Despite the recent election of a caretaker unity tribal council the casino formerly operated by the Chuckchansi tribe of Central California remains closed.
The National Indian Gaming Commission and a federal judge ordered the casino closed in October after one of several warring tribal factions made an armed incursion into the casino.
Several arrests followed and prosecutions are in progress, but the casino remains closed and many tribal members are without the basic services that the tribe provided with money from the casino.
During the course of the long struggle for control of the tribe many longtime members were “disenrolled” for not having enough of the required bloodline.
That is the official reason for why hundreds of tribal members were taken off the rolls after the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino opened in the early 2000s. Others speculate that the reason is so that the money paid to tribal members from casino receipts can be concentrated into fewer hands.
Supporters of the disenrolling claim that the numbers of tribal members started to climb dramatically as soon as the tribe began talking about building a casino.
According to Nancy Ayala, a member of the unity council, “It wasn’t even money; it was the idea of money. There weren’t that many Indians up on the hill before then the casino came and people started moving in.”
Some estimate that half of the original 1,800 members of the tribe are no longer members. Many were kicked out of the tribe because they opposed whoever happened to be in power at the time. Often just having your membership qualifications questioned was enough to be ejected.
But with the casino closed even those who remain are not being paid.
Ted McDonald, the leader of the group that tried to take over the casino by force, the rival faction had resisted the idea of an audit and $11 million turned up missing. McDonald is still in jail.
A Fresno State political science professor, Kenneth Hansen, interviewed by Valley Public Radio commented, “When they say it’s not about politics, it is. When they say it’s not about the money, it is. Where those two things converge you have an explosion it seems to me.”
Currently a unity council composed of members from all the factions is running the tribe.
According to Reggie Lewis, one of those leaders, “We’re trying to deal with all the issues, form all the tribal members and even though they were supporting, Nancy, or they were supporting Tex, or they were supporting my sister and Monica. You’re still a tribal member and we’re still going to treat you like a tribal member.”