Napa County tossed out of Wappo tribal lawsuit

2012-10-03T11:05:00Z 2012-11-15T20:00:47Z Napa County tossed out of Wappo tribal lawsuitPETER JENSEN Napa Valley Register
October 03, 2012 11:05 am  • 

In a crippling blow to Napa County’s efforts to prevent a local Indian tribe from ever building a casino, a federal judge last week removed the county from the tribe’s lawsuit against the U.S. government.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila ruled last Friday that Napa and Sonoma counties didn’t have enough of a significant interest to remain in the lawsuit, and granted a motion from the Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley that removed both counties from the suit.

The Wappo tribe sued the government in 2009 seeking restoration of its federal recognition, which it claims was illegally stripped from the tribe in the 1950s. Napa and Sonoma counties joined the lawsuit in 2010, and argued that restoring the tribe’s recognition would pave the way for the tribe to build a casino within either county’s boundaries.

The counties fear that recognition will allow the tribe to petition the government to take land into trust for it, thus exempting that land from local land-use and zoning laws.

After the counties’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit failed last fall, the tribe filed its motion to dismiss the counties in February by arguing that their fears of a casino were too speculative to justify their continued involvement in the case. The case, the tribe has contended in court documents, deals primarily with recognition, not land.

Davila agreed, and wrote in his ruling that “the Counties’ contention that the development of a Las Vegas-style casino would have a significant impact on the land surrounding the development assumes too much about future events not at issue in this case and is flawed in any event.”

Wappo Tribal Chairman Scott Gabaldon said the ruling clears a major hurdle for the tribe in its pursuit of recognition. The tribe’s next move will be to make a motion for summary judgment, he said. If successful, that would allow Davila to end the case and grant recognition.

“We can move on to summary judgment and get this thing behind us,” Gabaldon said. “We did win, and it was a huge win. We couldn’t be happier with the judge’s ruling.”

Napa County Counsel Mihn Tran said he was disappointed to hear of Davila’s ruling, and added that the Napa County Board of Supervisors will discuss its legal options, including pursuing an appeal of the ruling, during its meeting next Tuesday.

“Certainly this is very important to the county,” Tran said. “We at the present time are analyzing the various options available to us.”

Tran noted that the county has preserved an appeal of Davila’s earlier ruling denying its motion to dismiss the case. He said an appeal could encompass both rulings.

“All those issues would be coming back,” Tran said. “Basically this is the end of the case for us.”

Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon said the county’s goal has always been to protect Napa from the threat of gaming.

“The tribe specifically asked that the lands taken into trust be deemed ‘restored lands,’ which is the specific land status they need under the federal Indian gaming statute to build and operate a large, Las Vegas-style casino in Napa County,” Dillon said.

“Our significant protectable interests here include our precious agricultural preserve, our concern for the environment, the orderly administration of our comprehensive land use regulations, and the quality of life in Napa County, which we have fought to protect for decades, and we disagree with the judge’s decision.”

“This decision really points out the flaws in the process. The judge is cutting the community out of a process that could have long-term consequences for the sustainability of the Napa Valley as a unique premium wine-growing region, threatening the backbone of our local economy,” Dillon said. “We will continue to assert our rights and advocate for the protection of the Ag Preserve through whatever means are available to us.”

Gabaldon said he expects that the ruling won’t mark the end of the fights between the counties and his tribe, but more likely will shift the battle to a different arena.

Should his tribe pursue a casino if it does receive federal recognition, he expects the counties to push back vehemently.

“In the future, there will be bigger fights,” Gabaldon said of the dispute over land and a casino. “That’s not the fight right now.”

Gabaldon has maintained that his tribe has not made a decision on whether to pursue building a casino if it does have its recognition restored. He has called it an option the tribe can consider, among several other paths to economic development.

Napa County and U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, have maintained that only Congress, not the federal courts system, should be able to grant tribes recognition.

“Even with the court’s decision to dismiss our county’s and community’s interests from this case, the fact remains that the correct process for federal recognition of a congressionally derecognized tribe rests with Congress,” Thompson said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Circumventing Congress through the courts is not in the best interest of the American people, and it’s not in the best interests of Napa and Sonoma Counties.”

The Wappo tribe historically had roots in Napa Valley and Sonoma County, and in a small part of Lake County. Around the turn of the 20th century, the sole surviving members of the tribe were relocated to a small portion of land, called a rancheria, in Alexander Valley near Healdsburg in Sonoma County. Tribal members voted in the 1930s to be a federally recognized tribe.

In the 1950s, as part of an effort that spanned California, the federal government sought to disassemble the rancherias, break up the land among individual owners, and strip tribes such as the Wappo of their recognition.

One of the central thrusts of the Wappo’s case is that a nontribal member, a man named James Adams who was living at the rancheria, was one of two people to vote on removing the tribe’s recognition. The tribe, whose members live in Santa Rosa and the surrounding areas, filed its lawsuit in June 2009 on the grounds that this was illegal, and its recognition should be restored.

In its motion to dismiss the counties, the tribe said the counties had been able to join the lawsuit in 2010 only because the tribe and the federal government had given permission.

The counties argued that they had always had a right to intervene in the lawsuit.

Davila took over the case from his predecessor on the bench, U.S. District Court Judge James Ware, and noted that Ware never reviewed the counties’ standing in the case before he retired.

Thus, in his ruling Friday, Davila analyzed that issue for the first time and concluded that the tribe’s argument prevailed. Davila hinged his ruling on whether the counties had a “protectable interest” in the lawsuit.

The counties’ argument in support of their interest in the case was to cite preservation of their agricultural lands, prevention of environmental detriment and maintenance of regulatory and taxing authority.

However, the tribe’s lawsuit only specifies that it seeks land that’s managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, is within the tribe’s aboriginal footprint, and is available for transfer. If transferred, the tribe sought to have those lands restored and considered “Indian Country” under federal law.

Davila determined that this nullified the county’s interest in the lawsuit.

“There is no direct, immediate or harmful effect on county land by simply placing federal land into trust as the Tribe requests,” Davila wrote. “The harm articulated by the Counties could only result if a casino was actually developed, an issue which is not encompassed by this case.”

Further, Davila wrote that the counties’ continued involvement in the case has caused it undue delay, and disrupted settlement negotiations between the tribe and the federal government.

“These negotiations turned to litigation with the addition of the Counties, such that the Counties — as peripheral players to this lawsuit — have now become its driving force,” Davila wrote.

“They shouldn’t have been in it in the first place,” Gabaldon said of the counties. “It’s a big victory for the tribe. I really feel like it always has been a government-to-government issue. My immediate reaction is, ‘Yahoo, we won.’ It’s really tough to kick someone out of a case.”

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(29) Comments

  1. selim_sivad
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    selim_sivad - October 03, 2012 12:08 pm
    Building a casino has always been the endgame, don't believe the doubletalk from the tribe chairman. This "wait & see" talk is just a charade as to not validate the County's original objections. Surely we didn't really expect Gabaldon to say "Yes, your honor, the County's fears are right. We absolutely are going to build a casino." He's going to say "well, we're not sure yet," but you watch- the minute they win: BAM; "Coming Soon: Casino at the Vines, featuring a 24 hour buffet and an exciting inaugural performance by Eddie Money"

    I hope the County Counsel and the Board of Supervisors redouble their efforts to fight this in any avenue they can because allowing a casino is the first step in ending the beauty of our valley.
  2. Report Abuse
    - October 03, 2012 1:11 pm
    Get a balanced perspective on the Mishewal Wappo's fight for Federal Recognition: Please "LIKE us" at:
  3. napanativegirl
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    napanativegirl - October 03, 2012 1:29 pm
    Our children learn about the Wappo tribe in Napa schools, will they include the future casino in the lessons? Of course they will want a casino. Then we can be like Lake County, won't that be fun :(
  4. NapaCitizen
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    NapaCitizen - October 03, 2012 2:07 pm
    Ok, stop right now and educate yourselves on the historical components of this suit. The ruling is clear and correct. It is a matter to be adjudicated between two parties, to correct a wrong-doing.

    Given that the Federal Government has violated virtually every treaty with every sovereign nation in its colony, there will continue to be these suits. The Wappo never asked to go through such institutionalized genocide. Removal, termination, forced assimilation, cultural & religious persecution, separation from homelands and family members.

    I will continue to put out tobacco and pray for the enlightenment of my fellow Napa Valley citizens.
    Let the healing proceed, and may Dillon, Thompson, and Feinstein show true leadership by recognizing the Wappo are dual citizens, and also their constituents. Please come to the table with a good heart and a handshake. This hysteria has wasted enough of your time -- which would be better spent on solving issues through diplomacy than litigation.
  5. basscrzy
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    basscrzy - October 03, 2012 2:54 pm
    @Slim-Said: you dont know me.
  6. journeyman
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    journeyman - October 03, 2012 3:26 pm
    The white man has been steeling and killing the native americans from the beginning. Its time for the natives to take back their land. Further more a casino slash winery will put people back to work. The valley is already called the las vegas of wine a casino will be perfect...its time for the the real natives to win win!!
  7. tommerle
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    tommerle - October 03, 2012 3:51 pm
    Bury my heart at Alexander Valley. Have local Anglos no compassion, no shame, for what our forebears did to native Americans. After we took all their land and created Indian reservations, and then watched indigenous people destroy what was left due to alcoholism. This Euro-American opposition is disgusting.
  8. herbal420
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    herbal420 - October 03, 2012 4:26 pm
    give the land back to it's rightful guardians. all these americans complaining about losing their way of life, how do you think the Native Wappo felt when white people showed up and ruined everything?! we white americans have no right to deny the natives of their right to be free on THEIR land. we are their guests, we should be grateful to them
  9. herbal420
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    herbal420 - October 03, 2012 4:29 pm
    unfounded entitlement was the first step in ending the beauty of THEIR valley. stop feeling entitled because you are "american"; it is not your land to decide what happens.
  10. basscrzy
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    basscrzy - October 03, 2012 4:49 pm
    I hope your children will learn how a county was removed from a case when they over stepped their standing and how a tribe stood up for what is right a lesson i hope you might learn as well.

    Chairman Gabaldon
  11. JimD
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    JimD - October 03, 2012 10:51 pm
    How about a BIG WAR Whoop for our Wappo Indians. Take back what is rightfully yours. They couldn't kill you all with their guns. Now they are still trying to kill you with their laws and Napans ignorance and elitism. How about a casino where the decrepit Gateway Trailer Park is in Yountville? A beautiful casino and hotel would have an unobstructed view of WAPPO MOUNTAIN or is it mondovi mtn. now?
  12. Report Abuse
    - October 04, 2012 8:45 am
    This comment thread is polluted with some misgivings in concern with what is happening and ultimately will happen. Across our Nation Native peoples are having their sovereignty re-established. Because as a great democracy and a leader in the world on Human Rights we can't go about claiming our "Amnesty" purity when our back yard is full of historical genocide which has blossomed into multiple forms of Assimilation. The federal government has attempted over years to "protect and preserve" native people and their culture, only ending with the same results, unsuccessful plans that only continue to muddy the native culture even further. So today "self determination" is the strategy for native peoples. And the greater proportion in comparison to yesterdays, it is working. The days of the Great White Father in Washington are over. Native peoples have a new path lets not stand in their way. Last thought, I question some of Napa Counties teachings on the Wappo Tribes, there were 6 tribes not 1
  13. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - October 04, 2012 9:18 am
    For decades we have abused the Native Americans, but yet we bend over backwards for Muslims, Hispanics, etc. The government took away their rights and now has to give it back. Shame on Napa County for trying to prevent these people from gaining back what was rightfully theirs in the first place.
    I don't gamble and frankly if they get land and build a casino who cares. Maybe they could actually get Copia and make it a functioning place again. The bottom line is the BOS does not want the Wappo to get any land for any purpose because they would have no control over it. They would get no taxes, no building/inspection fees and it would be strictly controlled by the tribe. It's all about the money the county would NOT get. Maybe the tribe would actually build a hotel and restaurant that the average Napa resident could afford. I suspect the county will waste more of our tax money trying to appeal this ruling.
  14. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - October 04, 2012 10:36 am
    The Wappo are citizens with or without a casino. Stop with the emotional game playing. This is all BS. The Wappo name is being USED by gaming interests who could care less about what happened hundreds of years ago.
  15. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - October 04, 2012 10:46 am
    "We" no longer counts. The "we" you're talking about were men from maybe 200 years ago. Yes they were bad guys regardless of their Anglo heritage. And btw, I have white skin and blond hair and I am a direct descendant of someone who is undoubtedly Native American.

    Most of the Native Americans today have comingled with lighter skinned people. They have assimilated. You can see it in their facial features, such as high cheek bones. Do they not count as Native Americans? Maybe they should be asked whether or not they want a casino here. Maybe one guy who calls himself Wappo (and exactly how do you prove that?) shouldn't make all the decisions for the other mixed anglo/native americans out there.
  16. reason-ator
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    reason-ator - October 04, 2012 5:26 pm
    I'm confused.

    Do we want tourists coming here and spending money ?

    Isn't that the foundation vision of the new, vibrating Napa ?

    Oh, wait, alcohol is evil.

    Oh, wait, wrong evil.
  17. naparealestate
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    naparealestate - October 04, 2012 6:03 pm
    Elected officials of Napa County and the State of California: please appeal this decision on our behalf. Nobody wants a casino in Napa Valley except the gaming industry and those few that will profit handsomely off its construction.

    Look at what's happened in Connecticut -- a casino was built an hour outside of New York City to service that market. They built a million (1,000,000) square feet. This is not a typo -- one million square feet. As one of the country's prime tourist destinations and located just an hour from San Francisco, the Napa Valley could endure a similar fate.

    This is not racism. Most support recognition of the Wappo tribe should they agree to prohibit gambling on their lands as a condition of their recognition. But absent such a pledge, the only recourse is to fight back hard. The future of our community is at stake.
  18. rocketman
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    rocketman - October 04, 2012 8:27 pm
    Excellent comments and who cares if they build a casino.....way too much is made of this.......
  19. rocketman
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    rocketman - October 04, 2012 8:28 pm
    .......yep....the sky is falling, the sky is falling.......
  20. Lucy White
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    Lucy White - October 04, 2012 11:57 pm
    journeyman... - and you are right. this is the American Indian lands on which we have been prosperous. the Wappo Tribe will certainly think like a businessman and seek to find business opportunities which many of us might envy - it is exciting to think of new energy coming to Napa / Sonoma. just think the possibility of jobs despite Dillon / Thompson!
  21. Lucy White
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    Lucy White - October 05, 2012 12:05 am
    v-d-l ... heartless wonder.
  22. Report Abuse
    - October 05, 2012 8:31 am
    To say that you support the Wappo Tribe in granting their Federal Recognition, then to stipulate that they ban indian gaming as a source of economic development is hypocritical. Napa Valley has a casino and nothing absolutely nothing evil has be fallen our community. Additionally you can't give to the Wappo their sovereignty and then compromise it by demanding stipulation's through political blackmail. It would be a false diplomatic position, it is better to genuine. Oh but wait a minute! This battle with Napa County is not about a Casino, that is a smoke screen, the County does not want to be harnessed to having to evolve diplomatic and political relations with a Wappo government with in a county government. That is exactly what is in the argument of political amputation here. The old saying is true, "you can't have two women cooking in the kitchen at the same time". Come on Napa County Government, please grow up!
  23. naparealestate
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    naparealestate - October 05, 2012 9:01 pm
    Oracle, so you admit that the economic development the Wappo desire is a casino. I'm glad you can at least be honest enough to say it (at least in a blog post about 20 people read). I would think more highly of you if you were to say it aloud, in public, in court, for everyone to hear.

    It's not hypocritical to be pro-recognition and anti-casino.

    For the record, I do not support any kind of "sovereign nation" within the United States for Indian tribes. No matter how abhorent the history, the creation of sovereign nations goes too far. Indian tribes across the United States have used their sovereign nation status to economically benefit from activities that would be otherwise not permissible according to local, state, and national regulations -- tax free cigarettes and liquor, heavy manufacturing without environmental regulations, and lots of gambling.

    And the American Canyon card room is a far cry from a casino. I'm sure your financial backers have *far* grander plans.
  24. Report Abuse
    - October 06, 2012 11:45 am
    Actually naparealestate, my people are not the Wappo and I have no idea what their plans are for economic development. However this argument funneled by your industry against Indian casino's is slanted and bias bringing only the most severe negative information to the table for the public to view. I reject your claim that I have stated the desire of the Wappo tribe, however I will say that many tribes nationally are considering the evolvement of Indian gaming as a economic base, Indian gaming is a very old tradition and trade in the historical America's. I argue that Native tribes that are recognized are far better than the "shadow government & rule" offered by the Vatican for over 800 years. If not for Henry Tudor we might still be in a state of "papalism" with Franciscan's magically pulling glass beads from their sleeve's to "wow" native people's with the intent to create a faith based utopia in which native culture is redefined in the fields of the missions.
  25. Report Abuse
    - October 06, 2012 12:11 pm
    As for my people and myself (The Small People Tribe) once we receive recognition as a Non-Profit we plan to become a watch dog in Napa County observing the Local Real Estate Industry and commence legislative action to reform the "Deeds Of Trust" laws in the State Of California Business & Professionals Code and the California Real Estate Law. This will help curve the collusion, fraud and conspiracy that appears to surface from the napa real estate Industry. Grants will be more than willing to come our way after our nations most recent endeavor into mortgage fraud, hedge funds, casinos', derivatives, etc. It will be interesting to see the Fed's make more audits in Napa real-estate businesses as we point out the appearance proactive collusion of County Elected officials receiving large sums of campaign monies from the special interest real estate parties. I mean seriously after "Tug Boat Gate" I am sure that the door is still open for impropriety. Or you could argue my bias & spin here?
  26. Oldtimenapan
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    Oldtimenapan - October 06, 2012 9:16 pm
    Please build the casino, it will save trips to middletown, cache creek, reno etc. It would be so much fun to have that type of entertainment close by. If the grapes can't compete then maybe they should do something else. For some reason people act like gamming is evil but no amounts of wine are. Talk about a double standard. Ask around, lots of people are in favor ot it.
  27. boomtho707
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    boomtho707 - October 08, 2012 12:11 pm
    Funny how the Natives that were once guardians of this land, now want to rape and pillage the land for profit.
  28. shareathought
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    shareathought - October 10, 2012 5:28 pm
    "I do not support any kind of "sovereign nation" within the United States for Indian tribes....Indian tribes across the United States have used their sovereign nation status to economically benefit from activities that would be otherwise not permissible according to local, state, and national regulations -- tax free cigarettes and liquor, heavy manufacturing without environmental regulations, and lots of gambling."

    And they are also forced to allow large corporations the right to mine things, such as coal, from "their" land (for the good of the country). They are even allowed to go to work for the corporations and gain low wages, cancer or lung disease for their labor, and are left with polluted earth and water (while the corporations run away with the profits).

    The County's concern is all about real estate.
  29. boomtho707
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    boomtho707 - October 11, 2012 9:55 am
    And they are allowed to smoke the peace pipe with big casino and ignore any and all laws of the region. I'm sure this makes up for the trail of tears.
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