On June 6, the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians celebrated the opening of its new 3,880-square-foot community center located high on a bluff above the Crazy Y in downtown North Fork.
Wah-Up, Weh Tu, "the place of the cedars" in the Mono language, is a 61.5-acre development including not only the community center and a family wellness center, but individual homes for qualifying tribal members.
The community center was constructed through an Indian Community Block Grant from HUD, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. The building will provide tribal citizens a place to meet, preserving their culture through storytelling, basket weaving, dancing and language development.
Within the airy building is a recreational area including exercise equipment and a climbing wall. There also is a computerized learning area and a full commercial kitchen where nutritional and cultural cooking classes will be held.
The months and years ahead promise formal training in vocational careers as well as professional development trainings, monthly tribal and environmental protection meetings and other official events.
Wah-Up, Weh Tu is but one current project of the tribe.
It has recently signed an agreement to join with the North Fork Community Development Council and Madera County whereby grant money awarded the tribe can be used to build a much needed new North Fork volunteer fire station at the old mill site.
In exchange, the tribe will get acreage near the fire station to build a Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families building.
They also will receive adjacent property on the mill site they can use down the road for a second building, possibly something related to health or seniors.
The CDC will have the ability to carve a parcel, which can be sold. Additionally, the tribe has started building some multiple-resident housing units on Main Street caddy-cornered from the North Fork Supermarket.
And the tribe's big project, the proposed multi-function entertainment /destination resort on Highway 99? Tribal Chair Elaine Bethel Fink says the tribe is continually moving forward and the tribal council is very excited with casino progress.
"We are completing the lengthy and rigorous state and federal approval process," she says, and pending unforeseen delays, "are hopeful to break ground either later this year or early next year."
The approval of the casino will help the county with construction, operational salaries and purchases. There are expected to be 1,500 permanent benefited jobs with 50 percent of them committed to Madera County residents.
There also is mitigation money. This is all part of the agreement signed Aug. 16, 2004, between the tribe and the County Board of Supervisors.
The one-time contributions cover public safety, schools, recreational parks and an escrow account between $4 million and $15 million for transportation based on a final traffic study. The recurring contributions cap at $4,535,000 each year for the 20-year term of the agreement. The recurring money is to be used throughout Eastern Madera County.
It will go through four foundations (economic development, educational, unincorporated area and charitable) and also to Madera County Behavioral Health to help with prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse and problem gambling.
Additionally, it will provide for additional law enforcement and fire protection staff, and help with park maintenance and public safety.