A tiny, casino-owning Native American tribe in Northern California has pursued an unusual strategy to boost revenue: adoption. The Alturas Indian Rancheria in Modoc County has adopted five members—two of whom are non-Indian—in recent years, the Sacramento Bee reports. The new members came with ambitious plans to make money, including a cigarette manufacturing plant and second casino. But the plans fizzled out, and the adopted members have contributed to conflict within the tribe, the Bee notes. The adoption of non-Indian people by a Native American tribe is unusual and raises concerns, experts said. "It's not necessarily against the law to adopt a white person. But if there's no historical connection to the tribe, it sounds like a scam to take advantage of their membership for business reasons and manipulate the tribal government," a top tribal lawyer tells the Bee.
The rancheria has between three and seven members (depending on who's counting), making it one of the smallest of 566 federally recognized tribes. Siblings Phillip and Wendy Del Rosa are the only two current tribe members who can trace their bloodline to an original rancheria member; they adopted new members they believed would help them diversify their investments. One of the adoptees is Calvin Phelps, a white cigarette manufacturer from North Carolina who was sentenced to 40 months in prison in 2014 on federal fraud charges. Phillip Del Rosa said he adopted Phelps and another man partly to stop another adoptee from taking over the tribe, but now Del Rosa and his sister are feuding and have formed alliances with adoptees, per the Bee. At stake: $2 million a year or so in revenue, including $700,000 a year from the tribe's Desert Rose Casino. "We didn't know what we were doing," Wendy Del Rosa says. "We should never have adopted anybody into the tribe." (Read more Native American stories.)