Chukchansi Tribe threatens to remove rivals from membership rolls

Leaders of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians are threatening to remove Nancy Ayala, third from left, who once served as chair of one faction of the California tribe. Photo from Chukchansi Tribal Council / Facebook

Leaders of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians in California are threatening to remove some of their political rivals from the rolls, The Fresno Bee reports.

But not because of residency, blood quantum, ancestry or other concerns. According to the paper, leaders claim their rivals may be enrolled in another tribe, which is generally prohibited under the Chukchansi constitution.

So which tribe do the rivals belong to? Apparently none -- they are being targeted because they formed a different council that claims to be the legitimate governing body of the Chukchansi people.

“They were promising it was a new day and let bygones be bygones, but that was to get the casino open,” Nancy Ayala, who at one point served as chair of one faction of the tribe and has received a disenrollment letter, told The Fresno Bee. “There has to be some kind of healing and moving forward and it just isn’t happening. It’s the same stuff.”

Ayala, though, isn't even involved with the rival council -- it's run by Luke Davis and other members. She told the paper that she's "been keeping a low profile and trying to stay out of everything" but that isn't stopping leaders from trying to kick her out.

The exact number of people who received a disenrollment letter wasn't reported. But the tribe is scheduling hearings for each of them to allow them to relinquish their membership in the "other" tribe, The Bee reported.

The tribe has steadily removed hundreds of people from the rolls over the last decade or so. At one point, the tribe had more than 1,000 members but the number has fallen to about half.

The disenrollments have fueled leadership conflicts, with rival factions on different sides of the controversy. The dispute culminated with the 14-month closure of the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino, during which the tribe lost millions of dollars in revenue and put more than 1,000 people out of work.

Under the leadership of Chairwoman Claudia Gonzales, the tribe has inserted itself into local and national debates over gaming. The tribe also has been very active in litigation in the federal and state courts, an issue that also contributed to unrest on the reservation.

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Chukchansi starting disenrollment for some founding families’ members (The Fresno Bee 7/31)

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