California tribe agrees to election to end dispute

AP News
Posted: Jul 08, 2014 3:15 PM

CORNING, Calif. (AP) — Rival factions within a Native American tribe fighting over a lucrative Northern California casino and other assets have agreed to a binding general election, officials said.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller signed off on the agreement Monday in Sacramento after three days of intense mediation between members of the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians, the Sacramento Bee ( reported.

The election will take place Sept. 13 and an independent third party will oversee the process, Tribal Chairman Andy Freeman said.

"The mediation went well. It gave us the opportunity to talk to each other and see both sides," Freeman said. "The bottom line is the whole tribe needs to talk."

Meanwhile, a temporary restraining order will remain in effect now as a preliminary injunction prohibiting the adversarial groups from deploying armed guards or bringing firearms within 100 yards of the tribe's $100-million-a-year Rolling Hills Casino in Corning, California, Mueller announced.

The two factions' security guards faced off on casino grounds last month as Tehama County Sheriff's deputies spent a week at the casino trying to keep the peace.

"Issuance of this preliminary injunction will serve the public interest by preserving the status quo," Mueller said, "and avoiding injury to the people of the state, until the final resolution of this case."

The dispute centers on who controls the tribe, alleged financial improprieties among tribal workers and who qualifies for membership and the $54,000 a year in casino payments, as well as trust funds and scholarships for children.

Tensions flared in April when the tribe's general council removed more than 70 members from its rolls including three removed from the tribe's governing body. They were recently reinstated — even though they have been barred from entering the casino under the tribal chairman's orders.

Meanwhile, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs said last month that it recognizes the three ousted council members as part of the tribe's governing body. A fourth tribal council member, who allegedly vacated his seat and joined the ranks of the three removed council members, is also being recognized by the federal agency.

The two factions said in a joint statement Monday that together they would pick an accounting firm or forensic auditor to investigate the alleged financial improprieties. Both sides also agreed to work together to sell the tribe's $3 million jet, 162 ounces of gold and other tribal assets.