Chukchansi leadership dispute continues

General Council meeting cancelled, will be rescheduled; tribal members voice concerns

Carmen GeorgeMarch 13, 2013 

A Chukchansi leadership standoff that began Feb. 21 continues at the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, with one council led by Reggie Lewis and another by Nancy Ayala.

Both had planned to hold separate General Council meetings last Saturday for the tribe's membership, where Chukchansi members can vote on tribal issues brought forth if a "quorum" of members is reached.

Both meetings were canceled and will be rescheduled.

Lewis' council canceled their meeting because he heard reports that Ayala's meeting was canceled and her supporters "were all coming down to Fresno in mass to cause a disruption," said Richard Verri, the lawyer representing Lewis' council.

"Her (Ayala's) general concept is the tribe is only her 46 lineal descendants (of the Wyatt/Ramirez families) and maybe the other people who are supporting her will have a claim to membership too, so it's a small number," Verri said. "They realize the much greater and popular support Reggie has will look really bad for them, so they were coming down to cause a disturbance (at the General Council meeting planned by Lewis' council). They do not want to abide by legal means."

Ayala said the meeting her council was planning was canceled for a different reason.

"(The meeting) was postponed until further notice due to health and safety concerns in accordance with the Constitution," Ayala said. "The meeting scheduled by the Lewis faction was not duly called by tribal council and was scheduled to take place off of the rancheria and tribal lands, which is not normal practice."

Lewis' council plans to reschedule the General Council meeting, announced "as soon as the safety of the membership can be guaranteed and confirmed," Verri said.

"Nancy and her group are desperate, because they don't have access to funds, and they are really intimidating to tribal members," Verri said. "They have really resorted to desperate measures to try and hold and cede power."

Verri said the banks the tribe has accounts with have recognized Lewis' council as the tribe's legitimate government, and that the banks are not allowing Ayala's group to take money from the tribal accounts.

The leadership split

The leadership dispute began at a tribal business meeting Feb. 21, when a petition signed by up to 28 individuals was brought forward, calling for a new tribal council.

Council members Ayala and Charles Sargosa made motions to support the petition, and council members Lewis, Chance Alberta and Carl "Buzz" Bushman were told they were off the council. The petition named a new council, made up of Wyatt and Ramirez family members, which included Ayala.

Since then, Ayala's council has changed several times.

On Tuesday, Ayala said "the authorized tribal council consists of Nancy Ayala, Karen Wynn, Tracey Brechbuehl and Charles Sargosa."

Wynn and Brechbuehl -- who were appointed to tribal council May 17 -- were suspended from tribal council Jan. 24, before the new leadership dispute that began Feb. 21.

Verri said Ayala was not authorized to bring the suspended Wynn and Brechbuehl back on council.

According to the tribe's laws, to bring suspended tribal council members back, a majority of the tribal council must vote in favor of it, and that vote could only take place once the investigation of suspended Wynn and Brechbuehl is complete, and a hearing is brought before the tribal council, Verri said.

An independent attorney was hired -- the contract signed by Ayala -- to perform the investigation of Wynn and Brechbuehl for alleged "financial improprieties," Verri said.

"What Nancy is trying to do is forget the fact that she suspended Karen and Tracy, and signed the contract that is investigating Tracey and Karen," Verri said.

Both Ayala's council and Lewis' council are claiming they have four tribal council members and a "quorum," as outlined in the tribe's constitution, to conduct business as a tribal government.

The council led by Lewis includes Alberta, Bushman and Sargosa.

Both groups are claiming Sargosa as their fourth tribal council member.

However, Verri said "he's (Sargosa) not going to vote or participate in the poll voting that is going on (with either tribal council) ... he told me personally he is not voting."

Concerns raised about upcoming meeting

Concerns have been raised by many Chukchansi people about the upcoming General Council meeting that was canceled Saturday and will be rescheduled.

Principally, the questions revolve around who will be counted at the meeting for the "quorum," the minimum number of tribal members who must be present for new laws to be passed, and who will be allowed to vote on the issues brought up at the meeting.

Morris Reid, who was elected to tribal council in December, 2011 but was never allowed to be seated, along with the elected Dixie Jackson, Dora Jones and Harold Hammond -- all against recent tribal disenrollments that Lewis, Alberta, Ayala and Jennifer Stanley had been voting in favor for -- advised tribal members last week not to attend the meeting planned for last Saturday until agreements are signed by Lewis' group that would restore many Chukchansi people's rights.

Lewis' council scheduled the meeting in Fresno, and was hopeful that would enable more tribal members to attend -- possibly even those that had sanctions against them. These sanctions include banishment them from the casino, not being allowed to attend tribal meetings, not being allowed to vote, and losing tribal benefits and monthly checks from casino profits.

Members that received sanctions -- estimated to be about 50 Chukchansi people, said attorney Verri -- were sanctioned by the tribe last year because they were determined to be involved in the occupation of the tribal offices in February, 2012. That occupation was an attempt to seat the newly-elected Reid, Jones, Jackson and Hammond, after attempts to get Bureau of Indian Affairs involved had failed.

Disenrolled tribal members will not be allowed to attend a General Council meeting, but members who have received sanctions against them may possibly be able to attend and vote, because they are still enrolled members, Verri said.

Verri said the meeting was planned for Fresno, and because it was outside the tribe's jurisdiction on the reservation, it may have opened an opportunity for sanctioned members to attend, although that decision was not finalized.

Many tribal members who have been stripped of the right to vote and attend meetings, and are no longer eligible to receive tribal benefits or casino payments -- but are still enrolled members of the tribe -- said they are concerned their presence at any General Council would only be used to reach the quorum requirement for new laws to be passed.

Reid said his group is also concerned that the upcoming meeting will not be run by tribal members, as required by the tribe's laws, but will be controlled and run by someone appointed by the Lewis council -- what Reid said happened during last year's meeting in March.

The sanctions against some enrolled members has raised other questions, including the concern that Bureau of Indian Affairs is providing tribal benefits for a larger number of Chukchansi people than are receiving these benefits.

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