Betting Big on a Dream: Coming Home to a 'We' Culture".


My name is Neil Harvey. I'll be your host. Welcome to the Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature.


03:06     Music fade (00:13)


03:19               Sarris 1a (00:38)


Pre-contact, there were more indigenous people in Marin, Sonoma, and Lake County than there was anywhere in the new world outside of the present site of Mexico City, which was the Aztec capital. There were more languages spoken in this area than anywhere outside the central Philippines. And, you know, the ethnographers and anthropologists who always, as my great aunt always used to say in her mixed English, she used to say, always tried to "anal-yze" us, [Laughter] she—they always wondered how did so many people get along for thousands of years with virtually no physical warfare, they took care of the environment and all of that.


03:57     NARRATION 2 (00:51)


The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria are Coast Miwok and southern Pomo people. They once roamed and cared for the land and waters north of San Francisco that now comprise Marin and Sonoma Counties. 


The Graton Rancheria is one of more than 100 California Indian tribes and tribal groups who still speak numerous languages and dialects. Their identity and spirituality remain deeply connected to the land.


Tribal Chair Greg Sarris began as an author and filmmaker, with a doctoral degree from Stanford University. He is an accomplished scholar with deep knowledge of the complex family lineages and oral histories of his people.


Then he found himself charged with becoming a visionary and political leader facing modern problems. He spoke at a recent Bioneers conference.


04:48                Sarris 1b (01:50)


We had a very subtle culture. Essentially, we believed that everything in nature had power, and had the power to protect itself and take care of itself. So a rock, a bird, everything had songs, had spirit, and if you violated that spirit, it would come back on you.


And so what that did is you were constantly reminded that you weren't the center of the universe, you were part of the universe. You were constantly de-centered as a knower, always questioning, wondering, because you didn't know. And, you know, again, the ethnographers always said, well, these Central California cultures were predicated on black magic and fear and all these kinds of things. No, they were predicated on profound respect for every aspect of life, and the ways in which [applause] everything is connected. [applause]


You know, the Europeans, the Spanish, when they came here, of course, they had a great debate whether we were even worth converting because they said we were so backward and so stupid that all we did is sit around and sing songs and weave baskets. Art and philosophy, what a way to go. [laughter] You know?


But anyway, they didn't understand us. And all of us have a tendency to see other people in terms of ourselves, and the Europeans always thought that the Plains cultures were the most sophisticated because the Plains cultures manifested the things that the Europeans valued most—organized warfare. Right? [laughter] They had that. We were much more subtle. You just dropped dead the next day. [laughter] And the Europeans didn't understand subtlety. They're still working on it. [laughter]


06:38     NARRATION 3 (00:24)


California Indians enjoyed an abundant land, they didn’t need to fight over it. As hunters and gatherers, they moved with the seasons and traveled light. Each new season was welcomed through ritual and song. Through storytelling, elders passed their history to the next generation.


This was a culture that embraced everyone and everything. Gregg Sarris.


07:02             Sarris 2  (01:32)


Basically, it was a culture that at its root was a "we" culture—we with one another, we with everything that was here. And it was a culture that I want to call a "home" culture. We were home. We were safe. We were connected.


When the Spanish first came, and then the Mexicans, all of a sudden a new story came, a new culture. It was not a home culture, it was a homeless culture. It was based on—Well, I'm gonna pick a blame. My mother is Jewish, so I'm gonna blame the Jews for this one. [laughter] But let's just pick a story.


There's a group of people that were wandering, released from slavery, and they're wandering the desert 3,000 years ago, and they're told that they are owed a homeland and that they're chosen. That combination became very toxic, because you became entitled, and you were entitled to go somewhere and claim something. That culture kept getting replicated and replicated—Christians, Mohammeds —they're all the best, one God, all that kind of thing—and everywhere that went spawned new nationalisms and an us/them culture. Wars. Us, them, us, them, us them. How do we undo the homeless culture and come home where it's "we" again? We're all here.


08:34     NARRATION 4 (00:45)


There was an official policy underlying the takings of Aboriginal lands, called the Doctrine of Discovery. It originated in 1455 with a papal bull where the Pope authorized the right to claim and conquer non—Christian lands that were “newly discovered.”


A further doctrine called “Terra Nullius” – which derived from Roman law and means “land belonging to no one” – meant a conqueror could occupy and claim these lands as though no one lived there or had any prior standing on the lands they’d inhabited for centuries or longer.


Waves of colonial powers systematically used these doctrines to colonize lands belonging to longstanding sovereign indigenous nations.






09:19                Sarris 3 (02:33)


The Spanish came, put us in missions right here. Then the Mexican period came in, the Californio period came in, that group of Californios, Vallejo and those folks established one of the most elaborate slave trading systems that we've seen, where they took all the men, mostly the men and boys, and traded them as far away as Mexico from here, and kept us as slaves.


Then, of course, the Bear flag revolution came. California became a state. The first piece of legislation that the State of California enacted was the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians, which legalized Indian slavery in the State of California. That law was not repealed until 1868, three years after the Civil War, so that here Indian children were being sold and taken and raided and all of that.


Then, after that law was repealed in 1868, we became, in fact, indentured servants on whosever land we were on, and hence you begin to get the term "Rancherias" around. And that went on, around -- we were not citizens as were other American Indians until 1924. That meant a girl here—And we didn't have, especially in this area, the Coastal Miwok, didn't have reservations or large groups of people. We had to hide the best we could, but remember if you're not a citizen, you can be raped or tortured, and you have no recourse in the courts. That was a situation for those of us who were Indian people here until 1924. My grandmother was born in 1910. So, again, it was a very difficult history.


At the turn of the 20th century, early part of the 20th century, all of a sudden more people moving into California, more people moving into this rich area, and so forth. They began to say, What are we gonna do with these Indians; there's groups of these homeless Indians. They didn't even call us by tribal name or anything like that. They called homeless Indians.


So the federal government created the California Indian Rancherias for the so-called homeless Indians of California. And what they did is they created little groups of land, and they said all the homeless Indians go there. So in our case, for instance—and this is the actual legislation. For the homeless Indians of Tomales Bay, Bodega Bay, Sebastopol, the vicinities thereof will go the Graton Rancheria, 15.5 acres, and become a de facto tribe. Now, it could have been any American Indian who was in the area, homeless Indians, but it was de facto, a tribe, became a designee for that Rancheria.


11:49     NARRATION 5 (00:19)


Adding injury to injury, in 1958 the United States found a way to swindle Native Americans out of even the small tracts that had been left for them. During this termination period, it was U.S. policy to terminate the Rancherias by enticing individuals with private land ownership. That’s what happened on the Graton Rancheria.



12:12              Sarris 4  (00:37)


So they come in the summer in August of 1958, and there's three older men on the reservation, none of whom understand the law very well, and the rest of us are out harvesting pears, because that's what we were doing that time of year. And they said to these three older gentlemen, Would you like to own your land? Well, to three older Indian guys, that sounds really good. So they said, Sign here. And by signing there, unbeknownst to these guys, these older men in our tribe, we lost our sovereignty, we lost the tribe, we lost everything that we had as an Indian people, what little we did have.


12:49     NARRATION 6 (00:30)


But in 1992 the tide began to turn for the Coast Miwoks. Greg Sarris had been working as an assistant professor at UCLA. But he decided to come home to help a burgeoning movement to restore tribal recognition.


For the first time in 40 years, families associated with the Graton Rancheria came together and shared food, photos and stories. They began to restore their kinship and identity. Then they decided to organize.


13:19                Sarris 5  (00:26)


For eight years, we fought, and finally I drafted language for a bill to get us restored. President Clinton signed that bill finally in December 2000, two weeks before he went out of office. And today we're the last tribe in the United States of America to be restored by an act of Congress. [applause]


13:45     Narration 7 - Lead to Mid Break (00:47)


Tribal status gave the Graton Rancheria autonomy and pride. It also afforded them the ability to reverse centuries of economic dispossession.


The obvious, but controversial, choice was to build a casino. Gambling would mean real money.


But would the casino threaten the land, and the character of Native peoples whose identity was defined by respect for the land? And how would their non-Native Sonoma and Marin County neighbors react?


When we return, Greg Sarris confronts the real-time clash of civilizations that modern Indians face every day, and he dreams big.


This is "Betting Big on a Dream: Coming Home to a “We” Culture".


I'm Neil Harvey. You are listening to The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature.


14:32               MID BREAK (00:37)


15:09     NARRATION 8 (00:31)

To explore all available radio shows and video programming, please visit


Once the Coast Miwok people won their tribal status, they faced a daunting new challenge: Building a casino could bring great wealth to the tribe, but threaten their culture and create enemies in the community.


After long deliberations, Tribal Chair Greg Sarris saw the casino as a breakthrough opportunity to bring his people – and everyone - back from a “Me” to “We” culture.


15:47                Sarris 6 (01:54)


The last thing I wanted to do is get involved in something like a casino. I mean, I'm a nerd. I write books, I read books. So I thought, Okay, can we do something that would benefit Indian and non-Indian alike? Is it possible? Is it totally antithetical to somehow use this to create a home for all of us? Is it somehow possible to create the old ethics and aesthetics of place, where we not only become keepers of the land, but are reminded that the land keeps us. Okay, is this possible? It seemed strange.


Well, I knew the folks at our tribe, our council wanted to go this direction. So, basically, I knew that we had a lucrative location, and I knew I'd have some power. So, I pulled that power. All the casino operators were interested in talking to me, of course. And, folks, it is a strange world. I mean, [laughter] These money guys, all the things you've heard are true. [laughter]


So, anyway, they come, and given the location, I created a cockfight in my living room. [laughter] And I had 'em all there. And I said, I want 100% control of the development board. I said, I wanna build it and run it union, so that the maids and everybody else [applause] had medical, dental and retirement. I said, I want to build it LEED certified. [applause] And I want 200 million up front that I don't have to pay back that we can give to our green organizations and the things that matter to us. Well, you know, I got it all. [applause] But the interesting thing, and I didn't know this, this is about greed. Guess what the thing that was nearly the deal breaker was? The unions. They did not want—Vegas did not want anything to do with unions. But, too bad, they've got them now.


17:41     NARRATION 9 (00:16)


Local non-Native opposition to the casino was angry and deeply personal. As a leader, Greg Sarris found himself going from being a popular, admired local Native writer and filmmaker to Public Enemy Number One.


17:57                Sarris 7a (02:00)


I found it a little ironic that there was so much attention, and all the politicians, the local politicians were jumping on us and saying, Oh, they're so terrible. And I kept thinking here, Yes, we are building a facility that's gonna be LEED certified and run union, but I'm looking around Sonoma County and there's 70,000 acres of non-organic grapes and how come nobody's saying anything about that? [applause]


Seventy thousand acres of non-organic gapes—grapes that have lowered the water table 200 feet and are poisoning the workers and poisoning us. [applause] But, oh boy, those Indians built a green casino and they're bad, bad, bad. [applause] Those Indians wanna take care of us and they're bad, bad, bad. We gotta find somebody, have a pariah. Of course, it's not the first time for Indians. [laughter]


You know, it's interesting, it's interesting. There's been two prevalent stereotypes of the American Indian. When we're defeated, you love us. We become the fallen nature god. Oh, isn't it sad. We love them to weave baskets and be in museums. And, you know, weren't they into nature, and wonderful. But the minute it becomes a question of power and territory, suddenly we're wagon burners again. [laughter]


So, when I was making movies and writing books, I was Native son in Santa Rosa. When I come back and I'm leading this casino thing, all of a sudden I'm the devil. I'm not Indian, I'm not this, I'm not that. I want to make money. Folks, I have a job. You know, so it was a ugly thing, but we said take the high road, take the high road. Of course, as one of my cousins said, Greg, I'm so tired of taking the high road, I've got a nosebleed. [laughter] But… So, we moved ahead. And then each opportunity became an opportunity to do the right thing.


19:57     NARRATION 10 (00:18)


The political fight was bare-knuckled. The objections were understandable and the concerns were legitimate.


But Greg Sarris and his tribe stayed focused on a bigger dream – one they believed could benefit both land and people – and give birth to even bigger shared dreams.





20:14                Sarris 7b (00:26)


This casino is not about a new color TV, this casino is not about a bigger car, it's about positioning ourselves to take care of the land and restore the land, and buy back open space in Sonoma County so that once again we will have a home for everybody and can feed everybody the right way. [applause] A big dream. A big dream. But that was our dream and is our dream. 


20:40     NARRATION 11 (00:23)


The Big Dream. Casino revenues would help not just the tribe itself. It would conserve and engender wider respect for the land. It would bring back a “We” culture to benefit the entire community.


Greg Sarris and the tribe decided to put all their chips on the table and call the bluff of business as usual. He proposed another radical idea – to the Governor of California.


21:03                Sarris 8 (00:28)


All the tribes that have gaming, they have to give up roughly 15 percent back to the state. So, I said to the governor, You know, you can't give money locally anymore, much money. Why don't instead of that money go to you, why doesn't it come back to the local community, and it's a win-win for everybody?


But I also thought, But I want the tribe to have control of that to say how it's used, so that when it comes back, supervisors don't pay for pensions with it.


21:32     NARRATION 12 (00:05)


In an unprecedented move, the Governor agreed.


21:37                Sarris 9 (03:04)


$25 million a year from Graton Rancheria will go to the parks and open space, land space every year. [applause]


In addition to that, the five million on top of that—now we're up to 30 million—five million on top of that will go to an environmental issue or issues jointly decided on by a panel comprised of 50 percent Graton Rancheria tribal council and 50% Sonoma County supervisors. [applause] Six million on top of that will go to the two non-gaming tribes in Sonoma County. Each of those tribes will get $3 million a year to take care of themselves and enhance their lives. [applause] They're in locations where they can't have casinos, and frankly we have enough casinos. If the other tribes who are in lucrative locations making all this money would take care of other Indian people, we wouldn't have all these wars. [applause]


$2 million to Sonoma County Indian health, then, on top of that. So Sonoma County Indian Health Project that serves Indian people will get $2 million. $12 million, then, will go back to the state for the other non-gaming tribes in the state of California. And then anything above that will, again, come back to Sonoma County for environmental issues to be jointly decided on between the tribe and the board of supervisors.


And I forgot to tell you a really important thing. This is my big thing. We still have 320 acres north of 37, and we've given that to Sonoma County Land Pass, but this is the caveat. Part of that $25 million, we are immediately beginning to establish and create an organic farm on those 320 farm acres there to grow vegetables. We will oversee it. It will be farmed by low-risk prisoners and undocumented folks, my best friends. [applause]


And the vegetables that we grow will be sold in low-income neighborhoods at cost so that the Latinos and others in those low-income neighborhoods can be able to get the kinds of vegetables that the rest of us buy at Whole Foods or other places. So again, that's something I'm very proud of, and that we're going to do. [applause]


24:29     NARRATION 12 (00:20)


What being modern Indians means for Greg Sarris and the Graton Rancheria tribe is to act on behalf of all life and their larger human community.


At the same time, they’re growing stronger and re-establishing their cultural ways in a contemporary context. And in the process, they’re serving as pathfinders for the rest of us.


24:49               Sarris 10 (01:13)


I'm hoping that other organizations, tribes and other businesses will follow this model, to take care of their local communities, to take care of themselves. [applause]


And in closing, when I began this revenue share with the counties and everything, some of the leaders from Southern California, those wealthy tribes, called me up and saying, Greg, you know what your problem is? You're half white. You don't understand. We don't owe the white man anything. And I said, Yes, we do. And they said, What? And I said, A good example. [applause] And this morning I think we've delivered it. Thank you. Thank you, Everybody. Thank you. [applause]


26:02     NARRATION 13 (00:06)


Greg Sarris. This is "Betting Big on a Dream: Coming Home to a “We” Culture".


26:08     Music fade (00:08)


26:16               Bioneers BXIII - Program Close/Credits (01:35)   


You can explore more Bioneers radio shows and also video programming online at For information on attending the national Bioneers Conference and Bioneers events in your area, please visit or call 1-877-BIONEER.


The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature is a production of Bioneers and Collective Heritage Institute. 

Executive Producer: Kenny Ausubel
Written by Catherine Stifter and Kenny Ausubel
Senior Producer: Neil Harvey
Managing Producer: Stephanie Welch
Production Management and Station Relations: Kate Hunter

Distribution is by WFMT Radio Network
Our theme music is taken from the album "Journey Between" by Baka Beyond and used by permission of Hannibal Records, a Rykodisc label. Additional music was made available by Colin Farish at For more music information, please visit
The opinions expressed in The Bioneers Revolution from the Heart of Nature radio series are those of the presenters and are not necessarily those of Collective Heritage Institute, the underwriters, or this radio station.
My name is Neil Harvey. Thank you for listening. I invite you to join the Bioneers in inspiring a shift to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations.


This is program number 05-13.

27:51               Closing underwriting narration (00:39)


This program was made possible in part by:

Organic Valley Family of Farms. Organic and family-owned since 1988. Visit

Mary’s Gone Crackers, healing the planet through conscious eating.  Gluten Free and vegan products sine 1999.  Learn more at

John Master’s Organics. Feel good about looking good. Visit

Funding also provided by a grant from The Park Foundation - dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues.

And by the generous support of listeners like you.


28:30               END



Betting Big on a Dream: Coming Home to a “We” Culture | GREG SARRIS

About this Listing

Betting Big on a Dream: Coming Home to a “We” Culture


Posted by Bioneers on Oct 4 2013 in category 2013 Bioneers Radio Series
Tags: Bioneers Radio Series XIII