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Posted: March 20, 2020

A February 2020 food distribution. Photo: California Valley Miwok Tribe


March 20, 2020

Ongoing Interference by Senator Dianne Feinstein in the Tribe’s membership and Governance now Threatens Economy and Health of Tribal Members in Wake of Pandemic

La Grange, CA— The California Valley Miwok Tribe’s Chairwoman Silvia Burley issued a statement today on the devastating impacts her Tribe is facing with COVID-19, made significantly worse by Senator Feinstein’s decade long involvement in their battle with the federal government over sovereign rights to self-govern and control membership.


“Sen. Feinstein’s unfounded and inadequately explained inquiries into the Bureau of Indian Affairs has resulted in the BIA’s failure to conduct relations with my Tribe, placing our members in imminent danger as this novel Coronavirus spreads. Feinstein’s inquiries to the BIA have been made on behalf of her long-time political associate Mr. Arlo Smith, a former San Francisco District Attorney, now linked to unlawful casino development efforts in the Bay Area under our Tribe’s name.


Because of our ongoing dispute with the BIA, spurred by Mr. Arlo Smith and his casino development interests a decade ago, members of our Tribe are no longer eligible for critical programs and services that have been opened up to all Indian Tribes in Congress’ COVID-19 relief packages. Sen. Feinstein’s involvement in our Tribe’s affairs has now escalated from a legal issue to an immediate quality of life crisis placing the health of our members in jeopardy.


While we await a costly and cumbersome court battle to play out, our members are struggling to access food, health care and government assistance while Sen. Feinstein and some of her colleagues use their positions of power to access information pertaining to the current health crisis, which was not made available to the public, to better position their financial investments including stock assets.


Our Tribe sent an official letter to Sen. Feinstein earlier this year requesting an explanation of her involvement in our Tribe’s dispute with the federal government at the behest of Mr. Smith, a long-time political associate who has been hired to pitch a casino in the Bay Area under our Tribe’s name. We, unfortunately, received an inadequate, albeit ill-informed response back indicating she is either an unwitting pawn in an attempt to replace our Tribe’s leadership with leadership chosen by non-Indian gaming development interests, or worse she is intentionally side-stepping her involvement. Sen. Feinstein’s involvement in our Tribe’s affairs is made more confusing and suspicious given her staunch opposition to Indian gaming in urban areas.


Now, following the Bureau’s invasive and unwarranted genealogy determination that mirrors and tracks ancestry information that Mr. Smith provided to the BIA, members of my Tribe are fighting for their lives.


My Mother, the last full-blooded Miwok, is in her 80s and at extreme risk for contracting and even dying from COVID-19 without lifesaving funds from the federal government. She, like the rest of our members, have a right to federal assistance as lawful members of this Tribe and do not deserve threats to their health and safety while the BIA continues to play games for the sake of non-Indians that want to steal a tribe to build a casino..


This public health crisis really puts things in perspective and shows the BIA is out of touch with Indians and its mission and, further, appears to be in the pocket of people abusing their positions of power like Senator Feinstein.


I call on the BIA to immediately cease their intrusive and unwarranted attempts to reorganize and interfere in our Tribe’s governance and recognize our lawful right as a sovereign Indian Nation within the United States entitled to the full benefits of Congress’ COVID-19 relief package.”


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