North Fork Tribal Conflict

May 2, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
After serving 6 years on the tribal council and six months as tribal chair, Jacqueline Davis Van-Huss was asked to resign her position with the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, two weeks ago. She says she complied, just to get along, but was stunned when she was then suspended from her tribe this week. "Not in my wildest dreams did I ever feel that I ever did anything criminal, that I did anything out of the ordinary that anybody else hasn't done" Van-Huss told us.Van Huss has been a driving force in the tribe's effort to get a casino located along Highway 99 North of Madera. She says the alleged credit card violations were for mostly for routine travel expenses, not personal items. "I'm here today talking to you just to try to set the record straight. They were all tribal business related charges." She said.

But the tribal chairperson who replaced Van-Huss, Elaine Bethel Fink told us on Tuesday Van Huss simply broke the rules. She said "We hold a high standard as far as tribal council and our council members have to abide by that. And we are a government, we have our documents and we have to follow the documents.

But Native American tribal governments operate under peculiar rules.

The normally five person council of the North Fork tribe has ousted Van Huss, and another council member, Orion Heath. So there are now just three people in control of the 17 hundred member tribe.

Kenneth Hansen, an assistant professor of political science at Fresno state is an expert on tribal politics. While not referring specifically to the situation in North Fork, he says this kind of closed-door drama is common in tribal government. Hansen says, "If you can kick out those people who you think are gonna vote against you in the next election then your re-election might be assured, so there's that going on."

This turmoil comes as the North Fork tribe won an important victory this week. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger approved a deal to let the tribe open a casino in Madera County. But it still requires approval from the legislature, and the Federal Government.

Hansen, who's writing a book on Tribal Casino's and politics said casino's casino can bring out the worst in a tribe. "If people want to fight, they will fight over nothing. They will fight over scraps, But something tangible like a casino and the potential for a great deal of economic development can also cause that kind of a conflict.

Van Huss says many in the 17 hundred member tribe have concerns about her ouster, and are raising questions about the casino deal signed with the Governor, but feel the secretive tribal council is not addressing their concerns.