Petition shows will of the tribe

By Reggie Lewis / Guest CommentaryMay 15, 2013 

Over 53% percent of the Chukchansi tribal members have signed a petition recognizing the legitimacy of the tribal council that includes: Reggie Lewis (chairman), Chance Alberta (secretary/treasurer), Carl "Buzz" Bushman (member-at-large), and Irene Waltz (member-at-large).

Although the tribe's constitution provides that only 30% of qualified voters are required to pass a referendum, the total now stands at 53%. The referendum was conducted with the assistance of Indian Dispute Resolution Services (IDRS). The non-profit organization was recommended by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and regularly assists tribes all over the country with dispute resolution services. In order to preserve anonymity in the referendum process, IDRS mailed the petitions directly to tribal members. Tribal members who chose to support the referendum then sent the petitions back directly to IDRS for verification.

The referendum asked tribal members to affirm that the legitimate Tribal Council consists of: Reggie Lewis (chairman), Chance Alberta (secretary/treasurer), Carl "Buzz" Bushman (member-at-large), and Irene Waltz (member-at-large). Tribal members additionally affirmed in the referendum the suspensions of Karen Wynn, Tracey Brechbuehl, and Nancy Ayala as members of the tribal council.

Despite claims to the contrary, tribal members were not provided any incentive for signing the referendum. IDRS attempted to mail the referendums directly to tribal members, and for members whose addresses were unavailable, the referendum was available at the tribal office. Due to Nancy Ayala's refusal to deposit funds to support the tribal government through the normal banking channels, the tribal council was forced to issue hard checks to tribal members. Tribal members signed a W-4 form because this hard check distribution method had not been used for many years.

Additionally, because of concerns that the opposing faction would begin to issue checks or cash to tribal members, members were required to sign a statement saying that they would not accept multiple distribution checks. All tribal members were issued checks including Nancy Ayala, which were available at the tribal office for pick up. For those tribal members interested, the referendum was also available at the tribal office for mailing to IDRS, but in no way was a requirement to be signed to receive the per capita distribution.

The referendum was necessary after a small faction of tribal members submitted a petition with 14 unverified signatures removing six of the seven duly elected and installed members of the tribal council. This faction then installed themselves, members of their family, and suspended tribal members as the tribe's governing body, all in violation of tribal law. Because the Chukchansi Constitution requires signatures by 30% of qualified voting tribal members, these actions attempted to effectively limit tribal membership to 46 individuals and disenrolled hundreds of legitimately enrolled tribal members. In a recent Fresno Bee article, the leader of the illegal faction, Nancy Ayala, publicly stated that this attempt to seize control of the tribal council was illegal and should not have happened. However, she continues to use this unconstitutional act as the foundation of her claim to power.

We continue to maintain that the proper way to resolve this dispute has been to follow the will of the tribal members and abide by the constitutional process. There is process that exists to protect the best interests of the tribe when some tribal members take actions to hurt the tribal government, and that is the process we followed. Hoarding government assets at the casino and obstructing the tribal government from meeting its obligations are indications that the small and illegal faction is more concerned with selfishly seizing power and money than protecting the best interests of all tribal members. The referendum allowed all voting tribal members the opportunity to have their voice heard, and a majority of the tribe has now spoken loud and clear.

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