For the first time many in the tribe could remember, the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians announced it will allow open enrollment, mere days before its annual council election Saturday, Oct. 7.
In a statement put out on the tribe’s Facebook page Friday, application packages will begin to be sent to enrolled members Monday.
It was not immediately clear whether previously disenrolled members would be allowed to apply for potential re-enrollment. Requests to tribal officials on Friday for additional information about the enrollment process were not answered by Sunday morning. Anyone with questions can email EnrollmentDept@chukchansi-nsn.gov or call 559-412-5590. The tribe’s office is at 42960 Chapel Hill Drive in Oakhurst.
The election is being overseen by a third party, Indian Dispute Resolution Services, to ensure fair results, officials said.
The tribe has had repeated clashes for years over who can be enrolled as a member, and has repeatedly disenrolled members during factional disputes – including some who have held leadership positions in the tribe.
Anyone with questions can email EnrollmentDept@chukchansi-nsn.gov or call 559-412-5590. The tribe’s office is at 42960 Chapel Hill Drive in Oakhurst.
Some have called the move by incumbent chairwoman Claudia Gonzales, up for reelection alongside Dixie Jackson, Morris Reid, and Harold Hammond, Sr., an attempt to sway the political pendulum in their favor.
“This is all strategically set up right before the election,” said Steven McDonald, one of 19 candidates, including the four incumbents, on this year’s ballot. “They have no good intentions here. They’re trying to ensure they’ll win, and this is definitely going to create some fireworks that could shut down the casino for good. All because of their stupidity, greed, and corruption.”
McDonald is the son of Tex McDonald, who led an armed raid of Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in October of 2014 that forced the Coarsegold resort’s closure for nearly 15 months. That cost the tribe more than an estimated $100 million, and cost more than 850 employees their jobs before the casino reopened on New Year’s Eve 2015.
Tribal officials said their decision for open enrollment took several months as the council worked with a third party to ensure the rarity of the move conformed with the tribe’s constitution. Appointments on whether an applicant can be enrolled will begin Oct. 9, two days after the election is held. Further information was not immediately available.
Several tribal members said it had been “quite some time” since the Picayune Rancheria has held a period of open enrollment.
Steven McDonald’s gaming license was also suspended Friday by the tribal gaming commission, on the grounds that he made an accusatory Facebook post. Plus, they said, there is video evidence he participated in that October 2014 raid with his father, who served 242 days in jail and pleaded guilty to a false imprisonment charge stemming from the incident.
“This has nothing to do with the election,” Gonzales said. “This is a (Tribal) Gaming Commission matter, and we have complete confidence that our commissioners Phil Hogen, Joe Smith, and Mark Emerick will handle it appropriately.”
Hogen, Smith, and Emerick are part of the tribe’s gaming commission, a third party body independent of the council by law.
Hogen previously served as chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission, Smith was the director of audits and finance for the NIGC, and Emerick is a Picayune tribal member and former executive of the Tribal Gaming Commission.
It was not immediately clear whether Steven McDonald would still be allowed to run for a seat on the council despite that suspension. He said he’s been a card dealer at the casino for more than 14 years.
Candidates for the four seats in Saturday’s election are: Claudia Gonzales, Dixie Jackson, Morris Reid, and Harold Hammond, Sr., all incumbent, and Steven McDonald, Edwin Appling, Jr., Dominique Carrillo, Jacqueline Faccinto, Dustin Graham, Laurie Lawhon, David E. Works, IV, Jill Bull, Melvin Espe, Nicolette Griffith, Eugene D. Lewis, Thomas E. Pisano, Jennifer Ruiz, and Nokomis Hernandez and Dora Jones, who were both defeated last year.
Heather Airey and Tom Walker remain on the seven-member council. Patrick Hammond, who along with Airey won last year, was forcibly removed from his seat in recent months for undisclosed reasons. He did not wish to comment, but said he had obtained legal representation and awaited a hearing with the tribe later this week.