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Writing the Perfect Story

Greg Sarris, Chairman, Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria

Writing the Perfect Story

The association Greg Sarris has had with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria spans more than 30 years, but in some ways, he is just getting started. Sarris has been chairman for 16 consecutive elected terms and oversees all business negotiations and the daily operations of the tribe.

Sarris’ odyssey began in the 1990s when, as an assistant professor at UCLA, he was involved in reorganizing the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria. In 1992, Sarris managed to get legislation before Congress for the tribe to get federal recognition.

“We were not federally recognized, and then I proceeded to co-author a bill that after about eight years I was able to get through Congress and have President Clinton sign on December 27, 2000, three weeks before he went out of office, restoring our rights as a federally recognized tribe,” Sarris says.

After that successful reorganization, Sarris, who wears many hats with the tribe, worked on establishing the Graton Resort and Casino. The facility, located 48 miles north of San Francisco in Rhonert Park, opened in 2013.

“At the time we began our casino resort project, I also was appointed president of the Graton Economic Development Authority Board, overseeing the daily operations and decisions of the business,” Sarris says. “That is now in addition to my work as tribal chairman overseeing the daily operations of our many tribal programs.”

The tribe recently announced the casino and resort is expanding. Included in the $1 billion redesign is a new five-story hotel wing with more than 200 rooms, a 28,000-square-foot rooftop restaurant with indoor/outdoor seating for 480 guests, a five-level parking structure, and a 3,500-seat theater.

The scope of the project is far-reaching, says Sarris.

“We are hoping, of course, that the impact will be significant,” he says. “We will have up to twice as many Class III slot machines for a total of approximately 6,000. We expect that these additions will greatly boost revenues. We will also be employing approximately 800 more people, which will provide more jobs, making us clearly the largest employer and economic force in Sonoma County.”

His work was noticed by California Governor Gavin Newsom, who appointed him to the University of California Board of Regents. It is an honor Sarris cherishes.

“I discovered that it actually requires a lot of work, as the Board of UC Regents makes decisions about so much of what happens in the world’s largest and most prestigious public higher education system,” Sarris says. “I am very much interested in focusing on recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty and student body. There are many challenges that need to be dealt with in such a large system, everything from the numerous patents that the university holds to the operations of six outstanding hospitals.”

With all of his duties, Sarris still maintains his love of literature. He has written many novels and has garnered inspiration from his Native American heritage. His upcoming novel, The Forgetters, centers on the Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo community.

“I did not read a book until 11th grade of high school, but I listened to the stories of my elders, which ultimately influenced my love of literature and storytelling,” Sarris notes.

“Quite ironically, when I first began to study, it was so that I might become a businessman and make money to take care of myself. But along the way, as I sat on those lonely nights reading under a light bulb in my mother’s house, the stories that I was reading for my English classes reminded me so much of the stories elders and others in my Native community told. I thought to myself I could write some of these stories, and that I guess that is how it all started and continues.”

The tribe’s journey is a story that is still being written, and Sarris is the author.

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