By Nancy Ayala, chairwoman of the The Ayala Quorum Council of the the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians
Over the past year, it’s likely you’ve read about the internal struggle for control of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians government. The stories have surely been confusing, involving multiple lawsuits, countless accusations of wrongdoing and two rogue factions who continue to sabotage the Chukchansi Tribe though they no longer have offices on the Rancheria or control of our government on a day-to-day basis.
We write to clear up that confusion. Our group of seven — the Ayala Quorum Council — comes to work every day on the Rancheria. We pay the Tribe’s bills and make monthly per capita payments to Tribal members. We operate the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino. And we represent the Tribe when our more than 900 members have dealings with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and other government entities.
In short, the rogue factions like the one headed by Reggie Lewis and Chance Alberta talk about governing the Chukchansi Tribe, helping members and doing business. We actually do that work as opposed to talking about it.
Headquartered in Fresno in a glass office tower, the Lewis-Alberta faction continues to waste precious Tribal resources on what we believe to be ludicrous legal actions, like the recent action against Madera County Sheriff John Anderson, filed in a toothless off-reservation Tribal Court set up by the Lewis-Alberta group using Placer County Supervisor Jack Duran as a so-called Judge.
The shame of this action? It has forced Sheriff Anderson to spend taxpayer dollars to hire outside counsel, lawyers who have filed a lawsuit against Lewis and Alberta to make sure they cannot interfere with Sheriff Anderson’s ability to help our Tribe enforce the law on the Rancheria. As the sheriff’s lawyers put it in their recent filing, the Lewis-Alberta action is “a patently absurd attempt … to essentially take over the office of sheriff and/or act as his ‘commander in chief.’”
The Ayala Quorum Council will continue to work with Madera County and all of its elected officials to ensure the safety of county residents and the continued safe operation of our most valuable asset — our casino. We absolutely agree with the position of Sheriff Anderson’s lawyers in the lawsuit they filed against the Lewis-Alberta group in federal court: The “proceedings before the Lewis Faction tribunal are nothing more or less than a sham and a self-serving construct unilaterally created by the Lewis Faction to create political support in their attempt to gain control over the Tribe.”
Each of the Tribe’s seven council members is committed to staying the course, doing whatever it takes to solve the ongoing conflict and to reaffirm the stability of our Tribal government. This will continue to be difficult: Forensic audits commissioned and paid for by the Ayala Quorum Council after the Lewis-Alberta group fled the Rancheria detail how the Lewis-Alberta group have siphoned off millions of dollars in tribal assets. Their failed business enterprises have cost the Tribe millions more. These lost millions, together with the countless legal fees created by their legal actions, have left the Tribe struggling to pay our most recent bond payment. Fortunately, we were able to make a payment of more than $6.2 million in recent weeks and we continue to work with the bondholders to ensure they get paid before the end of the year.
As for the Madera County tax dollars wasted by Lewis and Alberta’s frivolous actions, for that we feel compelled to offer something of an apology to you, our neighbors. Chances are, you understand the frustration that comes when a small, loud group of self-interested “family members” tarnishes the good name and hard work of a larger group of hard-working, proud people. As you read the headlines and the stories over the next few months, please don’t hold the conduct of an angry, power-hungry few against your neighbors on the Rancheria. We’re working hard to make sure you feel welcome at Chukchansi Gold and that the more than 1,000 people we employ can put food on the table and care for their families.
We very much want to work with you, to be good neighbors, even as the angry few try their best to work against us. They will not win and Madera County will the better for it.