San Manuel Elects Ken Ramirez as Chairman

Ken Ramirez was elected Chairman after having served five terms as Tribal Secretary for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

Leadership is switching hands for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Business Committee.

Former Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena, who served three consecutive terms as Chairwoman, from 2014 to 2020, is succeeded by Mr. Kenneth Ramirez. 

Newly appointed Chairman Ramirez and other Business Committee members were sworn in today by San Manuel Chief Justice Claudette C. White. The new Tribal leaders began their terms this week.

Ramirez was elected Chairman after having served five terms as Tribal Secretary. He serves on the San Manuel Education Committee and actively promotes access to healthcare and education for all through his work with Loma Linda University Health and other nonprofit partners in the Inland Empire region. He also leads the operating committee for First Nations Experience (FNX), the nation’s first Native American and World Indigenous Peoples television channel.

“I am deeply humbled and honored by this opportunity to serve as Chairman and give my commitment to serve diligently to enhance the rights, opportunities and expectations for all San Manuel Tribal Citizens, our families, and our community,” said Chairman Ramirez. “We have the privilege of extending a positive presence throughout the region with the benefits of the Tribe’s economic impacts, our intergovernmental partnerships, and our strategic philanthropy. These are all made possible because we heed the call to Yawa’, and act on our beliefs.”

READ MORE: San Manuel’s $9M Gift Catalyzes Tribal Gaming & Law Programs at UNLV

More Tribal Casinos Step Up With Food Donations to Alleviate Burden of COVID-19

Ms. Latisha Casas was re-elected to the office of Treasurer for the Tribe. As Treasurer, her responsibilities include protecting the Tribe’s overall financial interests into the future and serving on the Investment Board. She was re-elected to her fourth term on the Business Committee as Treasurer after having served an initial term from 2012 – 2016. Her most recent term began in 2018. Casas has also been a member of the Investment Board since it was established in 2008.

Ms. Latisha Casas was re-elected to the office of Treasurer for the Tribe. (Photo Courtesy San Manuel Band of Mission Indians)

Mr. Johnny Hernandez, Jr., was re-elected to the Business Committee as an At-Large member for a second term. During his first term on the Business Committee, he took leadership of cultural, education and business issues for the Tribe. He was elected Chairman of the Education Committee in 2019. Hernandez played a leading role on behalf of the Tribe in founding the Cultural Awareness Working Group (CAWG) with other Tribal citizens. The CAWG works to perpetuate the learning and sharing of Serrano Tribal language, culture, traditions and practices among San Manuel Tribal citizens, team members and the public at large.

Ms. Alexis Manzano was elected Vice Chair of the Judiciary Committee. Ramirez acknowledged her election by stating that the Tribe welcomes her energy and commitment as she blazes new paths for the upcoming generation of San Manuel citizens. Manzano has been a member of Articles of Association Working Group since its inception helping to update the Tribe’s governing documents and advancing San Manuel’s unique form of governance through the development of tribal codes, authorities and policy frameworks.   

Mr. Johnny Hernandez, Jr., was re-elected to the Business Committee as an At-Large member for a second term.

According to a Tribal press release, “San Manuel continues to pursue mutually beneficial relationships with other communities and jurisdictions through partnerships across its vast aboriginal lands, which encompass the majority of present-day San Bernardino County. The Tribe positively impacts the greater community through strategic philanthropy and working with nonprofit organizations and community groups that serve communities throughout the county.” 

The San Manuel Band’s Diversified Economy 

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians is ushering in a shift, or shuffle, in leadership at an uncertain and strenuous time for Tribal Nations across the country: in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic. 

The San Manuel economy has long been anchored by San Manuel Casino — a powerhouse in the Southern California gaming industry. A 2016 economic impact report found that San Manuel Casino and the Tribal government were among the largest employers in San Bernardino County, supporting more than 4,900 employees and generating more than $1 billion in annual economic activity in the San Bernardino region. In addition to its casino enterprise, the Tribe owns or maintains partial ownership of four hotels: fully owning the Bear Springs Hotel in Highland; with partial ownership of the Draftsman in Charlottesville, Virginia; and the Tribe has a partnership stake in two Marriott Hotel Residence Inn properties — one in Sacramento, near the California State Capitol, and another near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

READ MORE: San Manuel Casino Sponsors Raiders, Becomes Founding Partner of NFL Team’s Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas

After hospitality, real estate clocks a close second as a significant economic generator for the San Manuel Band. Among Tribal real estate holdings are office buildings in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento. San Manuel Village within the City of Highland is a 12-acre, mixed-use development of the Tribe. Multiple professional office buildings at San Manuel Village are leased out; the village boasts an urgent care facility, restaurants, Bear Springs Hotel and more. 

It remains to be seen how Indian Country at large, or the small but mighty San Manuel Tribe of approximately 250 people, including 130 youth, will weather the coronavirus pandemic or pivot its portfolio beyond its primarily land-based offerings — or how new leadership might navigate the times. But one thing is for certain: the Yuhaaviatam, or People of the Pines, are resilient and adaptable. The Serrano people — who once covered a sizeable portion of Southern California, an estimated 7.3 million acres, extending to East Los Angeles, up to the high desert, and down to Twenty-Nine Palms — have a strong sense for economic opportunity, and the self-determination to pursue it.

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