2011-10-25 "Judge allows Wappos to continue quest to regain tribal status" by STEVE HART from "THE PRESS DEMOCRAT" newspaper of the San Pablo Bay in the State of California
Alexander Valley’s Wappo Indians have won a victory in federal court, where a judge ruled Sonoma County can’t stop their bid to regain tribal status.
The county fears the Wappos want to build a casino, but the tribe’s leader said they won’t make a decision until they win federal recognition.
“It’s an option for the tribe,” said Wappo chairman Scott Gabaldon. “I’m not sure what the future will hold.”
The Wappos sued U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2009, charging the federal government acted unlawfully when it disbanded the tribe in 1959. The Wappos are asking the government to restore their tribal status, benefits and historic land rights.
The Wappos would get rights to casino gambling on restored land if their lawsuit is successful.
Sonoma and Napa counties intervened in the case last year, arguing the tribe shouldn’t remove land from their jurisdictions without local approval.
They asked the federal court to dismiss the Wappos’ case, alleging the group waited too long to file their complaint. The counties also questioned the group’s connections to the historic Wappo tribe and argued the Interior Department has no authority to recognize the tribe.
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Edward J. Davila denied the counties’ motion, ruling the Wappos can go forward with their claim.
The group is in settlement talks with attorneys for the Interior Department, according to court records.
It’s too soon to say whether Sonoma County will appeal the judge’s decision, said Jeffrey Brax, an attorney for the county. “We are obviously disappointed,” he said Tuesday.
But Sonoma and Napa still are parties in the dispute, and they’ll push to be included in any proposed settlement, Brax said.
“We would oppose any effort to grant official recognition without our participation,” he said.
The Wappos once occupied Napa County, eastern Sonoma County and southern Lake County, according to anthropologists. There were 8,000 Wappos in 1851, but just 340 today, the tribe said.
In 1908, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs established Alexander Valley Rancheria, a 54-acre reservation for the Wappos on the Russian River northeast of Healdsburg. The federal government’s 1917 census found 10 families and 37 individuals living there. Many left in later years because of poor living conditions, Gabaldon said.
The tribe lost its federal status in 1959, after Congress passed a law aimed at privatizing California’s small Indian communities.
The Wappos’ lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Jose alleges the former reservation land was improperly distributed and the government didn’t keep promises to improve water, roads and sanitation.