Napa County Booted from Indian Lawsuit

The interest of Napa and Sonoma counties in potential construction of an Indian casino were so insignificant a federal appeals court upheld a decision booting them from the tribe’s lawsuit over the land.

Surprising, this 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision Monday was unpublished.

The Mishewal Wappo tribe is embroiled in a lawsuit seeking restoration of federal recognition of the tribe, arguing the recognition was illegally stripped in the 1950s and with it traditional lands of the tribe.

The tribe would like the land in AndersonValley returned, which the counties fear will result in a Las Vegas-style casino in the heart of California wine country.

The two counties attempted to intervene in the lawsuit to fight restoration of tribal recognition and restoration of the land, arguing the tribe’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations.  But U.S. District Judge Edward Davila dismissed the counties in 2012, saying their interest was too insignificant.

On appeal, the counties said any transfer of land within their borders implicates their “significantly protectable taxation, sovereignty, and regulatory interests, regardless of whether the counties own the land, and regardless of the type of development intended” according to the appeal.

The appeals court sided with the tribe.  “The counties’ alleged interests are too speculative” so they have no automatic right to intervene, nor would the panel overrule Davila’s refusal to use his discretion to permit the counties to enter the case.

“The regulatory, sovereignty, and taxation interests that the counties seek to enforce are unrelated to the subject matter of the tribe’s action,” the court held.

The Wappo tribe historically lived in the NapaValley and SonomaCounty. The small tribe was moved to a Rancheria in AlexanderValley near Healdsburg in SonomaCounty around 1900.  In the 1930s members voted to be a federally recognized tribe.

In the 1950s, California and the federal government dismantled Rancherias to break up land among individual owners and end tribal recognition.

The remaining tribal members, who live in the Santa Rosa area, filed suit in 2009 claiming the stripping of tribal recognition was illegal.

Case:  Mishewal Wappo Tribe v. Salazar, No. 12-17360




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