Clearing the Air

Acting Chairperson, Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi IndiansFebruary 18, 2014 

Lies left unchallenged have an unfortunate, damaging way of becoming the truth. That's why I — and the current, duly elected tribal council of the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians headquartered on tribal land — have written this to clear the air.

We believe in fact, not fiction. We believe in the law, not lies.

The same cannot be said of two factions seeking to take over our tribe for their own selfish, greedy ends.

Last week, the regional director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Pacific Region, Amy Dutschke, issued a relatively simple "letter opinion." This opinion was as notable for what it did not do as for what it did. As Dutschke pointed out, decisions electing tribal leadership, "fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the tribe, and BIA does not have the authority to determine the tribe's leadership."

The opinion instead made a much more narrow, temporary distinction. While the BIA has no power to choose who leads our sovereign nation, the bureau can pick who it negotiates with for the purposes of signing some contracts and awarding federal grants. Dutschke wrote that "the Bureau of lndian Affairs, Pacific Region, will conduct business, on an interim basis, with the last uncontested tribal council elected December 2010."

As a council, we believe this opinion is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. That's why we immediately appealed, rendering Dutschke's opinion moot until that appeal is heard. Nor did the letter appoint Reggie Lewis, a former council member, as our tribe's new chairman, as Lewis declared himself in a press release.

If today you drive to Coarsegold to visit our tribe's rancheria — and we hope you do — because the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino remains open for business 24/7 — let us tell you what you'll find.

The exact same tribal government, the exact same casino, and the exact same rancheria as existed before Dustchke's opinion. Nothing has changed.

The duly elected Chukchansi Tribal Council today consists of Chairperson Nancy Ayala (currently suspended), Vice Chairperson Tex McDonald (our Acting Chairperson), Treasurer Vernon King, Secretary Lynda Appling, and Members-At-Large Donna Featherstone, Charles Sargosa and Amanda Ramirez.

These constitutionally elected leaders come to work daily on the Rancheria, unlike the Lewis faction, which sends out its rantings from a $20,000-a-month glass tower in Fresno. Also unlike the Lewis faction and a second group headed by Morris Reid, our council makes the per capita payments to tribe members. We oversee the tribe's casino, administer services to our tribe's families, elders and children, and run the day-to-day business operations of the tribe.

Finally, we also protect our people from those who seek to take advantage of us for their own selfish ends — and to pick and choose who among our tribe's more than 900 members gets the help and services they so badly need.

Those are the facts. Our tribal council remains in place and our casino remains the exciting venue it's been for the past 10 years. Please, come see for yourself.

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