Maurice Lyons dies at 63; chairman of Morongo Band of Mission Indians

As tribal chairman, Lyons oversaw construction of a $250-million casino-resort and worked on cultural preservation and youth education programs.

Maurice Lyons, the chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians during the construction of a sprawling casino-resort that was a $250-million gamble to pursue more of the self-sufficiency for the tribe he'd long advocated, died Wednesday. He was 63.

Lyons died at his home on the Morongo Reservation, said Michael Fisher, a tribal spokesman. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Lyons was elected tribal chairman in 2001 and stepped down in 2006, citing an illness that forced him to reduce his responsibilities.

During his time in office, he directed much of his attention toward cultural preservation and youth education programs, a passion that could be traced to his poor childhood on the reservation.

But it was the 27-story Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa — a 600,000-square-foot complex designed to rival the offerings in Las Vegas but only 90 miles east of Los Angeles — that would be one of the biggest projects in his career.

"Everything has led to this moment," Lyons told a jubilant crowd at the Cabazon casino's 2004 unveiling, predicting that the casino would pave the way for the further development of tribal lands as a tourist attraction and serve as an economic engine for the tribe and the area around it.

Beyond funding social services and improving infrastructure, he had been a proponent of plowing casino profits into purchasing parcels of lands that had once belonged to the tribe but had been taken away over time.

He was also involved in negotiating compacts with state officials.

"Maurice helped secure a better future for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and our youth, and his dedication to preserving tribal culture and promoting self-sufficiency will live for generations," Tribal Chairman Robert Martin said in a statement.

Born Jan. 21, 1950, on the Morongo Reservation, Lyons was one of nine children living in a home that didn't have electricity until he was 8 years old. He later recalled hunting deer and rabbit with a single-shot .22 rifle. "We didn't have anything else to live on in those days," he told The Times in 2003.

Lyons became involved in tribal leadership in 1994, when he was named housing commissioner and chairman of the Morongo Headstart Parent Policy Committee.

In 2002, he joined the board of directors of the National Indian Child Welfare Assn., devoted to preventing child abuse and neglect. He served as its president from 2006 to 2013.

Lyons was also the driving force in the creation of the Morongo School, a tribal-funded, tuition-free college preparatory academy that opened on the reservation in 2010.

A complete list of survivors was not available.

A public memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Morongo Community Center on the reservation.

 

Los Angeles Times
October 18, 2013