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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


July 28, 2001 - Issue 41


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San Manuel Leader Balances Family, Duty, Commute, School


 by Darrell R. Santschi-The Inland Empire Online-July 16, 2001


photo credit: Peter Phun The Inland Empire

San Manuel Reservation - Even as Deron Marquez led visitors through a maze of stairs and hallways en route to his second-floor office, he warned that there would be interruptions.

He told his secretary to hold his calls, but before she could return to her desk and Marquez could ease into his brown leather chair, the phone was ringing.

Deron Marquez's phone rings a lot these days. The chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians' number is on the speed dial of a lot of people's telephones.

"Especially politicians," Marquez said. "Not a week goes by this time of year without at least one call coming in looking for contributions for a campaign."

So it is when you are the political and administrative leader of a tribe of American Indians with the deed to the second-oldest Indian casino in the Inland Empire. Just how lucrative the 15-year-old casino has become the Indians are leaving to the imagination, but the $2.2 million jackpot paid out recently and the $875,000 San Manuel plans to pass out today to eight nearby cities are hints that it's doing very well.

Of the casino's 1,500 employees, Marquez said, only two live on the reservation.

"I think a lot of times, working at the casino is too political," he said. "You could be perceived to be doing things for your own benefit. I don't blame them because it does get ugly."

Keeping the peace among the tribe's approximately 170 members is just one of the things Marquez must do. And he has plenty to do.

His job as tribal chairman, a post he has held two years, consumes 10 hours a day as many as six days a week. He doubles as a student, studying for a doctorate in politics and policy at Claremont Graduate University. And he is husband to Cindy, an occupational therapist, and father to 4-year-old son Skyler and 3-year-old daughter Keely.

All this while commuting 80 miles a day between the reservation and his Upland home.

How does he do it? "I have no idea," he says.

"When I'm in class, I'm usually up late," he says. "I finish up here (at the tribal headquarters), and I take some work home. I'll spend some time with my wife and kids, then I'm upstairs in my office until 1 or 2 in the morning. Then go to bed, up at 6 and the same thing all over again."

Marquez is an atypical tribal chairman. For starters, he didn't grow up on the reservation.

Fontana native

Born and raised in Fontana, Marquez is the son of a San Diego native and a mother who lived on the San Manuel Reservation. He graduated from Fontana High in 1988 and attended Riverside Community College for 2 ½ years before heading to Tucson to take up history and American Indian studies at the University of Arizona, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1994. While in Tucson, he ran an urban Indian health center, gaining experience that he says has become invaluable in his role as San Manuel chairman.

He returned from Arizona to take a job in the tribe's casino, where he developed an employee scholarship program, did research and development and then public relations in the casino's marketing department.

In 1997, he was accepted in the ethnic studies graduate program at Cal State Sacramento. He worked on a master's degree simultaneously with his work on a doctorate.

"I haven't researched this, but my guess is there is not another Native American (tribal leader) studying for a Ph.D. in the United States," says Alfred Balitzer, a professor at the Claremont Graduate University's School of Politics and Policy. "It is rare, and it breaks the mold.

"Deron, when he was born, was in a family that didn't have a lot, but looked to the future," Balitzer said. "He's urbane, cosmopolitan and articulate. He has a very analytical mind. He sees through what I call `gaffuffle' (baloney)."

On the urging of his faculty adviser, Marquez is taking only one or two classes each term to balance his studies with his tribal responsibilities. It probably will take him 2 ½ more years to obtain his doctorate, Balitzer said.

Future undecided

Marquez says he's undecided about whether he'll run for another term as chairman next March.

"It's not really your choice," he said. "Sometimes you have to see the writing on the wall, if they want you out. You have to be able to excuse yourself" if the political wind shifts.

But beyond that, he's sure of his goals.

"I hope to finish up my Ph.D. and take a job at a university for a while," he said. "I really want to teach. The goal of having such a broad background is that I can fit into anything, in my opinion. . . . I can talk about issues that are more broad than singular."

After that, he has political ambitions -- unspecified -- beyond the reservation's borders.

Meanwhile, as custodian of the tribe's economic future, Marquez is leading a campaign to invest the reservation's casino profits in other businesses.

"That's what the tribe is screaming for," he said. "And not just the tribe. There's a misnomer out there that tribes are not diversifying. It's simply not true. A lot of tribes are diversifying. People just don't know about it."

In the short term, Marquez said, he wants to complete plans to open a water bottling plant on the reservation, finish construction of a hotel-restaurant complex in Highland and build a community center.

Longer term, he sees the tribe branching out.

"One of the things we're strapped for is land," he said. "We're 700 acres, but the only flat land on the reservation is the five acres the casino is on."

The rest is rugged, rock-strewn hill country. Wedged at the junction of Highland and San Bernardino with a housing tract just below, the reservation has no room to grow -- let alone build industry.

"We have to be creative, in my opinion, in looking at diversification," Marquez said. "We have to look at the city of Highland. We have to look at the city of San Bernardino. I've always said we have to look at the city of Los Angeles. Let's look at Ontario."

Even beyond that, Marquez sees investments "in Latin America. We should be looking at Japan. Basically, the Pacific Rim. We need to look at those markets and study those markets. I'm talking about looking at the world. I'm talking about looking at Germany, Europe.

"We're taking baby steps right now," he said. "That's the long term."

And long term requires time away from the telephone.

 Maps by Travel

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians
The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians are of the Native American tribe known as "Serrano," a name given to us by the Spaniards which means "mountaineer."

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