County officials take Wappo fight to Washington

2012-11-15T19:55:00Z 2013-03-19T19:33:42Z County officials take Wappo fight to WashingtonPETER JENSEN Napa Valley Register
November 15, 2012 7:55 pm  • 

Having lost a series of legal rulings in court, Napa County has turned to lobbying in Washington, D.C., in its ongoing dispute with the Mishewal Wappo tribe of Alexander Valley, which aims to regain federal recognition.

As Napa County officials met in the nation’s capital with the new head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs last week, lawyers for Napa and Sonoma counties went back to court to attempt to block any settlement that the Wappo could make in ending its lawsuit against the U.S. government that seeks federal recognition.

Napa County fears that tribal recognition could someday lead to the tribe building a casino in the county.

On Nov. 6, Supervisor Diane Dillon, County Counsel Minh Tran and Larry Florin, the director of the county’s Housing and Intergovernmental Affairs Department, met with Kevin Washburn, the new assistant secretary-Indian Affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Representatives from the local chapter of the Sierra Club and the Napa Valley wine industry accompanied the county officials, Dillon told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The county will cover the costs of the public officials’ trip, while the others paid their own expenses, she said.

Dillon said the meeting produced a fruitful dialogue on how Indian tribes receive federal recognition. Napa County’s position is that only Congress, not a federal court or the executive branch, should be able to federally recognize tribes.

“It’s something we’ve wanted to have for quite awhile — a dialogue,” Dillon said. “And we’ve had a good start with that.”

Florin said the Napa County group wanted to educate Washburn on its experience in the lawsuit, and to explain its interest in protecting its land-use system, including the Agricultural Preserve. Officials fear that a federally recognized tribe with claims within Napa County would be a threat to that. Once recognized, tribes can petition the U.S. government to take land into trust, which exempts that land from local land-use controls.

Florin said the county requested the meeting with Washburn after Napa and Sonoma counties were tossed out of the tribe’s lawsuit last month.

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, did not attend that meeting but said in a statement that he also plans to meet with Washburn soon.

“I have said from the beginning that our community must have a seat at the table as Department of Interior discusses federal recognition of the Wappo Tribe,” Thompson said in the statement. “(Interior) must make sure our community’s interests are protected, and meeting with folks from our community is the first step towards making sure that happens.”

Wappo Tribal Chairman Scott Gabaldon said Thursday that he had also tried to schedule a meeting with Washburn but was turned down due to the tribe’s ongoing lawsuit, which was filed against the Department of the Interior. Napa and Sonoma counties joined as intevenor defendants in 2010.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila tossed the counties out of the lawsuit in October, so Washburn did not face a similar conflict in meeting with Napa County.

The meeting coincided with Napa and Sonoma counties’ latest legal maneuvering in the Wappo tribe’s lawsuit against the U.S. government. The counties have appealed Davila’s decision to remove them.

As part of its appeal, on Nov. 6 lawyers for the counties asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to expedite hearing their appeal, and to stop Davila from entering any judgment in the tribe’s lawsuit.

The tribe seeks to end its lawsuit through a summary judgment hearing before Davila that could result in the tribe regaining recognition, Gabaldon said. A case management hearing is scheduled for Nov. 30, and dates for the summary judgment hearing would be scheduled at that time, said Joseph Kitto, a lawyer for the tribe.

In its motion before the appeals court, the counties argued that expedition is necessary because of a settlement between the tribe and the federal government will be reached “soon.”

Gabaldon took that to mean that the counties were accusing his tribe of colluding with the federal government to seek settlement.

“You’ve got the counties accusing us of finding a friend at the (Bureau of Indian Affairs) and settling,” Gabaldon said. “Who’s making friends now?”

Kitto also had strong words regarding the meeting.

“It reeks,” Kitto said. “It really reeks of protecting certain individuals with Napa County — the wine industry.”

As for the contention that his tribe seeks recognition so it can pursue building a casino, Gabaldon said its fight to regain federal recognition predates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, the federal law that regulates casino gaming on Indian lands.

“Everybody thinks we’re a new tribe doing this for a casino,” Gabaldon said. “We started this 25 years ago before there was a casino in California.”

The tribe has maintained that its recognition was illegally stripped from it in 1959, and regaining recognition will allow it to provide federal benefits to its members, including increased access to housing, education and health care. It’s called a casino an option, but no decision has been made on whether to pursue it.

In arguing to support its request to the 9th Circuit, the counties have revived an earlier issue that they felt would end the lawsuit entirely — that Davila lacks the jurisdiction to hear the case because the statute of limitations has expired.

According to the counties, federal law establishes a six-year statute of limitations for filing lawsuits against the U.S. government.

The counties sought to have the lawsuit thrown out on these grounds, among several others, in its motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Davila denied this motion last fall, and the counties again raised this issued when they asked him to appeal his decision in February. Davila denied that request.

With the counties now out of the case, Napa and Sonoma have raised the issue with the appeals court.

Regarding the Wappo, the statute of limitations would have run out in the 1960s. The tribe filed its lawsuit in 2009.

Davila dismisses the county’s contention. He ruled that the statute could be waived in some circumstances, and found that the tribe fit those circumstances, allowing the case to proceed. His ruling relied on a 1997 9th Circuit ruling, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center v. Shalala.

The counties disputed this, and argued that a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision, John R. Sand & Gravel Co. v. United States, would overrule the earlier 9th Circuit ruling.

“If the counties are correct, and John R. Sand effectively overruled this Court’s opinion in Cedars-Sinai, then the district court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the action or approve a settlement,” the counties argued in their motion.

In the tribe’s response, Kitto said it will be certain to mention the meeting between Napa County and Washburn.

“They’re trying to enter into the politics of it,” Kitto said. “That’s not really how it should be handled now. You can bet this is going to be in it.”

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(14) Comments

  1. Biggest Toad In The Puddle
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    Biggest Toad In The Puddle - November 15, 2012 9:33 pm
    Napa County Supervisors are doing a great job!
  2. Report Abuse
    - November 16, 2012 10:16 am
    If you believe in fairness, honesty and integrity, if you believe that there is a positive future and outcome for the Wappo Tribe, if you want to support the regeneration of the Wappo Tribal Culture and support the tribal people join us at:

    What Napa County Government is doing is unfair in support of special interest.
  3. Wappo Decendant
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    Wappo Decendant - November 16, 2012 10:43 am
    If you consider a great job wasting tax payers dollars on high profile lawyers and politics of their agenda....I pray for the individuals who wish us to be nothing more than a note in the history of the Napa Valley.
  4. Lucy White
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    Lucy White - November 16, 2012 2:00 pm
    Support the Mishewal Wappo Tribe in their quest for Recognition. Stop the greed and control of government destroying our culture, locking up our assets and suppressing economy. Stats 4% of Napa is Urban, 9% ag with 3% additional potential - 84% rural, mountainous and undevelopable!!! Don’t let words mislead you, this is not even about ag – it is simply about control of the elitist. Those who talk about preserving ag have a limited perception of reality. Imagine a development and economy that the BOS could not control and destroy – novel. This is about Federal Tribal Recognition. Local government is obstructing justice and we are paying for it. American Indians are our treasure –they should receive our support to retain their great culture.
  5. nweaver
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    nweaver - November 16, 2012 2:09 pm
    If the Wappo tribe's search for recognition is not about building a casino, all they need to do is agree, in writing, NEVER to build a casino. I suspect if they did that, all the opposition would evaporate.

    But since they won't, the opposition is probably right: the Wappo want to build their own version of Twin Pines (if the rest of us are lucky) or Cache Creek (if the rest of us are unlucky) somewhere in Napa/Sonoma.
  6. brownsvalleygirl
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    brownsvalleygirl - November 16, 2012 2:38 pm
    Thank you county leaders for not giving up and exposing this sue-n-settle process for the hogwash that it is. We are going to be the ones left to live with this casino in our valley and all the negative things that will come with it. I love how the Wappo folks are now whining that the county is going "political." I am sure this is just the beginning... especially now that the Counties are voiceless in the case since the Wappo moved to have them removed from it.
  7. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - November 16, 2012 5:36 pm
    I'll tell you what I wish for - that every person with a miniscule to higher amount of Native American blood in them would step up to the plate and say that this is not what they want to be remembered for. If you have even a miniscule amount of Native American in you, please stand up and say that casinoes are not what you want for this County or this Country.

    Most of the Native Americans were our first environmentalists. Property ownership was an idea that was foreign to them. The structure of a casino along with its grandeur is more of a European concept which actually originated in Rome. If Native Americans want a cultural center then let it be just that, teepees and sweat lodges minus gambling.

  8. Lucy White
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    Lucy White - November 16, 2012 6:56 pm
    The integrity of the Mishewal Wappo Tribe has a deep seated pride. There is no question that the Tribe has the blood lineage and has maintained itself as a tribe. The Tribe is inherently recognized by the Constitution, it simply needs the Federal Stamp of Recognition. If anyone has a right to have land and/or a business in the county it is the Wappo Tribe, which has as much as 10,000 years of inhabitance here as advertised by current Napa Valley promotional material. This is property rights at the federal level which there is no question of. The Wappos have never said they would build a casino-this is another propagandized use of words by BOS to advance the agenda of stealing property rights and locking up our lands – in this case the lands of the Wappos.
  9. glenroy
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    glenroy - November 17, 2012 10:43 am
    I've wondered what an extinct Wappo looks like... why they never registered for the draft as required if they weren’t, could be there is a legitimate excuse or reason. Other tribes did, they eventually received hundreds of billions of (our) dollars, more per head than any other ethnicity…safe to assume the Wappos will too. The remarkable story behind the scene is the Wappos are one of a few or several tribes Boxer and or with Pelosi un-extincted, for multi-million/million dollar ‘fees’ to family members but not to them...they were not kickbacks.... not bribes….nothing to do with millions of gambling dollars down the road, nor hundreds of millions of federal aid that may or maynot come. I'm pretty sure of sure as these trillion dollar plus annual deficits are no threat to our county and that Obama and his honest administration will solve this mess they created.
    I'd bet the Wappo's whoever, wherever, donated 100% Democrat.

  10. Report Abuse
    - November 17, 2012 12:30 pm
    For the Wappo Tribal Council to endorse a "Quit Claim" against the investment into a Casino would only be the tip of the iceberg for them when it comes to their present and future relationship with Napa, Sonoma and Lake Counties. Once given Federal Recognition the Wappo Tribe will become a Sovereign Nation with Diplomatic responsibilities. That is no way to start such a important political relationship. Your offering is a minimalist view that harkens back to the days of indians signing away their land for firewater.
  11. Report Abuse
    - November 17, 2012 12:50 pm
    Yes thats correct the Counties were thrown out of the case because their contention was merely speculative. Why can't you see that Diane Dillon and her faction have created a "bamboozling and unbelievable fumbling" of this whole matter. In her latest disclosure she even reveals that they learned more about the process of Federal Recognition. So does that mean that my suspicions were correct? Mark Luce yelled "circle the wagons, Indians"! And now the entire Board of Supervisors went into to this matter uneducated with a stereotypical vision of modern indian culture? And along the way in true political style disrespected, minimized and insulted a group of individuals who are about to become a sovereign nation within Napa County? Is that the real way to start off this parley? Throwing insults instead of handshakes?
  12. Report Abuse
    - November 17, 2012 12:59 pm
    Actually from they way the natives have been treated, I would support them to set up a "Indian Trading Post" right on H29 right there where 12 intersects 29. They should important all the cheap plastic indian stuff from China and make their own Two Buck Chuck wine and sell it to all the tourist coming to Napa Valley. Stick a couple of County Of Napa signs next to the trading post that say: "Welcome to Napa valley this Trading Post is Endorsed by The Napa County Board Of Supervisors!" Of course I am being sarcastic, however this is only in response to the small minded thinking being offered on this commentary.
  13. NapaCitizen
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    NapaCitizen - December 04, 2012 11:42 am
    Prayers for your hardened hearts. I can see you view the Wappo effort only through a Euro-centric colonialist perspective. As a person of Native descent myself, I am appalled that any County funds are used to attempt to stop a recognition effort.

    I watched the hearings Dillon sat at a table with leaders of Sovereign Nations who had already been swindled out of more than just land. She was as out of place in that hearing as the County is in attempting to speak out against the Wappo recognition efforts. Any further use of County legal time or travel expenses should be deemed a conflict of interest, and as a Napa Citizen, I may consider filing a complaint to that effect.

    The time for change, reconciliation , and relationship building is now. The manner in which you conduct yourselves in this matter with the Wappo can only come back on you tenfold. These are leaders of people you will have to deal with in the future. They and their rights to who they are will not go away. Aho!
  14. NapaCitizen
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    NapaCitizen - December 04, 2012 11:48 am
    Sure! Perhaps you can reference the United States performance history with respect to treaties --- "agreements IN WRITING"? Been there done that. Because the effort has nothing to do with a CASINO - your argument is absurd. Indians have Indian lawyers now! Lots of them!

    When the water is all toxic, and the fish, plants and animals all die off, will you find that you cannot eat your money. Even it you got it from you precious Ag preserve. They want THEIR way of life preserved. The Wappo don't want the life you all have -- they just want what is rightfully theirs.
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