California Indian gaming activist dies at 76

A champion of Indian gaming rights in the United States died last month at a hospital near his home reservation in California.

Art Welmas led the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians to a landmark Supreme Court verdict supporting native gaming rights in the 1980s.

He died Dec. 17 at the age of 76 at an Escondido hospital near the Rincon Indian Reservation. A funeral service and wake were held at his family plot on the La Jolla Indian Reservation.

Many members of the small Cabazon band were living in poverty when Welmas became the tribal chairman in 1980. To create more economic opportunities, he spearheaded a move to open a 25-table poker room on the reserve.

But police soon shut down the operation, claiming it broke state law. Under Welmas' guidance, the Cabazon people decided to go to bat for their right to regulate gambling on Indian land, and won a Supreme Court battle on those grounds in 1987.

Welmas was an important leader who knew the fight was worth it to bring prosperity to reservations across the U.S., friends and colleagues have stated to local media.

The Cabazon Band of Mission Indians now runs a $200 million hotel and casino and has plans to add a golf course to the resort.

Welmas is survived by his wife, children and a large extended family.

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