The fight for recognition

Casino concerns raise stakes for Napa in Wappo’s restoration quest
2012-05-06T00:30:00Z 2013-06-01T19:10:17Z The fight for recognitionPETER JENSEN Napa Valley Register
May 06, 2012 12:30 am  • 

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.

“All these groups are saying, ‘Don’t build in the Ag Preserve,’ ” Gabaldon said. “My concerns are their concerns. They will have a huge say in land going into trust. As far as right now, it’s restoration. They have no say in that. What I’m asking for is the federal government to give back what it took and for the counties to leave us alone.”

The fight

Napa County has recently ramped up its lobbying efforts, and its rhetoric in explaining what’s at stake in the fight. It has received support letters from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and 10 influential Napa County groups. It received a letter of support last year from U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, and Don Young, R-Alaska.

The Board of Supervisors has also received resolutions from the Yountville Town Council and on Tuesday from the city councils in Napa and American Canyon. It’s planning to ask the city councils in St. Helena and Calistoga for support soon.

One resolution states plainly what officials believe this lawsuit is about: “the motive behind the Plaintiffs’ lawsuit is mainly to build a massive casino gaming facility in Napa Valley.”

The tribe, however, has never stated that it plans to pursue a casino. The lawsuit originally stated that the tribe sought claims to its historical lands in Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties, although it amended it later to seek federal land, such as land owned by the Bureau of Land Management.

Gabaldon said a casino would be one of several options the tribe could pursue for economic development if it got restored. He said the tribe does have investment partners paying for the lawsuit, although he denies that their sole interest is building a casino, as local officials have alleged in the resolutions. He said the tribe sought them out to help with the lawsuit’s cost, and that their investments could be recouped in a number of ways aside from a casino.

“It’s a private investor,” Gabaldon said. “They’re investing in a tribe. They’re putting faith in me to get this done so they can get paid back.”

He accused the counties of creating legal diversions to delay the lawsuit’s progress and rack up legal costs. Four tribal elders have died in the two years the tribe has been fighting the counties, not living to see the tribe possibly regain recognition, he said. He considers the resolutions a sign that his tribe is winning.

“I’m fighting a senator, two congressmen, two counties — line them up,” Gabaldon said. “My little old tribe could bring down wine country? Give me a break.”


Before the first grapevine budded and bloomed in the Napa Valley, and before its first grapes were crushed into wine, the Wappo Indians lived here.

Their historical territory stretched from portions of the Napa Valley — the present-day city of Napa being the most southerly part — to the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County in the northwest. From there it stretched west to Cobb Mountain and present-day Middletown in Lake County. A smaller territory south of Clear Lake was also inhabited by Wappo Indians.

Gabaldon said the Wappo had 8,000-10,000 members in 1834. But that population plummeted as they succumbed to disease, were displaced, taken to missions or killed in skirmishes, leaving the valley to be inhabited by settlers with names like Yount, Bale, Coombs, Pope and Chiles.

A federal census in 1910 identified the Wappo as having 73 living members, three-fifths of whom were full-blooded, according to a report from an expert hired by the counties, Lewis & Clark College Professor Stephen Beckham, which was filed in federal court.

In 1909 and again in 1913, the federal government purchased land totaling 54 acres on the west banks of the Russian River for the tribe, calling it the Alexander Valley rancheria.

Life at the rancheria could be brutally hard, with inadequate water and sewer, poorly maintained roads and sparse electricity, Gabaldon said. Most of the tribal members left to fish or work on ranches or farms during the summertime, and return in the winter.

In 1935, Gabaldon said the tribe received federal recognition when its 14 adult members voted as part of the Indian Reorganization Act, which Congress passed the previous year.

A Bureau of Indian Affairs worker put the tribal membership at 49 people in 1940, according to Beckham’s report.

In April 1951, a BIA surveyor went to the rancheria and found only James Adams, who was not a tribal member, his non-tribal family, and a squatter. Gabaldon said that was because the other members were out working.

“People will say, ‘Oh, no one was living there,’ but the truth was, it was uninhabitable,” Gabaldon said. “You couldn’t live there.”

Regardless, according to Beckham in 1953 the California Senate Interim Committee on California Indian Affairs listed the Alexander Valley rancheria among those targeted for termination. In 1958, Congress passed the California Rancheria Act, and put those wheels in motion by terminating 41 rancherias and distributing the land among the tribe.


When it came to the Alexander Valley rancheria, however, the BIA could find only Adams and a tribal member, William McCloud, who was living off the rancheria, Gabaldon said.

On Sept. 11, 1959, McCloud and Adams voted to terminate the Wappo tribe’s recognition and distribute the rancheria’s lands between themselves, with Adams getting two-thirds despite the fact he wasn’t a member of the Wappo tribe. In exchange, the government pledged to improve infrastructure out there. Those promises weren’t kept, Gabaldon said.

Gabaldon said the other tribal members returned in the fall and winter, as they usually would, and found notices posted around the rancheria notifying them of the action.

“It wasn’t us that did it,” Gabaldon said. “James Adams did it. They just took the land. We didn’t do it. There’s no question they let somebody else do it. They didn’t even follow their own laws to do it.”

After termination, the tribe dispersed into Sonoma County, he said, and while his relatives went to Sacramento to try and fix the situation, they weren’t successful.

In 1961, Adams and McCloud received the deeds to their land and a notice was printed in the Federal Register officially terminating the tribe’s recognition.

In 1979, the Wappo joined a lawsuit brought on behalf of other tribes terminated in the Rancheria Act, called the Tillie Hardwick case. Four years later, 17 tribes had recognition restored when the case ended, although the Wappo were left out at the end because its distributes, Adams and McCloud, weren’t a part of it. Adams had sold the land in 1977 to its present owners, Gabaldon said.

“Seventeen tribes in one fell swoop got restored,” Gabaldon said.

Gabaldon said after the Tillie Hardwick ruling, his tribe got serious about pursuing recognition and formed a tribal government.

In 1992, Congress formed the Advisory Council on California Indian Policy, which said in 1997 that the Mishewal Wappo tribe should have its federal recognition immediately restored. In 2000, Kevin Grover, an assistant secretary for Indian affairs in the Department of the Interior, testified as such before a House committee on a bill that would restore another tribe.

Gabaldon said the Wappo have repeatedly petitioned members of Congress to get bills passed restoring their federal recognition, without success.  “Mike Thompson said you need local support, and that’ll never happen,” Gabaldon said.

Nor could the tribe find success through the Obama administration. In a June 2009 letter, Larry Echo Hawk, assistant secretary for Indian affairs in the Department of the Interior, wrote that because the Rancheria Act is still in effect, the only options for restoration are through Congress or the courts.

To Gabaldon, the choice was clear. The tribe had to sue.

“We were out of options,” Gabaldon said.

And so in June 2009, the tribe sued the federal government.


Napa and Sonoma counties soon joined and attempted to have the lawsuit thrown out, although Judge Davila rebuffed the attempt last October. They sought to appeal his ruling in February, but were also denied; they can appeal after the case is resolved. The parties are waiting to see how Davila rules in June on the tribe’s motion to remove the counties entirely.

In arguing to remain in the case, the counties have alleged in court documents that the tribe is masking “inconvenient truths” about the lineage of its current membership, because the tribe has stonewalled its requests for discovery in the lawsuit. The resolutions circulating among local governments reference the tribe as “a group calling itself the ‘Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley.’ ”

Gabaldon said he’s stonewalled the counties’ request for the tribe’s membership records because they don’t have a right to the information. Inside a filing cabinet in the tribe’s office in Santa Rosa, Gabaldon said the tribe has records on file for its current members that link to members of the 1940 census, and to earlier population surveys done at the Alexander Valley rancheria.

He can pull out a typical file complete with a family tree, and photo copies of birth certificates and death certificates. If the federal government requested it, Gabaldon said he’d provide the records.

“If they want to say we’re not linked, they’re out of their mind,” Gabaldon said. “There’s no question who we are. I don’t give them this information because it’s none of their business.”

If the tribe wins, Gabaldon said it will pursue economic development opportunities to pay back its investors. What that will be — or where it will be — is not certain, he said. It could be renewable energy, or it could be casino gambling.

“We’re going to be looking at options of economic development,” Gabaldon said. “It could be anything. The casinos are the way everybody makes money now. It’s a way for tribes to get economic development, but it’s not the only way.”

Supervisor Dillon said she believes the tribe will pursue gambling, to the detriment of Napa County’s land-use controls.

“What concerns me most is we have some very specific land-use policies in place,” Dillon said. “It’s our land-use system. We have worked so hard to protect agricultural land.”

Copyright 2015 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(22) Comments

  1. brownsvalleygirl
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    brownsvalleygirl - May 06, 2012 8:07 am
    Congrats to Mr. Jensen and the Register for most comprehensive story to date on this complicated issue. "Economic development" = casino. You don't need to look very far away to understand that (Rohnert Park is bracing for a massive casino).
  2. farmboy
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    farmboy - May 06, 2012 9:21 am
    Isn't it interesting how liberal Democrats like Dillon, Wagenknecht, Caldwell, Farm Bureau, Sierra Club etc suddenly aren't so warm and fuzzy towards Native Americans when they think they might lose their power to control them and their own personal little Shangri-la is threatened?
  3. glenroy
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    glenroy - May 06, 2012 9:27 am
    This casino was never in doubt.
    Every single Democrat supports this make-believe tribe’s right to build a casino; those now trying to hedge their bets do so every election….go back and read their comments 2-4-6 years ago then look at their voting record, no correlation.
    There’s nothing wrong with wealth, without we’re another Somalia or East Oakland at best, the problem is we’re supposed to be a nation of laws which we 'all' either abide or pay our debt to society. Liberalism knows no laws they just keep taking that which is not theirs to take. They’ve funneled billions to family businesses, strong arm activists and countless developments, which is one of many reasons they’ve never passed a budget since Obama took office…they don’t you to have any idea where that money was spent…in the end just another law to ignore.
    Add the casino scame to ABSCAM, House Post Office scam, Rostenkowski, Wright, Freddie, Wall St Banks etc...
    If these we’re Democrats the outrage would be deafening…
  4. fmmt47
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    fmmt47 - May 06, 2012 9:36 am
    Hey, put the Casino in the Copia Center for the Arts, just add the slots and gaming tables, restaraunt, bar, and parking are already there! Just think about all of the money the City of Napa Could make! And jobs too!
  5. Report Abuse
    - May 06, 2012 10:13 am
    What is absolutely interesting is in parallel with Exodus from the Bible the more Tribal Leader Scott Gabaldon clearly states his intent, the tribal direction and clearly the undecided economic development which they may facilitate when recognition is awarded, the more Napa County Government and the Napa Valley Wine Industry's hearts are hardened to what is being said. The opposition to the recognition is battling uphill on this matter and the continue to do so in a manner that does not offer solutions or compromises. In my opinion they just do not want to have a sovereign Native American Tribe at the political table in Napa County. Look at the missed opportunity for a win/win, but most importantly for the larger community of Napan's that can benefit from the economical opportunity that the tribe can bring with their recognition. Show your support for the Mishewal Wappo at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Support-the-Mishewal-Wappo-Tribe-for-Federal-Recognition/300805423306509?ref=ts
  6. napavalleyman
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    napavalleyman - May 06, 2012 10:34 am
    I also gongratulate Mr. Jensen and the Register for printing the most comprehensive article I have seen on this issue.
    Report Abuse
    REPUBLICANKID - May 06, 2012 11:26 am
    This will bring Millions to the County. In tour and tax Bay Area players will no longer drive to Cache Creek.
  8. nhs67rules
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    nhs67rules - May 06, 2012 11:52 am
    Visit the luxurious Wappo Winery and Casino, set on 500 acres in the heart of California's beautiful Napa Valley! Our new 3000-room hotel features all the latest amenities, including four restaurants, five bars, and the 10,000 seat Wappo Room concert venue! And our huge Mishewal Casino is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for your gambling pleasure! Just take the new Silverado Trail Freeway north to St. Helena!
  9. reason-ator
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    reason-ator - May 06, 2012 1:03 pm
    If they really want to protect Ag land, they need to ban winery tours and tasting. All of those people trekking to and trodding through wineries will outnumber those going to a casino, and are causing the same "damage" to Ag land that Mr. Grape is so concerned about a caino causing.

    So we'll see how concerned they REALLY are.

    If they ban tours and tasing, then I would be in favor of banning the casino "process". Otherwise, they're just whining about what they believe is their personal sandbox.
  10. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - May 06, 2012 2:05 pm
    I absolutley love the comments by Supervisor Dillon. "We don't believe it's appropriate for the courts to decide this. 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". She believes that an only act of Congress, not a court ruling, should restore tribal reconition.
    So let me get this straight, the Native Americans are supposed to go back to the very government body that took away their status in the beginning. As I recall when the govenment does something to take away your righs, the constitution allows you to petition the courts to regain those rights. Ms. Dillon is a lawyer, but she must have missed that part in law school.
    The tribe did go to Mike Thompson in the beginning and it went nowhere, so Ms. Dillon it looks like the tribe did approach Congress. Liberals like Ms. Dillon love the courts when they rule in their favor, but decry the courts when it's not in their favor.
  11. SlowhandKev
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    SlowhandKev - May 06, 2012 2:28 pm
    Great Article.
    People have been getting screwed out of land since the beginning of time. Gabaldon and his dozens of relatives/associates see this simply as a lottery ticket they can cash in and nothing more. Two wrongs don't make a right, leading the way in the assault and destruction of one of the coolest places on earth with another disgusting casino is a crime towards the very land they pretend to love and they should be stopped at all costs. I'm sure a deal could be reached where they would be just as wealthy in the end that didn't permanently brand the Wappo as the Tribe that had the chance to do something noble and help save the valley, but prostituted themselves instead to their syndicate of soulless financial backers. Some legacy...
  12. John Richards
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    John Richards - May 06, 2012 2:57 pm
    reason-ator said: "If they really want to protect Ag land, they need to ban winery tours and tasting. All of those people trekking to and trodding through wineries will outnumber those going to a casino, and are causing the same "damage" to Ag land that Mr. Grape is so concerned about a caino causing.So we'll see how concerned they REALLY are.If they ban tours and tasing, then I would be in favor of banning the casino "process"."

    So the process of tasting a real product that is locally grown is somehow equivalent to the process of casino gambling? Give me a break!
  13. freddy61
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    freddy61 - May 06, 2012 4:20 pm
    Maybe not even a hotel just a large casino and that would fill up all the hotels year around in the area..
  14. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - May 06, 2012 6:37 pm
    What the hotels fear is the casino having rooms priced at under $100 per night. A month or so ago the NVR had an article stating that the average hotel in the valley charges $250 per night. A casino with rooms under $100 per night is direct threat to those who charge outrageous prices for hotel rooms. I suspect that the county and the cities feel that they would lose a lot of TOT money if a casino comes to the valley. It's all about the money with the cities and county.
  15. Cadence
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    Cadence - May 06, 2012 6:53 pm
    Think the casino can sign Wayne Newton for some stage entertainment? So cool - cheapie rooms AND Wayne Newton; what's not to like?
  16. kbc
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    kbc - May 06, 2012 7:53 pm
    Great logic "reason-ator" - because we only need to grow the grapes to protect ag, not actually sell the wine.
  17. backinnapa
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    backinnapa - May 06, 2012 8:03 pm
    I lived in Amador County for 15 or so years, the last 2 years on the exact road (less than 1 mile from the Indian Casino) on which the Jackson Rancheria is located. The crime rate sky-rocketed! Both at the casino and on the road leading into and out of it. Almost every arrest was of people from out of town (mainly Stockton). It hasn't gotten any better. Almost every arrest involved drugs. I'm just saying.
  18. selim_sivad
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    selim_sivad - May 07, 2012 9:43 am
    Anyone who thinks that wine tasting & tours are the "same" as a casino in terms of traffic and environmental impact has not lived near a casino before.

    I honestly think gambling is fine if it's regulated & taxed. But I also think there are good places and bad places for casinos. Good places are near major freeways to mitigate traffic issues. Bad places are in rural or agricultural lands. And this tribal recognition is really a backdoor attempt to build a casino...don't let anything they're saying lead you to believe otherwise. Do you really think they won't exploit every opportunity to make a buck?

    There is nothing wrong with NOT having major gambling in Napa Valley. Can't we just keep upvalley "nice" and not spoil it with cookie-cutter entertainment for the lowest common denominator? Must we destroy the very character that draws in tourists from around the globe? Talk about killing the goose that lays the golden egg...
  19. reason-ator
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    reason-ator - May 07, 2012 11:42 am
    John Richards said: "So the process of tasting a real product that is locally grown is somehow equivalent to the process of casino gambling? Give me a break!

    I guess I should have made it simpler to understand. I thought it was a no-brainer.

    Tasting the wine is just fine. It's getting the wine from the vine to your lips that is expensive. Much of that expense is borne by the taxpayers who do not drink wine. And the people that are profiting IMMENSELY aren't paying like we are. Which may not be so bad if the roads were in decent shape.

    The fundamental of the wine industry is a competition to lure more traffic than other wineries to buy their wine instead of the competition. What other industry strive to add more traffic ? And tear up more roads ?

    "Tasting" ? What do they call that after-taste of the locally grown fruit's traffic and pollution ?

    Oh, it's not traffic and pollution. It's "Napa Style". It's "Wine Country Living".

    Give me a break, indeed !
  20. Report Abuse
    - May 07, 2012 1:13 pm
    Talk about crime rate increase? In the last 7 seven days we have had a few robberies including Silverado CC. Plus a 17 people sweep for sales of meth. Handful of assaults. Lots of petty theft and some domestic violence responses and arrests. But Napa likes crime it is good for the court system especially when those you arrest eventually end up in the food lines and sleeping in the bushes or by the river and then the homeless shelter. It all makes good for law enforcement, corrections and the judicial system. I am guessing that should the casino go into Napa County it will cause such a explosion of crime that it will dwarf the crime rate and the consistent crimes that keep happening in Napa on a rate that seems not too match the statistics. But lets not disturb our homeless crime makers in downtown because we need that petty theft to compare to a probable casino somewhere in the future that will ultimately bring in syndicated crime and cause such a big crime boom! NOT!
  21. shareathought
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    shareathought - May 07, 2012 5:13 pm
    Anyone who has been in Napa since the 70's knows that Napa County is one of the most prejudiced county's in the state. The toleration of brown-skinned people has always been for the services they can provide, not in treating them as equals. Napa County supervisors will allow the "investors" (whomever they might be), to make big bucks with Napa Pipe (the aftermath for which the local everyday people will foot the bill), in an industrial zoned location...but not allow those "indians" to be recognized. Anyone who has looked to the local history is aware that promises were never kept by those who only wanted to wrench the land of the first people, and when that didn't work to satisfaction...the hunting of them down.
  22. pechanga
    Report Abuse
    pechanga - May 09, 2012 2:54 pm
    Napa is occupied Indian lands...born as the result of greed;murder,theft, fraud, deception of greedy eyes.

    Beautiful..isn't it? It was pristine paradise for Indians...

    Give what what is owed you selfish humans! Pfft! you speak of despoilation..yet..you do not speak of your despoilation.

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