Staff Spotlight: Greg Sarris

April 4, 2014
Sonoma State Star

Many people know Greg Sarris as Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and one of the key individuals involved in the opening of the new Graton Rancheria Casino. However, the novelist, screen writer and teacher is trying to show his commitment for improving the quality of classes at Sonoma State as well as giving back to the community that he calls home.

There has been a lot of press covering the process of the Graton Rancheria Casino. Many differing opinions have been presented on the positive and negative effects of the casino on the city of Rohnert Park. Traffic, drugs and prostitution were three factors brought up by opponents of the casino’s construction.

“As far as I can see, the casino has not caused any of these things to happen in this city,” said Sarris. “I only see the opportunity for the tribe to give back to the community.”

There are many projects that the Graton Rancheria tribe is trying to accomplish in the coming year that have not been as advertised in existing press. The first and possibly most beneficial to families in the surrounding areas is a restoration project that will take place in the 250 acres behind the existing casino. This will be the first opportunity for the tribe to give back to a community that may have doubts about the philanthropic work promised by the tribe. This endeavor includes a two prong project which will include the restoration of the land to its original and untouched form and the building of the farm over 50 acres. The restoration project will focus on keeping the water clean in the existing lagoon and the preservation of species indigenous to the area.

“We want to restore the land back to what it looked like when our ancestors used to live here,” said Sarris. “We are the keepers of the land and therefore we need to show the community that we care about preserving it.”

There are also plans to work with the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, in building a large barn on the farm where workshops will take place to teach people about restoring soil, how to plant oak groves, ways to clean water, different methods for planting and how to rotate crops. There are also plans to have vegetable stands and chicken hotels on the property where people can come buy fresh veggies and eggs and take them straight home to the dinner table.

The tribe also has plans to set up produce stands in different neighborhoods throughout the community to sell the veggies grown on the farm to low-income families. The tribe hopes to break ground on this project in March.

Furthermore, as soon as their debt is paid from the casino construction, the tribe has plans to donate funds to Sonoma County to go towards the restoration and upkeep of parks as well as schools at a substantial $25 million a year.

“We hope that about $12 million of those funds will go straight to the schools in Sonoma County,” said Sarris. “We truly are trying to show our community that we are invested.”

The tribe plans to hire undocumented workers and low risk prisoners to work on the acreage with the opportunity for full benefits and the same pay as those currently working in the casino. Outside of his work as chairman of the tribe, Sarris also holds the only Endowed Chair at Sonoma State in Writing and Native American Studies.

“I believe that leading and teaching use many of the same skills, but it is important for me to keep the two hats separate,” said Sarris.

Sarris is teaching two creative writing classes, an American Literature class and a Native American Studies this semester.

“I love teaching the creative writing classes. Creative writing gives the students the opportunity to write their own memoirs and write their own stories,” said Sarris.

Sarris’ uses his official positions as chairman of the tribe and the Endowed Chair in Writing and Native American Studies to change the mentality towards the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. He teaches about his tribe’s history and culture in the classroom while simultaneously leading the tribe in preserving its future history and culture.