Belardes is No Chief, Says Last 'Real' Juaneno Chief's Grandson

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As reported here, the tribal council of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation does not believe Chief David Belardes, who leads a rival tribal faction across town in San Juan Capistrano, is a Juaneño nor does chairman Anthony Rivera's group recognize other factions. So, naturally, the council also does not consider Belardes a chief.

It's an issue that hits home--literally--for the council's secretary-treasurer, Christopher Lobo, whose grandfather, Clarence Lobo (pictured), was the longtime chief of the tribe before passing away at age 73 in 1985.

"I try to keep my personal feelings out of it," Chris Lobo, 24, tells the Weekly. "Clarence Lobo felt if he couldn't help his people, he would not hurt them. He would not throw them under a bus. That the big difference between what Belardes has done the last 20 or 30 years proclaiming to be the leader of our people. This is not Belardes versus my grandfather. They are not even comparable. I have to live up to my grandfather and the kind of person he was."

Lobo and other members of the tribal council have accused Belardes of often leading in secret and cutting deals with land developers without the consent or knowledge of tribal members. Abuses of power led previous members of the tribal council to remove Belardes as leader in 1997, Rivera said. Belardes claims he refused to participate in an election called by supporters of a future Juaneño casino and later resigned from the tribe. Others followed Belardes, they formed their own group and Belardes was later elevated to chief.

The Lobo and Belardes styles are much different, according to Chris Lobo. 

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"What my grandfather did was represent his people for more than 50 years in a respectful way," said Lobo, who is shown ringing a bell for Juaneño ancestors at the Feb. 6 Day of Remembrance at Mission San Juan Capistrano.

"He dealt with issues for Indian people all over California to the level where they would get recognition and be recognized as citizens with all the rights. . . . When he came into a room, congressmen and senators knew he meant business. That's my feeling of what a chief is. [Belardes] is not even close, and we all know it."

Chris Lobo expressed pride in having descended from Clarence Lobo. "He did not run around with a title or put on a head dress, which is holy, to play a part and get noticed," said Lobo, intimating that Belardes is playing a part. "My dad says you can lie in a chicken coop for 20 years, but it doesn't make you a chicken."

Chris Lobo was 12 when the tribal council he now sits on removed Belardes. The Lobo family has been involved in tribal leadership for more than 100 years, he said.

Joyce Perry, the tribal manager of Belardes' group and one who most certainly considers Belardes a chief, points out that the Belardeses and the Lobos have a long history of leaderhship in the Juaneño tribe.

"David's father was an assistant to Clarence in funding and community building," she said. "They have had alliances and disputes. After Clarence passed away and no family members came forward to fill the void, the Belardes clan moved our community forward."

Perry said Chris Lobo is too young to know such tribal history. "Chris was a child, and his aunt and his grandmother were great supporters of David. . . . Chris is a young man, and he has a lot to learn."

Lobo says the story he has been told by family members is that they were approached by Belardes seeking the Lobo family's endorsement of his leadership position but was rejected. As far as they are concerned, Clarence Lobo was the last Juaneño chief and there has not been another since.

The tribal council shares the same position. "The people have not elected one," Rivera said.

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