Wednesday, May 9, 2012

NAPA COUNTY Against Recognition of Wappo Tribe

If the Napa Valley was a plainer realm, without its bounty or its beauty, then perhaps this fight could be less fierce, and compromise more easily attained.

But these lands have billions of dollars in bounty and a beauty world-renowned, which helps explain the crux of a tangled, three-year legal battle that has unfolded in a federal court in San Jose between Napa’s county government and the descendants of the Napa Valley’s original Indian inhabitants.

The Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley, whose approximately 350 members live mostly in Sonoma County and claim direct lineage with the Napa Valley’s aboriginal Wappo Indians, sued the federal government in this court in 2009. Napa and Sonoma counties joined that fight in 2010 believing that the tribe ultimately wants to build a casino within their boundaries.

At the heart of the tribe’s lawsuit is its desire to regain federal recognition, which it lost in 1959. Recognition would make it eligible for federal funding for programs, services and lead to greater economic development opportunities.

“It has always been about getting your identity back,” Scott Gabaldon, Wappo tribal chairman, said.

The counties fear that federally recognizing the tribe will allow it to petition the federal government to take land into trust, exempting it from local land-use and zoning laws and allowing it to build a casino.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila has squashed the counties’ attempts to end the tribe’s lawsuit, and the tribe and the federal government have been in ongoing negotiations to settle the lawsuit.

To Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon, the prospect of a federally recognized tribe with trust land in the county would circumvent the land-use laws the county government has fought so hard to maintain. The county’s position is that only an act of Congress, not a court ruling, should restore tribal recognition.

“We don’t believe that it’s appropriate at all for the courts to decide this,” Dillon said. “It’s not an anti-Native American issue. It’s not even an anti-recognition issue. We’re opposed to the process they’re opting to use.”

Gabaldon said Napa’s and Sonoma’s fixation on land and a casino is misguided — the tribe’s concern at this point is recognition, which it claims the federal government illegally stripped from it in the 1950s. Because of that, the tribe has filed a motion to have the two counties thrown out of the lawsuit. Davila is set to rule on it next month.

Read More at Napa Valley Register

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