Monday, July 9, 2012

Chukchansi Lawsuit: BIA Illegally Approved Constitution at Picayune Rancheria

The Fresno Bee continues to find space for Native American issues.  Their reporter Marc Benjamin has the story on a lawsuit against the U.S. for illegally approving a tribal constitution:

A Chukchansi tribal family is suing the United States government, claiming the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians membership rolls and constitution were illegally approved decades ago by Chukchansi who did not own land on the rancheria.


The Ramirez family, which filed a claim last month in U.S. District Court in San Jose, says it was the only Chukchansi family with land on the rancheria when a lawsuit settlement re-established the tribe and 16 others in California. Thus, the suit alleges, the Ramirezes were the only family that legally could authorize Chukchansi's membership rolls and constitution.

In the suit, the Ramirezes are seeking greater "recognition," which could include naming family members to the tribal council, said Dennis Cota, the family's lawyer.

Andrew Bluth, a lawyer representing the Chukchansi tribe in the federal lawsuit, said he did not have authorization from tribal officials to comment on it.

Tribal membership is a controversial issue for the Chukchansi, with tribal councils voting in recent years to disenroll members over bloodlines. The growing animosity has sparked disputes over recent tribal elections and a physical confrontation this year at the tribal offices.

The Ramirez lawsuit is a new wrinkle in an already-complicated issue.

The Chukchansi were among more than 40 tribes disbanded by the California Rancheria Act in 1958. Seventeen were restored with the settlement in 1983 of a lawsuit known as the Tillie Hardwick judgments. Tillie Hardwick was a Northern California Indian who, in 1979, challenged the Rancheria Act to re-establish her status as an American Indian and her home as a tribal site.

According to the Ramirez lawsuit, when the Chukchansi tribe was re-established, five members of the Ramirez family served on the provisional tribal council, but then the family matriarch, Maryan Ramirez, passed away. Mona Bragdon, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, declined a request by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to organize the tribe.

At that point, members of the Wyatt family began lobbying BIA to work with them, the lawsuit said.

Eventually, the BIA allowed Wyatt family members to take over.



The Ramirez lawsuit contends the Wyatts lacked the legal standing to authorize membership rolls or a constitution. Although the Wyatts had once owned land on the 80 acres designated as the rancheria, they had sold their property before the Tillie Hardwick judgments took effect, the suit says.

"The process went forward without the appropriate recognition of the Ramirez family and the government allowed the Wyatts to ratify a constitution," Cota said.

Members of the tribal council have been negotiating with the Ramirez family over the issue for some time, he said.

"There was a long history of trying to resolve this informally," Cota said. "The Ramirez family felt it reached a point where ... there would be no reasonable response from the existing tribal leadership."

There may be legal precedence for the Ramirez suit. In September, a judge found that the federal government did not properly recognize a family that claimed its rights for recognition from the Nisenan Maidu tribe in Nevada City.

Cota said the Ramirez case is similar because the Ramirezes "were not getting satisfaction from the tribe."

But Laura Wass, director for the American Indian Movement in Central California, said her understanding of the Tillie Hardwick settlement would have made all families that were in a tribe at the time of the 1958 Rancheria Act part of the tribe after the settlement -- even if they had sold their land.

If the Ramirez suit prevails, the result could be more disenrollments. The suit alleges that the Wyatt-led tribal council approved 600 tribal membership applications without a tribal resolution.

"It was eventually found that a vast number of the approved applications were ineligible for membership," the suit said.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2012/07/07/2902338/chukchansi-family-files-suit-against.html#storylink=cpy

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Illegal constitution?
Sounds like Pala!
Were coming for you Robert smith,
Were coming for you gayroy miranda,I mean leroy.
Dion,Teresa,see you soon!

Erick Rhoan said...

I have the court documents linked on my blog site. The last time I checked the docket on PACER, these were the only papers filed.

http://erickregalado.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/who-rules-chukchansi/

Generally, a party has 21 days to file an "Answer" brief in response to a complaint. There are exceptions, such as if one of the parties is the United States, in which case those federal defendants have 60 days from which to file an "Answer." Since Picayune is not a federal agency, I would assume -- barring no other events, such as waiver of service or going straight to a Rule 12 dismissal -- that it has 21 days to file a response.

The complaint was filed on June 6th. The 21 day deadline ends on July 27.

justiceforpaladisenrolled said...

I wish them the best and am glad they are not sitting back doing nothing. Pala, Pechanga, Chukchasi and others who have been wronged need to step up congressional efforts. Get them to sign the sign on letter that was given to Senators and Congressman on a visit to DC we did back in March. Call your senators and congressman need an amendment to the ICRA to protect individual tribal members unjustly wronged by their tribal leaders.

Anonymous said...

One of the most ridiculous lawsuits I've seen so far coming from Indian Country! Mona Bragdon, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit declined a request by the federal bureau of Indian affairs to organize the tribe. Members of the Wyatt family stepped up to the plate because nobody else did and now are being called traitors by their own crew! Under Tillie Hardwick, any Indian who was deeded a parcel of terminated rancheria land from the federal government-- even if they sold it-- or any Indian who bought deeded rancheria land from another Indian before December, 1983, would be a member of the class represented in the case. BIA has taken the position that only members of that class can reorganize the tribe whose federal recognition was restored by that lawsuit. Wyatt and Ramirez families have and had equal power to reform the tribe. Ramirez family based on news reports simply want to be appointed to tribal council without being voted into power. These guys have been watching too much TV, we call that Royalty!

A more interesting potential case is coming to light at Table Mountain Rancheria. A tribal elder past away a few years ago and didn't leave behind a valid Will. A probate is now being conducted and administered by Leanne Walker-Grant, tribal Chairman. Documents have surfaced that paint a very ugly picture of the elder who was Mrs. Walker-Grants aunt. The documents indicate that the deceased stole deeded property from her deceased sister's own two sons and husband. What's interesting about this potential case is exactly what the Ramirez family is arguing. When Rancheria's were reestablished in the 1980's under Tillie Hardwick settlement, the federal government only recognized Indians who had been given rancheria land and their descendants as eligible to re-establish tribal governments. But, in the potential case the descendants of the deeded property owner at Table Mountain Rancheria had their rights systematically denied them by both Table Mountain Rancheria and Bureau of Indian Affairs. As a matter of fact, a probate on the original owner of the property declares that her heirs are her two sons and husband! But, over the years Table Mountain Rancheria has denied tribal membership to the heirs by saying they don't own the property. In 1999, the tribe enrolled one of the brother but not the other. Both men exceed the tribes criteria for membership, degree of Native blood has been computed to be 5/8 Mono/Chuk. As you might imagine, Table Mountain Rancheria and Bureau of Indian Affairs are trying to cover this up. As a matter of fact, the Hearing that established Leanne Walker-Grant as administrator took a grand total of 20 seconds from start to finish, Judge Oliver was presiding. Now this is interesting!

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