FRESNO, Calif., Feb. 12, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- The Bureau of Indian Affairs ("BIA") issued its determination yesterday recognizing Reggie Lewis as Chairman of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians and the other members of the Tribal Council that were installed as a result of the Tribe's December 2010 election. The seven-member Council, which the BIA recognizes immediately as the governing authority of the Tribe due to exigent circumstances, is comprised of Chairman Lewis, Chance Alberta, Morris Reid, Dora Jones, Nokomis Hernandez, Nancy Ayala and Jennifer Stanley. The determination acknowledges that Chairman Reggie Lewis is the leader of the Tribe's governing body and that Nancy Ayala, individually or as the leader of the group that attempted to seize control of the casino and the Tribe's assets on February 21, 2013, has no authority to represent the Tribe, its members, or any of its businesses in any capacity.
The BIA decision included a detailed analysis of the facts surrounding the several leadership disputes that have embroiled the Tribe since 2011. Because the disputes extended back several years, the BIA recognized the Council as it existed in the last uncontested tribal election. The Tribe's General Council, consisting of all adult members of the Tribe, Chairman Lewis and the Tribal Council took action late last year to restore all rights and privileges of tribal membership in order to help bring the Tribe together for the critical December 2013 election.
"We are all thankful that the BIA issued its decision effective immediately, and that the Tribe now has the full support of the federal government as we work to resume effective tribal services to Tribal members and to manage the Tribe's Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino," said Chairman Lewis. "Everyone was waiting for the BIA to weigh in, and now it has. Finally, there is no more dispute as to who is the leader of the tribal government and the BIA-recognized Tribal Council looks forward to re-establishing our government-to-government relationships. This has been a challenging time for all of us, but our highest priority continues to be providing services to all 900+ tribal members."
The dispute arose out of Ayala's actions in February when she attempted to disenroll hundreds of tribal members with a referendum signed by just fourteen (14) people. Ayala then forced the other members of the Tribal Council out of the Tribal Office before appointing a new Tribal Council consisting of her friends and family members. She then took control of the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino by installing a security and management team that was loyal to her.
The Tribal Council will take the BIA's determination to the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to obtain the funding that those agencies froze after Ayala publicly lied saying that the BIA had recognized her as tribal chair. The EPA and HUD were both waiting for a determination by the BIA before releasing the funds to the BIA-recognized government of the Tribe. However, due to Ayala's actions and her misrepresentations to the federal agency, the Tribe's 2014 HUD Housing Grants were lost.
The BIA's determination will also be circulated to all county, state and federal agencies and officials to provide them with the direction they requested as to who was the BIA-recognized governing authority of the Tribe.
The decision letter from the BIA can be seen on the Tribe's website here: http://chukchansitribe.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/2014-2-11-Decision.pdf.
The Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians is a federally-recognized Indian Tribe that has lived continuously in California's Central Valley and Sierra Foothills for more than 12,000 years. Today, the Chukchansi Tribe operates the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino on its ancestral territory in Coarsegold, California. The casino employs over 1,200 individuals making it one of the largest employers in Madera County. For more information on the Chukchansi Tribe go to: http://www.chukchansi-nsn.gov.
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