The Rumsey Band of the Wintun Indians:
A Return to Self Sufficiency

Indian Gaming is a Success Story

The economic and social benefits of Indian gaming on Indian and non-Indian communities are profound. Indian nations across the United States have consistently articulated the ways that Indian gaming supports tribal programs, funds tribal initiatives, allows for economic diversification, stimulates tourism and creates jobs. In short, Indian gaming has overwhelmingly succeeded where Federal programs have consistently failed.

The success of Indian gaming in California is remarkable. After more than a decade of legal wrangling, two state-wide referenda and a constitutional amendment, the state of California finally fulfilled its Federal obligation to negotiate class III gaming compacts with California Indian nations. In May of 2000, nearly 60 Indian nations signed gaming compacts. One of those Nations is the Rumsey Band of the Wintun Indians.

The Rumsey Band of the Wintun Indians- A Short History

For thousands of years, bands of Wintun people dwelled along the waters of Cache Creek in the Capay Valley and lived off the bounty of the land. At one time, Wintun-speaking people occupied nearly all of what has become north central California. As successful hunter-gatherers living in the abundance of a diverse environment, the Wintun Indians were self sufficient in the truest sense of the word. The Southern Wintun, or Patwin, people survived and thrived mostly by gathering acorns, hunting and fishing. Living near the bountiful rivers allowed fishing for large seasonal pulses of salmon and hunting waterfowl in nearby marshlands. 

When white settlers finally encroached into the territory of Northern California, the Wintun (or Patwin) people were nearly wiped out by malaria and small pox epidemics in the early 1800s. Those who survived the diseases later encountered the influx of non-Indians who came to search for gold in the 1850s. Later, survivors were put onto small rancherias, or reservations, and became wards of the Federal government. By 1972, only 3 Patwin rancherias survived the termination era. One of them was the Rumsey Rancheria.

Today, the Rumsey Rancheria, 15 miles north west of the city of Woodland, is home to 44 members of the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians. The adult Wintun Tribal members govern themselves through a tribal community council comprised of 22 voting members. Council leadership consists of a tribal chair, secretary and treasurer and two at-large members, all of whom are elected to three-year terms. Because of its gaming revenue, the Rumsey Band is self-sufficient again and Indian gaming has provided the means to re-claim that self-sufficiency.

The Cache Creek Indian Bingo and Casino

The Rumsey Band of the Wintun Indians opened the Cache Creek Indian Bingo and Casino in 1985 near Brooks, California. Today, Cache Creek provides year-round jobs for more than 1080 people, making it Yolo County’s largest private employer. In addition to providing secure jobs in a region that has a history of seasonal agricultural work, the casino has had a profound economic impact on surrounding communities. More than 900 casino employees are non-Indian and the majority of these employees live in Yolo county. Since Cache Creek pays more than $15 million a year in salaries and benefits, most of that money circulates locally, strengthening existing businesses within the county. Tourism also benefits the region since many of the 5,000 weekly casino visitors also patronize local service stations, restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses. Cache Creek contributes more than $175,000 in sales tax on food and beverages sold and maintains more than 125 local and 350 regional vendor accounts with payments for services in excess of $9 million annually.

Local communities also benefit from the community-mindedness and generosity of the Rumsey Band. For example, the Rumsey Band has donated more than $140,000 a year to augment the sheriff’s patrol in the Capay Valley. They have provided financial assistance to the community’s Volunteer fire department and donated use of property to the California Forestry and Fire Protection Department for regional firefighting headquarters. In addition to health and safety, the Band also makes significant contributions to the regional library, hospital and cultural and performing arts organizations, offers scholarships through the local high school district and operates the Rumsey Chapa-De Indian Health Clinic in Woodland. The Rumsey Band also used gaming revenues to build and operate an independent pre-K through eighth-grade school on tribal land.

The Rumsey Band has used gaming revenues to diversify its economy beyond gaming. Today, the nation also runs the Brooks Mountain View Mini Mart, operates agricultural enterprises and a service station, and manages a diverse investment portfolio, which includes significant real estate holdings. The tribal government commits virtually all of its revenues from these economic activities to providing essential services for its people, such as roads, health care, housing and education.

A Return to Self-Sufficiency

The hope and optimism sparked by the success of Indian gaming at Rumsey have provided the first opportunity in over a century for a future that holds the same self-sufficiency enjoyed by tribal members in the past. Today, with the new opportunities for economic self-sufficiency and independence provided by gaming, no member of the Rumsey Band receives government financial assistance. Rumsey tribal members are united again and have become free from their dependence on Federal programs. Business decisions are made thoughtfully as they were in the past. That is, tribal leaders contemplate the impact of business actions on the next seven generations. Success in Indian gaming means a return to self-sufficiency for the Rumsey Band, a return that has been nearly 100 years in the making.

According to Paula Lorenzo,  the Tribal Chair of the Rumsey Indian Rancheria, "Tribal gaming is now making the dream of Indian self-reliance come true. In many ways, our dreams are the same as everyone’s- the dream of a home, the ability to provide for our children, decent healthcare, and even the dream of college educations. We are finally participating in the American Dream, bettering ourselves and the lives of non-Indians alike."

Written by Kate Spilde, Ph.D. February, 2001

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