'They wasted a lot of money'

  • Mary Belardo

    Michelle Nijhuis photo

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Mary Belardo is chairwoman of the Torres-Martinez Band of Desert Cahuilla Indians. The Torres-Martinez still own land under the sea, but a bill now in Congress would allow the band to purchase 11,800 high-and-dry acres closer to the towns of Indio and Palm Springs. The tribe plans to open a casino on the new land.

Mary Belardo: "I'm not afraid to speak up, and a lot of our people are shy. They wanted someone to speak up for them, to speak up for them and do for them, and I thought I was a good person for the job.

"We really haven't had a hands-on participation, but we've been going to meetings, listening to what Bureau of Reclamation and the (Salton Sea) Authority have to say. We trusted that they were going to really do a thorough job, but since the (restoration plan) came out, I think they wasted a lot of money. They don't deal with issues of the shrinkage of the sea, they don't deal with water transfers. There's a lot of issues in there that aren't addressed. It's just kind of like a faìade to please the Congress so that they can get more money to throw away, but I don't think they're going to get away with it this time. Not only is the tribe putting together a comprehensive analysis of the (plan), but the citizens who live down there are furious.

"I live on the reservation, and sometimes at night it's the most beautiful thing to see those birds flying over in formation and quacking as they go along. I just love that. I would hate for anything to happen to that. Those of us that are older really do have the appreciation (for the sea); we were around when the sea was healthier and alive, but I was disturbed to hear one of our younger people say that he's never even been to the sea, and he's lived down here most of his young life. Now we're organizing a tour to take the young people down to the sea and show them what all this is that everyone's talking about. So some things are springing forth because of the sea."

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