A victory for the Chukchansi people

Chairman, Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi IndiansFebruary 18, 2014 

The decision last week by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) recognizing me as the leader of the seven-member tribal council is a victory for the Chukchansi people, the tribe's business partners and the entire community. The tribal council worked closely with government officials to develop a solution that upheld the will of tribal members, while still respecting the tribe's sovereignty. Ultimately, the BIA decided to recognize the tribal council elected in the last undisputed election, which was December 2010.

It is significant that the BIA specifically wants this decision to take effect immediately because of the exigent circumstances created by a small group of tribal members who attempted to overthrow the lawful government of the tribe. This means that the decision has full effect when the decision is appealed to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals office in Virginia. Making it effective immediately ensures that this tribal council has the full support of the United States government to manage operations at the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino and act on behalf of the tribe.

The Board of Directors of the Chukchansi Economic Development Authority, which owns and operates the casino, mirrors the makeup of the tribal council, so the tribal council will work with local law enforcement to return control of the casino operations back to the recognized tribal council.

The decision also ensures that the individuals who attempted to disenroll hundreds of tribal members with an illegal referendum do not have control of the tribe. Late last year the general council, consisting of all adult tribal members, came together to restore the rights and responsibilities of tribal members that had been sanctioned. The general council meeting attendance was one of the largest turnouts in the tribe's history.

Officials in other government agencies were waiting for the BIA to make this decision, and now that it has, the tribe can begin to reestablish government-to-government relationships with local, state and federal government officials. This includes the U.S. Housing and Urban Development and Environmental Protection Agency, both of which froze funding for the tribe last year after they found out that Nancy Ayala had misrepresented to them that the BIA had recognized her as tribal chair.

The tribal council has already reached out to these agencies and other government officials with the BIA decision, and soon funding will be available to benefit all tribal members and the community. This includes the grants to the community from the tribe, which the tribal council is hopeful can continue once the financial situation at the casino is stabilized.

The tribal council's highest priority continues to be reestablishing the important tribal member services that have been delayed over the past several months. We are hopeful that the small group of members that have employed armed guards will leave peacefully.

No matter what happens though, this decision was a major victory and the tribe looks forward to a bright future for its members and the community.

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