The Wilton Rancheria has a new tribal chair: Jesus Tarango. He was elected by his tribe on June 13 to replace his cousin, Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock, who held that office for two consecutive terms.
In the Wilton Rancheria’s tribal government, the term of the chair is four years, and chairs traditionally do not hold their position for more than two terms.
Tarango, 40, has been a member of his tribe’s government for the past four years, serving on the council before being elected as the vice chair in 2018. He referred to the role of the tribal chair as the “steward of the people.”
“You are inheriting all of your people and it’s your job and duty to ensure that you’re trying to protect their rights, trying to promote the people,” Tarango said. “As far as the day-to-day stuff here, (we’re) overseeing all our different departments that we have, and everything that has to do with fiscal. We have to create budgets; we have to get budgets passed. And the chairman here takes on the managerial duties.”
Tarango noted that he is also strengthening his understanding on contractual details pertaining to the tribe’s proposed, $500 million casino-resort in Elk Grove.
The project site is located on 35.9 acres at Highway 99 and Kammerer Road on property that was placed into a federal trust for the tribe three years ago.
Hitchcock told the Citizen in May that complications stemming from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic delayed the beginning of construction on that project.
Tarango said that, although the project continues to be on hold, he remains optimistic.
“We’re hopeful and optimistic that there may be an opportunity later this year or early next year (to have a groundbreaking),” he said. “It really depends on how the market is doing. But we’re still doing our work behind the scenes, trying to prepare for that day to come.”
In his role as the tribe’s new chair, Tarango mentioned that his most important goal is “getting a shovel in the ground” on that project.
“I think the casino for my people means everything,” he said. “What the casino could do is promote self-sufficiency for our people. It also solidifies our existence into the future, because it’s going to give us the ability to get us up to speed, that we’re at least competing at the same level.”
At whatever time the casino-resort project begins, it is projected by the tribe that the project will be opened about 18 months after its groundbreaking.
Beyond his regular work for his tribe, Tarango hopes to collaborate with other tribal leaders to benefit the state’s 111 tribes as a whole.
“To me, we’re all one people,” he said. “If all 111 tribes fought for the same rights and put our voices as one voice representing California, I think indigenous people of this state could do some great things.”
In addition to his role as the tribal chair, Tarango is employed by FedEx Ground as a sort manager. He has been with that company for the past 20 years.
Growing up in
As a lifelong Sacramento County resident, Tarango grew up in south Sacramento as one of the four children of Jesus and Mary Tarango.
“I’m a junior,” he said pertaining to his sharing of his father’s name.
Tarango noted that he was raised with the understanding of the necessity of preserving his native culture.
“We grew up speaking our language (Northern Sierra Miwok),” he said. “My grandpa and my uncle had a dance group that’s still around. We were part of the Bill Franklin’s Traditional Miwok Dance Group. Ever since we could walk, we’ve always been involved in our traditional ceremonies, dancing, singing.”
In 1997, Tarango graduated from Valley High School, and as a three-sport athlete at that institution, he was once named the male athlete of the year.
He earned a football scholarship from Morgan State University in Baltimore, and later played the game at Sacramento City College. Following his football playing days, he continued his studies at California State University, Sacramento.
Tarango currently resides in south Sacramento with his wife, Reina, and their six children. The family plans to move to Elk Grove “within the next year,” he said.