The Fresno Bee has spent a lot of their reporter, Marc Benjamin'stime on the Chukchansi debacle, even the NYTIMES covered it...ten years late.
Here, the editorial board of the Bee steps up to the plate:
There was a time before Indian gaming exploded when tribal council elections were rather routine. But as millions of dollars began pouring through casinos, the councils became centers of tribal power, and controversial.
With so much money at stake, elections often don’t go smoothly, and sometimes, as is the case at the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, election results aren’t even recognized. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way of resolving the issue because of the tribe’s sovereignty.
Now we have two tribal councils operating — one that was duly elected, and one that refuses to give up power, claiming that an opposing member was not qualified to run.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs could recognize one of the councils, thereby giving legitimacy to those who should be operating the Chukchansi casino and overseeing aspects of tribal government. But so far, the BIA has been AWOL when asked to get between the opposing tribal councils. The longer the timid BIA waits, the bigger a problem that will be created.
So far, the BIA says this is an internal tribal matter. That ignores the obvious issue of the federal agency having to deal with one of the councils on casino issues and tribal matters. When the BIA has a question, which council faction will it call?
At some point, it must be decided which tribal council will operate the casino and handle the obligations on the tribe’s $311 million casino/hotel debt.
This election also impacts individual members. The tribal council that refuses to recognize the election results has been disenrolling members and taking casino jobs from members they disagree with. The newly elected council has pledged to stop the disenrollment process.
Tribal members who are disenrolled have a lot to lose. According to the newly elected tribal council, these are the main benefits: Adults (age 18-64) get $380 a month, and educational benefits for schooling or a training program. Elders age 55 and over get payments of $380 a month; another $250 a month for utilities; a food allowance and other benefits. Children get free preschool, a day-care subsidy, and allowances for clothing, computers and college.
While the well-being of the Chukchansi members should be the overriding issue, this dispute has come down to who will have the power to run a gambling casino. This is not what California voters intended when they voted to expand Indian gambling.
Read the Fresno Bee and Comment