Off-reservation casino

By Jerry Brown / Guest CommentaryMarch 27, 2013 

We the members of the Chowchilla Tribe of Yokuts have the rightful claim to the ancestral land on which the North Fork Rancheria plans to build a casino near Highway 99. As mentioned in historical documents of California and American Indian history, the Chowchilla Tribe of Yokuts existed in the San Joaquin Valley prior to any white settlers arriving here. Unlike many tribes in California that are not considered recognized, the Chowchilla Indians are a federally recognized California tribe and have never been removed from that status.

For the North Fork Band of Mono Indians to attempt to lay claim to regions historically attributed to the Chowchilla Indians is contrary to every written document. The North Fork tribe has ancestral and archeological rights to its current location in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range above 3,000 feet. They are seeking to move their location 40 miles to the west and on the Valley floor, which is historically Chowchilla Tribe of Yokuts territory. Their move would cause an environmental damage to the land that once housed Chowchilla Indians sites and villages.

A few miles north of the proposed casino site, mammoth bones which our ancestors killed for food and used to make tools used for hunting were unearthed in a land fill. Allowing the North Fork tribe to rest on lands that once were our hunting and gathering sites is not only is violation of the Tillie-Hardwick court ruling of 1987, but sacrilegious to our ancestors.

The Chowchilla Tribe of Yokuts tribal range and influences are documented throughout U.S. government research documents, linguistic studies and numerous Indian reference books. Our tribe stands firm on the fact the land that North Fork Rancheria is attempting to claim is historically the Chowchilla tribes' ancestral territory.

In a determination made by the Secretary of Interior on Nov. 18, 2005, states that "if the land is within the state in which is located -- the reservation of such Indian tribe or the last recognized reservation of such Indian tribe (Hi) the initial reservation of an Indian tribe acknowledge by the secretary under federal acknowledgment process if, as determined by the secretary" the Indian tribe has temporal, cultural and geographic nexus to the land; or (Hi) the restoration of lands for tribe that is restored to federal recognition if, as determined by the secretary, the Indian tribe has temporal, cultural and geographic nexus to the land.

The facts are on record that the North Fork Rancheria is located 40 miles from the land purchased for the purpose of gaming. Although the state and county have entered into compacts or MOUs with the Mono tribe, those decisions have been driven by financial consideration and not by the tribe's legal or historical interests.

It is our right to contest this wrongful action in your presence public view and the Federal Court system. We continue to be the forgotten stepchild in this game of chance. We have the facts and the right to contradict every item featured in North Forks' request for trust acquisition. We stand with fists outwards and arms folded firm in our resolve to fight this matter before you everyone that will hear of the BIAs' stand to avoid the existence of the Chowchilla Tribe of Yokuts right to the land in question.

Editor's note: This letter was written in April 2008 by Jerry Brown, tribal chair of the Chowchilla Tribe of Yokuts. Brown is still chair of the tribal council that represents about 150 tribal members in Chowchilla and the surrounding area, that at one time were members of the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians. Since the above letter was written, the Mono casino project has been approved by federal and state government and awaits the approval of the California legislature.

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