Law | Politics

BIA recognizes temporary leadership of Winnemucca Colony

After nearly a decade of inaction, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has recognized a government of the Winnemucca Indian Colony of Nevada -- but only for six days.

In response to a federal judge's order, the BIA on Wednesday declared longtime rivals Thomas Wasson and Williams Bills to be the "interim representatives" of the tribe. As such, the two men can carry out "government-to-government relations" with the BIA.

However, the BIA said it will stop recognizing Wasson and Bills as the tribe's government on noon this coming Wednesday. After that, the two men will have to wait until an administrative case is resolved at the BIA, government attorneys said in a court filing today.

"This court's decision to order the BIA to 'recognize' a colony representative was ... unwarranted and overbroad," U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Bogden told Judge Robert C. Jones.

The leadership dispute began in February 2000 when then-chairman Glenn Wasson questioned the legitimacy of vice chairman William Bills. Ten days later, on February 22, 2000, Wasson was murdered on the steps of the tribe's headquarters.

No one has been arrested for the crime. Wasson was 66.

Bills, who is reportedly Filipino by blood, was adopted by a tribal member. He later claimed control of the tribe but was challenged by Sharon Wasson and Thomas Wasson.

The dispute led the BIA in July 2000 to declare the tribe to be "dysfunctional". The BIA has refused to recognize anyone as the legitimate leader since then.

After years of litigation in federal court, the Wasson and Bills factions agreed to let a panel of tribal court judges resolve the matter. The Wassons won control but Bills kept fighting.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in an unpublished opinion last October, recognized the tribal court decision "on principles of comity." The BIA, however, has declined to recognize Thomas Wasson as chair.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Winnemucca Indian Colony v. US.

Related Stories:
Leaders of Winnemucca Indian Colony seek BIA recognition (8/31)
Supreme Court won't hear Winnemucca leadership dispute (4/18)
Murder of ex-Winnemucca chair leads to chaos (11/23)
Murder of ex-Winnemucca chair still unsolved (11/22)
Alleged leader of Nevada tribe said to be Filipino (10/05)
Alleged Indian chief charged with fraud in California (9/30)
Tribe of man seeking casino in leadership dispute (06/10)

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