Birth: Dec. 4, 1942, Banning, Riverside County, California, USA
Death: Mar. 12, 2012, Rancho Mirage, Riverside County, California, USA
Born to an Indian mother and Serbian father, Richard M. Milanovich grew up in poverty in Palm Springs, living in a shack and receiving government handouts of surplus food. He served as in infantryman in the United States Army from 1960-1963, and later returned to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Reservation to engage in tribal politics. Eventually he was elected Chairman of the Band in 1984, and became a major figure in the development of casino operations on Indian land in the region and California. Through his vision and leadership, the Agua Caliente Band became the most prosperous group of Indians in the United States, and were able to make major contributions to the economy of the Palm Springs area. As Chairman, he was invited to the White House to consult with the President and other political officials. California Governor Jerry Brown, Congresswoman Mary Bono-Mack, Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, and Tribal Chairpersons from throughout California all eulogized Chairman Milanovich at the memorial service held in his honor held at the Palm Springs Convention Center. He was buried in a service attended by family and close friends..
From Find A Grave
A Memorial Tribute for Milanovich From Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
Lydia Kremer, March 16, 2012
The following is a memorial tribute in honor of Chairman Richard Milanovich on behalf of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.
Chairman Richard M. Milanovich, December 4, 1942 – March 11, 2012
Our community and the country have lost a courageous lion-hearted leader. A powerful voice for an entire culture will continue to be heard through the mystical whispers of time.
Once in a generation comes a leader who demonstrates the character of true greatness – courage, humility and selflessness. Richard Milanovich, tribal chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, was that kind of leader. He’s had the courage to take a stand against withering opposition in Washington and fight for all Native Americans. He possessed the humility to understand that his leadership was the legacy of his ancestors; and he took selfless risks that had inherent perils for potentially significant rewards for his people.
As the Tribal Chairman for nearly 30 years, Richard Milanovich has an extraordinary legacy. The story of his remarkable and courageous leadership is the substance of historical biographies, rare to witness in modern times. As the head of a sovereign nation, the passing of Chairman Richard Milanovich is akin to the loss of any head of state. His towering stature among Native Indian tribes across the country and within the halls of power in state and federal government is inestimable.
He served on the Tribal Council since 1978 and became Tribal Chairman in 1984. He was the inspirational leader of his people for over three decades while shaping the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians into one of the most politically prominent Native Indian tribes in the United States.
Although his position was chairman of a sovereign nation, effectively equivalent of a president or a prime minister, he preferred to be called Richard. He had a bottomless depth of empathy for people and was enormously gifted in navigating diplomacy of every level. His spirit of generosity and the integrity of his character were truly awe-inspiring.
He would surely bristle at these words of praise. He characteristically deflects credit for his accomplishments. While he would be the first to admit that he wasn’t a perfect human being, he was driven to make a difference and, of course, he did so in no small measure. “I don’t do what I do for recognition. The satisfaction I get is more than sufficient knowing I had a hand in meaningful decisions that have been good for the tribal members and the community,” he has stated. He has successfully planted his people firmly on a path to self-sufficiency into the 21st century.
Richard also believed the tribe should give back to the community and be an active partner. The cooperative relationship he crafted between the tribe and the City of Palm Springs was the first of its kind involving two governmental entities working hand in hand and it became a model throughout Indian country.
Consolidating a Tribal Community
The important tribal and community projects that he has presided over are numerous:
- The 1992 Cooperative Management Agreement with the State of California for the establishment (and protection) of the Indian Canyons Heritage Park;
- The Cooperative Agreement with the Department of Interior for the co-management of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa National Monument in 1999;
- The historic Land Use Agreements with the City of Cathedral City, the County of Riverside and the City of Rancho Mirage;
- The purchase of the Spa Hotel in 1992; the addition of the Spa Resort Casino in 1995; development and construction of the Agua Caliente Casino in 2001, as well as the opening of the new $90 million Spa Resort Casino in 2003 and the Spa Hotel’s Well Spirit Fitness Center in 2004.
These projects and enterprises have brought a much-needed boost to the Palm Springs and Coachella Valley economy, but more important to the tribe itself. The revenue generated by tribal developments has allowed the tribe to develop self-sufficiency through education, cultural preservation, housing and health care programs.
In addition to this string of achievements, he also oversaw the construction and opening of the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa’s new hotel and expansion in 2008, followed by the completion of the tribe’s entertainment venue, The Show, in February of 2009.
Due to his substantial influence, Richard Milanovich has met with President George W. Bush and recently with President Barack Obama, as well as governors and major leaders of industry. But it was his common touch that has made him such a popular national figure. To be with him was to be in the presence of greatness. His warm magnanimous spirit and his deep respect for our common humanity have charmed everyone he encountered and disarmed the most recalcitrant politician. His sense of humor is legendary and his bellowing laughter infectious. To call him a friend was a privilege and an honor.
Fulfilling His Destiny
Richard came by his commitment to serve his people by familial influence. His maternal grandfather, Richard Amado Miguel, farmed the land of the reservation; Richard thereby inherited his devotion and respect for the land. He also followed in the footsteps of his mother, LaVerne Saubel, who served on the tribe’s only all-women tribal council that successfully lobbied Congress in 1957 in a landmark bill that passed Tribal Constitution By-Laws. This bill gave the Agua Caliente Tribe the authority for the first time to form a governing Tribal Council. La Verne Way in South Palm Springs is named after his mother.
His father, Steve Milanovich, was Serbian by birth which explains the unusual name for a tribal chief. Richard was born in 1942 on the Soboba Reservation in nearby San Jacinto. As his mother and father divorced when Richard was a boy, he was mostly raised by his mother. He and his sister Virginia grew up in what is known as the Section 14 area of Palm Springs, a hardscrabble piece of the Reservation that now houses some of Palm Springs’ glamorous hotels. He attended Cahuilla Elementary and Palm Springs High School.
Before serving on the tribal council and ascending to the chairmanship, Richard’s aspirations were not grand and his youth was fairly unexceptional with little indication that he would rise to such prominence. Richard served in the United States Army from 1960 to 1963. After his military service, he attended community college in Los Angeles and worked in retail. “My dream at the time was to have a men’s haberdashery, a fine men’s clothier.” Despite his life’s path taking him in a more meaningful direction, Richard always remained a handsome fashion plate with a flair for style.
He returned to Palm Springs in 1972 and ran unsuccessfully for tribal council three times before finally being elected in 1978 with the most votes ever at that time. It was his chance to carry on his mother’s work and fulfill her legacy.
For the next 20 years, Richard devoted himself to tribal affairs. In 1994, he returned to school to fulfill a life-long ambition to earn his college degree. He proudly received a Bachelor of Science in Business and Management from the University of Redlands in 1996.
A Large Shadow
In addition to his duties as tribal chairman, Richard serves as the Chairman of the Advisory Committee to the Office of Special Trustee for the U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees the federal government’s fiduciary responsibilities to manage tribal trust funds. In 2004, he was appointed to the Native American Stewardship Committee for the prestigious Autry National Center. In addition, he has served as a member of the Bureau of Land Management’s California Desert Advisory Council, and the Native American Heritage Commission.
During his tenure, he has received countless awards, honors and commendations. Among some of the most notable was the Bureau of Land Management’s Legacy of Land Award given by the Department of Interior in 1999. He also received the Palm Springs Area Boy Scouts Distinguished Citizen of the Year in 2000, and the Stroke Recovery Center’s Man of the Year in 2003, just to name a very few.
For all of the accolades, Richard’s feet always remained firmly planted on the ground. He had a deep spiritual connection to the Indian Canyons, his cultural roots, and to the tribe’s traditions which he has nurtured and passed on. Richard was truly a giant who will join his tribe’s lineage of great spiritual and cultural leaders.
A Leader by Example
“Through his charisma he has cemented all the ties that we needed,” says his older sister Virginia. Richard was humble but a dynamic communicator. While he was a man of few words, he chose his words carefully and his language was eloquent. He also had an uncanny ability to powerfully convey volumes with just the subtlest of expressions or the smallest of gestures. Those subtle messages were often the final say.
While Palm Springs has been home to the Agua Caliente Indians for thousands of years, the tribe’s reservation is laid out in a checkerboard pattern and was formally formed in sections. On May 15, 1876, Section 14 and a portion of Section 22 (Tahquitz Canyon) were set aside by Executive Order of President Ulysses S. Grant as the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. On September 29, 1877, other sections were added.
However, more than 50 years passed before allotment elections were approved by the Secretary of the Interior and individual Indian allotments were set aside. The Equalization Act was passed September 21, 1959 and granted the tribe certain lands for tribal use and cemeteries. To fully understand Chairman Milanovich, one has to appreciate the tribe’s long history of struggles to secure rights to their reservation. The existing 31,500-acre reservation is mostly based in Palm Springs but extends into parts of Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage and portions of unincorporated Riverside County. Richard loved the land of his people and was a fierce steward of it.
Despite the enormous amount of land, until recently, most Agua Caliente Tribal members lived in poverty. Under Richard’s leadership, the tribal developments he helped implement have ensured a more secure future for his tribal members.
His tribal family of over 400 members inspired his tremendous dedication. But he was most devoted to his children and his immediate family. The chairman has been married to his wife, Melissa, for 35 years. He has six children Tammy, Sean, Travis, Scott, Trista, and Reid. He is also survived by his sister Virginia, four grandchildren and a large extended family.
When he was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, he did not let it get in his way. He had a legacy to fulfill. Two weeks after undergoing surgery, Richard was back in tribal council chambers to attend the swearing in of the newly elected 2010 Tribal Council.
For his unprecedented tenure as tribal chairman and his enormous contributions to his tribe and to the community of Palm Springs, Richard was honored at Dinner in the Canyons in October 2011. The annual major fundraising event for the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum is held outdoors on the tribe’s stunning sacred ancestral grounds of Andreas Canyon. It was a fitting tribute and one that moved him visibly.
In a video tribute, his eldest son Sean recalled his father teaching him about the tribe’s culture and the beauty of the land. “I want to follow in your footsteps,” he added. The chairman’s work is certain to be continued by a third generation of Milanovich leadership.
The Agua Caliente Tribe has a beautifully poignant proverb that reflects a universal truism:
Through you, my ancient people, I am.
Richard Milanovich lived by those words and has now joined the ancient people whose beautiful spirits will continue to inspire the generations to follow. He has left his imprint on our hearts.
Through him, we are.
Loss of Milanovich Felt From Coast to Coast
Brian Daffron, March 14, 2012
The influence of Richard Milanovich can be seen and felt in many areas of Indian country. Whether someone is an advocate for tribal sovereignty, casino expansion, the environment or for the humanity of cancer or AIDS patients, Richard Milanovich would have been in his or her corner. Therefore, when Indian country loses a man whose interests and concerns were as varied and diverse as Milanovich, it is a loss that cannot truly ever be replaced.
Milanovich, 69, who served as chairman of the Palm Springs, California-based Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians for nearly 30 years, died March 11, 2012 of cancer.
His contributions include helping raise the Agua Caliente people from poverty to a political and economic power in California through gaming revenues and eventual economic diversification. Along the way, Milanovich’s administration opened the Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs in 1995 and the Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage in 2001. He was also influential, in 1999, with hammering out the details of a tribal gaming compact with the state of California under the administration of Gov. Gray Davis.
Milanovich’s other contributions include serving as chairman of the Advisory Committee to the Office of Special Trustee to the U.S. Department of the Interior; an advocate with the Desert AIDS Project; a supporter of “Hike 4 Hope” to support women’s cancer programs; and a member of the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy.
Outside of Milanovich’s family, no one would have felt the impact of Milanovich’s passing closer than the people of Agua Caliente. Jeff L. Grubbe, who is now the acting chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Tribal Council, said, “there was no one like Chairman Milanovich. He was a great teacher, an inspirational mentor, and most of all, a friend. We were fortunate to have his experience, wise counsel and incredible foresight for so long. Chairman Milanovich strongly believed that our younger members of the tribe must understand the battles that were fought and won. Only through understanding our past can we forge a progressive future for our people and the generations to come.”
Other California tribal leaders also shared in Grubbe’s sense of loss. James Ramos, the chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, said that Milanovich “was an inspiration to all Native Americans, especially to young people as he encouraged up and coming Native leaders to prepare themselves to lead not only their own tribal nations, but to reach beyond our tribal reservations with participation and involvement at all levels.”
David Roosevelt, the chairman of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, said that Milanovich “brought stability and progress to his people. His long-term leadership cannot be replaced. His candor and presence will be sorely missed. His experience, guidance, and relationships with friends, colleagues, and family, will be his legacy for his people for years to come. The Cahuilla nation, in its entirety, mourns the loss of one of our leaders.”
Outside of California, condolences were expressed from other tribal leaders as well. Bill John Baker, the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, said that Milanovich “was a statesman, a leader, a visionary, a diplomat and, most importantly, a friend to those who had the pleasure to work with him during his 30 years as leader for his people.”
Milanovich’s passing also hits home in Washington, D.C., where the heads of federal agencies will miss his presence and experience. Larry Echo Hawk, Pawnee, the assistant secretary of Indian Affaris, expressed his condolences to Indian country as a whole.
“The news of Chairman Milanovich’s passing has deeply touched all of us here at Interior and throughout Indian country who knew him as a leader, friend or colleague,” said Echo Hawk. “He was one of the most down to earth and personable leaders that I have ever known. We honor him with our sincerest gratitude for all that he has contributed in service to his people, other tribal nations and to Indian country at large.”
One of the most personal expressions of sympathy comes from Kevin Gover, Pawnee, the director of the National Museum of the American Indian and a former assistant secretary for Indian Affairs.
“His loss is quite personal for me,” said Gover. “I’ve known Richard for a number of years, and consider him a good friend. While I was at the Interior Department in the late 1990s, Richard was someone to whom I always listened carefully. He was a vigorous advocate for the Cahuilla people and for all Native people. His advocacy was always conducted with grace, good humor, and sound reason … His respect for tradition and history was always evident and his commitment to remembering our history and protecting our traditions was deep.
“Few command admiration,” Gover concluded. “Richard is one. I admired him very much. I always looked forward to our visits, knowing I would feel better about the world just for having spent a while talking with him. I will miss him.”
Other reactions to Milanovich’s passing from around Indian country:
Ernie Stevens Jr., chairman National Indian Gaming Association
“We have lost a truly brilliant mind and a tireless warrior for all of Indian country. No one symbolized the ascendance of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians better than my friend and mentor Chairman Richard Milanovich. He was a man with a kind heart, who loved his people and led them from poverty to great success. His heartwarming leadership kindled a fire in all our hearts to serve Indian Country and protect Tribal Sovereignty. Richard was a man of the greatest integrity who will always be remembered as a leader with a strong work ethic and powerful presence, but who always remained humble and graceful to those around him. He was a dedicated and effective advocate of tribal sovereignty and self-sufficiency not only for the Agua Caliente people he served, but also for all of Indian country.
“I know we have all been touched by the legacy Richard will leave behind and he will truly be missed. I am honored to have worked and learned from this great warrior, leader, and teacher. While Indian country mourns the passing of Chairman Milanovich and celebrates his legacy, let us all remember to keep his wife Melissa and his six children close to our hearts. We will truly miss you Chairman and we will do our very best to carry on your work and your dreams."
Jefferson Keel, president National Congress of American Indians
“Richard was a personal friend, but more than that, he was a true champion for all Indian sovereignty and rights. Always true to his word and always willing to take the extra step to help others, his presence will truly be missed. On behalf of the entire NCAI organization and community, I offer our prayers and thoughts to the Milanovich family and the Agua Caliente Band.”
Jacqueline Pata, executive director National Congress of American Indians
“As a member of the board of NCAI, Chairman Milanovich shared with us his vision for a unified Indian country, united by strong coalitions and focused on the policies we needed to be engaged on. His vision for Indian country was paired with his keen business sense. As a nonprofit organization, he challenged us to become stronger than we had ever been. As a mentor he provided me with incredible insight and he will be greatly missed.”
Поглавица са српским геном
Ричард Милановић је један од најпознатијих Американаца српског порекла. Успешан бизнисмен, родитељ, први човек племена Агуа Калијенте своју особеност и енергију тумачио је идеалном комбинацијом српске и индијанске крви.
Ричард Милановић је био један од најпознатијих Американаца српског порекла. Бизнисмен, хотелијер, поглавица племена Агуа Калијенте, отац шесторо деце.
„Мој отац се звао Стеван. Његови родитељи су дошли из Загреба, то је хрватска територија. Населили су се у Кливленду, Гери, Индијани. Моја мајка је била у Лос Анђелесу у посети, а он се вратио у Гери где је радио у челичани. Био је камионџија. Рекао је да је срео и оженио индијанску принцезу, а онда је позван и отишао је у рат. После рата се преселио у Гери, ко зна зашто, али ја нисам познавао свог оца", рекао је Милановић.
До своје 15 године Ричард није видео оца док није отишао у Кливленд. Тамо упознао тетку Софију и њену децу Пеги и Пола. Иако нису били у контакту, Србин Стеван и Индијанка Лаверн Мигел нису се разводили све док се она није поново удала.
„Одрастао сам са мајчином родбином и на култури моје мајке, култури америчких Индијанаца. Моја мајка је била у племенском савету и била је међу првим женама која је примљена 1950-тих година у тај савез", казао је Милановић.
Ричард се после студија економије укључио у политику као председник племенског савета америчких Индијанаца од 1984.
„Ја сам 1977. ушао у племенски савет, дакле 3 пута сам био члан, по годину дана, и то је практично мандат. Онда сам био у неким двоструким мандатима као секретар. 1984. сам био изабран и од тада ме стално поново бирају", казао је Милановић.
Отворио је ланац хотела и казина, трговине и банку. Као представник свих Индијанаца у Америци, борио се у Белој кући за њихова права. Био је саветник калифорнијског гувернера Арнолда Шварценегера за индијанска питања и председавајући Комисије за очување наслеђа америчких староседелаца. 2007. магазин Бизнис прогласио га је најуспешнијим пословним човеком у националној коцкарској индустрији. На питање у чему је тајна снаге и енергије коју поседује, Ричард каже
„Углавном од оца. Мислим да је то управо комбинација те индијанске и српске крви. То је та идеална комбинација. Ја могу да се идентификујем са оба порекла. Знам понешто и о српском народу и о снази коју они имају, о томе како су поносни на то што јесу и како настављају да штите то што јесу. Штитите свој народ кад схватите шта се дешава. Ја штитим и своју индијанску и своју српску крв истовремено. Када сте Милановић, а председник сте индијанског племена, то увек изненади људе. Сада су научили ко сам, какав је мој глас и зашто је он важан.
Могао сам да будем и на вишој функцији. Због мог положаја у племену морам да будем у равнотежи између републиканаца и демократа. Могао бих да имам високо место у Републиканској партији да није тога. Ја врло ценим слоган Републиканске партије, а то је независност, самодовољност. Ако вам треба помоћ то је у реду, али можете и сами нешто да урадите, да будете самодовољни. Ја покушавам да пренесем то својим члановима, да кажем да могу углавном све да урадим сам. Демократе воле да вам дају ствари да задобију вашу наклоност, а то није добро. Треба да будемо самодовољни и независни, и зато сам републиканац", каже Милановић.
Као представник индијанске популације Ричард Милановић је одлазио у Белу кућу и састајао се са свим америчким председницима од Роналда Регана на даље. На питање да ли познаје Обаму, показује слику са америчким председником.
„Вероватно би требало да урамим ову слику..", коментарисао је Милановић.
Сусретање различитих култура и народа у генима индијанског Србина довело је до јединственог погледа на веру.
„Нисам православац, ја сам одгајан као католик, али ја нисам неки прави верник. Ја сам развио нека своја религиозна уверења која нису део неке организоване религије, нешто што је моје лично уверење и веровање. Било је више покушаја да се ангажујем у српској заједници овде и у Лос Анђелесу преко цркве, али то није могло у потпуности да се оствари. Међутим, седимо сада овде и причамо...", казао је Ричард Милановић.
Ричард је поносан на шесторо деце која су одгајана у духу америчких Индијанаца, сви носе презиме Милановић и сви су се школовали на америчким и светским универзитетима. Каже да му је у послу највећа подршка син Шон.
„ Највећа ми је инспирација отац, он је главни све ове године. Кад је он могао да напредује у послу, могу и ја", каже Шон.
Милановић каже да су сва његова деца свесна српског порекла, чињенице да долазе из различитих култура и да су по том питању врло радознали. Тако долазимо до оног вечитог питања идентитета - ко смо, одакле смо...
„Што се тиче мог бића...у ствари, не желим да причам о себи", скроман је Ричард Милановић.
Ричард Милановић је умро марта 2012. Године. На његовој деци и осталим следбеницима у племену Агуа Калијенте је да наставе његов рад и да енергијом коју је наследио од оца а пренео на своју децу, и даље спајају две тако далеке културе, српску и индијанску.