Two months after the tribe's elections, supporters of newly elected tribal members staged a takeover at the tribe's government center Monday. They broke into the building around 6:30 a.m. and now refuse to leave. Monday night, deputies from the Madera County Sheriff's Department stayed across the street in an effort to keep the peace while the two groups of tribal members set up camp in neighboring office buildings.
The newly elected tribal members said they've been locked out of the building since December. The four members are now inside, vowing not to leave. "We'll be here as long as it takes. We've got membership that's bringing in food and water. We've got membership that has volunteered to stand watch. We don't plan on going anywhere," said Tribal Council Vice-Chair Dora Jones.
To this point, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has declined to get involved in the election dispute, saying it needs to be worked out within the tribe. Members of the former tribal council say they are following tribal law and their constitution and say the others didn't follow proper procedure to take their seats. "They say they are doing this peacefully but it's not peaceful when you break in windows, when you keep people from going where they want to go, which is what they're doing, that's not peaceful," said tribal member Reggie Lewis.
One of the main issues in the conflict is disenrollment of tribal members. While the two groups remain at an impasse, the Chukchansi Casino is now being impacted as well. Some tribal members employed at the casino were sent home from work Monday afternoon and told they were on paid leave. Action News also learned the hotel is no longer accepting reservations for the time being. On two separate occasions, we were given two explanations as to why. One explanation referred to a computer system failure. Later we were told the rooms were all full.
Madera County Sheriff John Anderson says the tribal land is out of his jurisdiction so his deputies are just there to make sure things stay peaceful. He met with representatives from both groups Monday and also contacted the Bureau of Indian Affairs, hoping it will help the two sides come up with a resolution.