Concerns about March 9 Chukchansi meeting

Questions raised by tribal members about a General Council meeting planned for Saturday

March 8, 2013 

Concerns have been raised by many Chukchansi people regarding a planned General Council meeting Saturday — principally, who will be counted to meet a “quorum” and who will be allowed to vote on issues brought up at the meeting.

As a Chukchansi leadership standoff continues between the tribal councils of Nancy Ayala and Reggie Lewis, a third council, led by Morris Reid, is urging members not to attend Saturday’s meeting until agreements are signed by Lewis’ council that would ensure many Chukchansi people’s rights are restored.

Lewis’ council is hopeful that all tribal members will attend Saturday’s meeting, including members who were banned by Lewis’ group from last year’s General Council meeting and not allowed to vote in the tribe’s Butler Building during a special tribal council election.

Those members were banned because they were thought to have been involved in the occupation of tribal offices in February, 2012, in an effort to seat newly-elected Reid and three other council members, all against recent tribal disenrollments and who were never allowed to take power at the rancheria.

Ayala’s group — another faction who are currently occupying the rancheria’s tribal offices — have stated that they believe Saturday’s General Council meeting in Fresno is against the tribe’s laws, because the meeting had already been scheduled by tribal council to take place in the rancheria’s Butler Building Saturday.

Richard Verri, the lawyer representing Lewis’ council, said Thursday evening that Lewis’ council was still discussing whether or not disenrolled members would be allowed to attend Saturday’s meeting in Fresno.

“I think the discussion has not been finalized on letting individuals who have been a part of the tribe, and who have been disenrolled, to participate in at least part of the meeting so they have an opportunity to voice their position on matters, but they certainly would not be counted as members for the quorum requirement, because they are not a member of the tribe,” Verri said.

The tribal council does not have the authority to bring back disenrolled members, Verri said. Disenrolled tribal members have to reapply to be members, as spelled out in a tribal ordinance, he said.

Reid said many disenrolled people were disenrolled illegally — one reason being that they were forced to go through disenrollment hearings twice, even though previous tribal councils had decided they were valid members.

That “double jeopardy” — forcing members to go through the same hearing twice — is prohibited by the Chukchansi Constitution, Reid said.

Reid said his council spoke with the Lewis council this week, requesting an agreement be signed by Lewis’ group before Reid and his supporters would attend Saturday’s meeting, and those conditions were not met.

The Reid council’s requests include reinstating all Chukchansi people who were tribal members as of late 2011, and signing an agreement that there would be no more tribal disenrollments in the future.

Reid said his group is also concerned that Saturday’s General Council meeting will not be run by tribal members, but will be controlled and run by someone appointed by the Lewis council — what Reid said happened during last year’s General Council meeting.

Chukchansi tribal member Nicolette Griffith said she is concerned about attending Saturday’s meeting, and that she isn’t getting answers to her questions.

After Griffith was banned from casino property last year — what kept her and an estimated 60 or more people from attending last year’s general council meeting and voting at the rancheria in a tribal council election — she stopped receiving all per-capita monthly payments from casino profits, and was also stripped of all other tribal benefits, she said.

And later last year, she was told she would not be able to vote in the December, 2012 tribal council election, pursuant to a new resolution that stripped members of voting rights if they were banned from the casino for alleged involvement in the tribal office occupation last year, Griffith said.

She, and many others, also didn’t receive election ballots in the mail last year, she said.

As Lewis’ council is inviting all tribal members to attend Saturday’s meeting — including those like Griffith who were sanctioned last year — she said she’s confused how, or if, she’ll be allowed to vote on issues during Saturday’s meeting, because she was previously stripped of her voting rights.

“I’ve been asking if something will be given in writing, that says tribal members are no longer disenrolled, or that suspensions be lifted, so we can go into that meeting as valid voters,” Griffith said. “Something is wrong here.”

Other Chukchansi people, like Irene Roan Cordero, granddaughter of Jack Roan, said that while she is not happy with what’s happened to her family over the past few years by tribal leaders, she still plans to attend Saturday’s General Council meeting in Fresno.

Cordero was disenrolled in late 2011 with about 50 members of her family. Current leaders Lewis, Chance Alberta and Nancy Ayala all voted for their disenrollment.

“I don’t like Reggie or Chance for what they’ve done, but I’ll take a chance with them because I have chance at getting back in the tribe with Chance and Reggie, but I know the Ramirezes (who are backing Ayala at the rancheria) won’t let me back in,” Cordero said. “How many times have they stood up and said there is only 46 people (who are legal voting members of the tribe)? ...

“They wouldn’t let us back in the tribe, even though the Wyatts’ (also directly related to the Ramirezes) great aunt is my grandma, Emma Banjo. I’m for Reggie and Chance, I’ll go that way.”

Other tribal members said they are concerned that they may be exploited during Saturday's meeting — used only to reach the quorum requirement so new laws can be passed.

Many with similar sanctions against them as Griffith believe they can still be counted for Saturday’s quorum requirement because, although they’ve had tribal rights and benefits stripped, they are still legally “enrolled” members of the tribe, they said.

Cathy Cory, disenrolled from the Chukchansi tribe in 2006 with 600 others, said she is also concerned the tribe is using the names of disenrolled members to get more money from Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has few checks on the tribes.

A red flag was raised last February, when her cousin, who was also disenrolled from the Chukchansi tribe in 2006, received a $250 check in the mail from the tribe for a tribal “clothing allowance” for a child he did not know.

“Six years after being disenrolled, his name is still on some list related to money (at Chukchansi)?” Cory said. “It’s kind of suspicious.”

When she spoke with BIA about it, Cory said they “couldn’t explain it” and didn’t seem to care about it.

Cory said the year after her family was disenrolled, the tribe’s college scholarships also doubled, according to a parent of another Chukchansi youth who was still an enrolled member, she said.

“The tribe gets money from BIA based on their tribal membership,” Cory said. “But they don’t have to verify that these people actually exist. They don’t even have to turn in their laws to BIA.”

The council headed by Lewis said Saturday’s General Council meeting will be held from noon to 5 p.m. in the junior exhibit complex of the Fresno Fairgrounds, located at 1211 South Chance Ave., Fresno.

The Sierra Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service