Indian Affairs to recognize 2010 council

awileman@sierrastar.comFebruary 18, 2014 

Those awaiting crucial funding from the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians received good news last week, although possibly temporary, from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In a prepared statement released by Amy Dutschke, Pacific Regional Director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs on Feb. 11, the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians tribal council members elected during the 2010 elections will be recognized as those temporarily allowed to conduct government-to-government business.

The letter sent out to each faction's lawyers clarifies the BIA's decision to return the ISDEAA (Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistant Act) contract appeals submitted by all three factions (Lewis, Ayala/McDonald, Reid) last year. The appeals came following the superintendent of the Central California Agency's decision last May to recognize the Dec. 1, 2012 elected council as the governing tribal council.

The letter stated the BIA will request the council revert back to the Dec. 2010 elections which were held a year prior to the controversial election of 2011. The letter presented the following:

"The situation at the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians has deteriorated to a point that recognition of a government is essential for the purpose of contracting under the ISDEAA, and to prevent any further hiatus of this government-to-government relationships with the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians. Therefore, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Pacific Region, will conduct business, on an interim basis, with the last uncontested tribal council elected December 2010."

The letter went on to comment on the seriousness of the power struggle and the financial hardships the division is causing both tribal members and those who have financial ties to the casino and council.

The 2010 council attempting to be re-seated by the BIA, include Nokomis Hernandez, Dora Jones, Chance Alberta, Reggie Lewis, Nancy Ayala, Jennifer Stanley and Morris Reid.

"In addition to these reports, the dispute over the tribe's leadership has led to multiple hardships including reported defaults on loans connected with the tribe's gaming facility," the letter said. "In addition, many agencies have been unable to determine with whom to conduct business amidst the dispute, causing essential tribal programs that are funded by the Federal government to cease operation, including the loss of NAHASDA (Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act) funds."

The decision to affirm the 2010 elected council comes following years of intra-tribal discrepancies and a power struggle between two separate factions claiming to be the official tribal council, one which was organized by 2010 council member Nancy Ayala and the others organized by 2010 council members Reggie Lewis and Morris Reid.

Since the split, the three factions have engaged in several heated exchanges including a stand-off at the tribal office February, 2012 which resulted in several people being maced and another being stabbed a few days later during a brawl that broke out at the same offices.

According to David Leibowitz, spokesman for the Ayala/McDonald faction, the letter holds no bearing on the tribal councils true members and will not have anything to do with daily operations at the casino.

Ayala was recently suspended from her own faction because of a controversial letter sent out demanding the dis-enrollment and expulsion of certain tribal members on the grounds of treason. Tex McDonald has taken her place on the council.

"As Regional Director Amy Dutschke notes, 'the BIA does not have the authority to determine the Tribe's permanent leadership.' The BIA's interim decision, in place only until the tribe's leadership dispute is resolved, in no way changes the leadership structure of the ruling tribal council headquartered on the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians," Leibowitz said.

"Today's narrow decision must be understood for what it is: A declaration of who the Bureau of Indian Affairs will temporarily do business with, for the purpose of 638 contracts and certain government-to-government agreements," Leibowitz said.

The opinion in the letter handed down by the BIA will temporarily place Lewis back in as the tribal council chairman for the duration of the interim council.

"We are thankful that the BIA issued its decision effective immediately, and that the tribe now has the support of the federal government as we work to resume effective tribal services to Tribal members and to manage the Tribe's Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino," 2010 elected Chairman Lewis said.

The Lewis faction claims the dispute between he and Ayala began last February after Ayala attempted to dis-enroll hundreds of tribal members via referendum signed by 14 people Ayala claimed to be "true" tribal members, resulting in a split between the previously cordial members. Lewis claims Ayala forced members of the tribal council out of the tribal office prior to appointing a new tribal council consisting of her personal family and friends.

Now those elected during the 2010 elections, many of which have become heated enemies, will have to temporarily set aside their differences in an effort to do what is best for the Tribe. This may include conversing with people who have publicly called one another liars, thieves and thugs.

According to reports, Chukchansi Casino nets more than $15 million a year after paying operating expenses, bond fees and other outside expenditures. Throughout the three year-long dispute each side has accused the other of stealing tribal funds in and effort to gain monetary control.

The McDonald faction has appealed the BIA's decision required to be sent within 30 days of receiving the letter.

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