Around 20 people from two factions within the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians gathered in protest outside the entrance to the tribe’s casino Wednesday.
The protesters, who contend the tribe’s council was illegally elected, said they will return Thursday morning for the facility’s planned reopening.
Members of the “distributees,” who claim there are only 46 true tribal members, were joined by some from the Monica Davis faction formerly headed by Tex McDonald.
Luke Davis, a cousin of Monica Davis, leads the distributees.
Together, the groups claim the council’s election in October was illegal due to allowing members disenrolled between 2010-2012 to cast ballots, as well as further alleged abuse of the tribe’s constitution.
“We don’t agree the casino should reopen so soon with our tribe still being in a dispute,” Luke Davis said. “And we believe there’s corrupt leadership with the so-called new council. We believe there is a rightful tribal forum to resolve this to correct everything and stop this sovereign abuse.”
Luke Davis said he believed the casino should remain closed until public safety and other issues are resolved.
Members of each faction said though they’ve had differences in the past, they are largely united in protesting the current council.
The tribe’s Oct. 3 election favored seven candidates of the Morris Reid faction, and the Indian Dispute Resolution Services oversight committee upheld the results after four appeals were filed.
Since then, the Reid group, chaired by Claudia Gonzales, have worked to reopen Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino after its closure by state and federal agencies Oct. 10, 2014, following a raid by hired security forces under McDonald’s leadership.
Gonzales was not immediately available for comment Wednesday afternoon, but previously said the reopening will be of great benefit to both the tribe and county.
Around 1,000 employees, some 250 of them from Eastern Madera County, are expected to return or be new hires in the hotel and casino.
A settlement agreement with the National Indian Gaming Commission earlier this month carved the path to reopen the facility, completed by U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill’s clearance of all closure orders Dec. 22.
Gary Montana, who represents the distributees, indicated to the Fresno Bee he is considering legal options, such as a new lawsuit in federal court.
The resort’s partial reopening at 10 a.m. Thursday will feature more than 1,700 slot machines and 22 table games, along with several restaurants and hundreds of hotel rooms.
A full reopening, with all seven restaurants, is scheduled for Jan. 15.
Officials with the Madera County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday’s protest was peaceful, with no traffic disruptions or other issues.