Government declares 'interim' leaders of Chukchansi tribe

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The reopening of the shuttered Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino is Reggie Lewis first goal.

Lewis said, "Let's do what we have to get the casino open and these other problems can be handled down the road."

Lewis hopes the Bureau of Indian Affairs ruling giving his group interim control will influence the National Indian Gaming Commission or NIGC to let the casino reopen.

"This is who the people recognize you guys have to work with these people and get the casino open," said Lewis. "The safety issue is no longer an issue."

But safety was the big issue when the NGIC closed the casino last October after a rival faction attempted a violent takeover. Some members of that faction occupy the tribal offices across the road from the casino in the foothills near Coarsegold. Donna Featherstone, says she is the Tribal Chairman of the group, and believes the ruling doesn't change that.

Featherstone explained, "There is no jurisdiction to change the status quo on our tribal land they have to have a federal court order to remove us."

While talking peace, Lewis has indicated the next step could be to have the sheriff evict Featherstone and the rival council from tribal offices.

"How can we let just a group of individuals maintain control of a government compound, that's the tribes it's not their personal buildings." Lewis said.

But Featherstone says they are not budging.

"We are planning to stay here," added Featherstone. "The sheriff doesn't have jurisdiction to remove us from the compound."

So the potential exists for even more conflict. At the tribal meeting and vote three weeks ago, scuffles broke out. The BIA also wants the tribe to hold another election, to clarify the leadership situation. Lewis hopes to get the casino opened first.

Lewis added, "Because the problems aren't going to go away with the election, they will still be there and we will still have problems as a tribe, we have always had problems but we have to learn how to get these problems solved."

According to Lewis, it would take months to reopen the casino as most of the gaming machines have been repossessed.

The shutdown resulted in the layoffs of more tribal members and more than 1200 nonnative employees.

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