Chukchansi Tribe Makes Tentative Progress Towards Reopening Casino

Chukchansi Gold casinoConflicts within the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians came into full view in October when a faction of the tribe raided the group’s own casino, the Chukchansi Gold Resort. After the altercation, both the state and federal government quickly moved to shut down the casino until the tribe sorts out its differences and supplies regulators with the necessary audits.

On Sunday, more than 600 members of the tribe gathered to appoint leaders for a so-called Unification Council, which will work towards the reopening of the casino until a tribal council election to be held.

“This was a historic moment for our Tribe in charting a path to reopen our casino, to restore order to our government, to provide services to our members and to silence any group attempting to sew confusion and discord,” said Reggie Lewis, cochairman of the Unification Council.

“As a proud people, the Chukchansi have had to endure hardship and harsh conditions in order to survive and the overwhelming support that the general council bestowed upon us as tribal leaders is an honor which we take seriously,” said co-chair Nancy Ayala.

Opposition on the outside looking in

The problem, though, is that the group which organized the meeting represents only two of four factions vying for control of the casino. “It was a complete shamble,” said tribal leader Dora Jones. “They kept telling the members, ‘A yes vote means you want to open the casino and a no vote means you don’t want to open the casino.’”

Organizers went so far as to turn off the microphone when the opposition went to speak, added Jones. Lewis, however, explained that the sound was turned off in an attempt to maintain order during the meeting, not to silence critics.

Lewis added that such meetings routinely devolve into chaos due to the fact that there is no established process for how the tribe votes on resolutions.

Even so, the cochairman saw the gathering as a step forward in reopening the tribe’s vital casino. Fresno police watched over the meeting, as internal conflicts within the tribe have often spilled over into violence. Besides some pushing and shoving, though, the meeting was mostly peaceful.

Currently, 15 tribal members are sitting in jail, charged with various offenses related to the Chukchansi Gold Resort raid. The men are followers of Tex McDonald, who led the assault, and who now is behind bars on a multimillion dollar bail.