Courtesy Barona Band of Mission Indians
Clifford M. LaChappa, chairman of the Barona Band of Mission Indians.

Clifford M. LaChappa, Chairman: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

Dennis Zotigh
August 09, 2013


In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of the Native peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Clifford M. LaChappa, chairman of the Barona Band of Mission Indians

What responsibilities do you have as chairman? 

I consider my main responsibility to be providing for the general welfare of all tribal members, including children, who are the future of our people. Our Tribal Council also manages the band's various businesses and departments.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your band? 

Culturally, our people have always looked after one another. When the opportunity to engage in high stakes bingo and ultimately casino-style gaming came along, I was on the tribal council, and we saw it as an opportunity to help look after our people, especially our elders and youth. In addition, my years in college taught me the basics of running a business. I spent 26 years at a local utility company. I started as a laborer and worked my way up to management, thus developing my business leadership skills.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

Viejas Chairman Anthony Pico, a U.S. Army paratrooper in Vietnam and distinguished advocate for tribal sovereignty who has led his people with honor and dignity for many years.

Where is the Barona Band of Mission Indians located?

Rural eastern San Diego County, California.

Where was your band originally from?

Prior to the creation of the Barona Indian Reservation, our people lived on the Capitan Grande Reservation, which was established by the federal government in 1875. Long before living on a reservation, our ancestors traveled across Southern California in tune with the seasons and what nature provided.

Does the Barona Band have a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

Tribal elders are respected for their knowledge and wisdom and are often consulted on custom and tradition.

What is a significant point in history from your band that you would like to share?

As with all Native people, there are many significant points in our history, but one that changed our path not too long ago was when the City of San Diego purchased our original reservation in 1932 to build a water reservoir. Our people were removed from their land and forced to find a new home. With the guidance of then Chief Ramon Ames, our people pooled their money together and purchased what is today known as our home, the Barona Indian Reservation.

Approximately how many members are in your band?

There are approximately 500 members, with approximately 300 over the age of 18.

What are the criteria to become a member of your band?

Our membership requirement is through blood quantum. Each member is required to have one-eighth Barona blood.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers? 

Over the last 20 years, with the economic success of our people, we have had the privilege of protecting our language through the creation of a 297-page dictionary. Our goal is for all of our tribal members to become fluent speakers, and with that in mind we provide language classes for our community. 

To read the full interview with Barona Band of Mission Indians Chairman Clifford M. LaChappa visit the NMAI series here.