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Chukchansi Factions Meet To Negotiate

COARSEGOLD – All parties in the leadership dispute for control of the Picayune Tribe of Chukchansi Indians will be back in U.S. District Court tomorrow in Fresno.

Two weeks ago, Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill ordered the factions to sit down for a mandatory mediation conference to try and iron out their differences and find a way to move forward.

The Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino was closed down by order of the court on Oct. 9 after one of the several factions battling for control entered the casino with guns drawn and attempted to take control. Citing the safety of the employees and the public, the court ordered the casino closed until a resolution could be reached and the public safety ensured.

Members of the Unification Council, headed up by Nancy Ayala and Reggie Lewis, along with allies of the Tex McDonald and Morris Reid factions, met last Friday pursuant to the judge’s order, to try and negotiate a peaceful resolution to a struggle that has been going on for years.

Unification Council member Tracey Hopkins, who was at the County Offices this morning for another session of mediation, told us she hopes everyone involved understands that they are in a crisis.

“We need to put our team members back to work and take care of our elders,” says Hopkins. “It’s crucial that everyone understands how important it is for us to unify and move forward on this for the betterment of everyone involved.”

She says the goal of the council is to work out something today that everyone will agree on, take it before the judge on Wednesday, and get an order from the court that they can present to the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) to get the casino reopened. The NIGC had ordered the casino closed as of Monday, Oct. 27, if audits were not forthcoming. That is a separate issue, and the status of that matter is unclear at this time.

Hopkins says they made some progress during the mediation session last Friday, and that the Unification Council conceded on some issues they thought were best for the tribe. The magistrate went to each faction with a “wish list,” she says, and asked each group to identify their most important concerns, and note what items they were willing to compromise on.

“The Unification Council wants a clean slate election,” says Hopkins. “We want to pick a date, get agreement on the election ordinance, choose a new election committee, have all seats up for a vote, and allow everyone to vote. We also want all parties to agree to drop any lawsuits they currently have. If you don’t do that, you will continue to have another faction starting up, and then another, and it’ll never be resolved.”

Hopkins says that all bans and sanctions that were in place prior to the formation of the Unification Council have been lifted, which allowed everyone to attend the regular monthly meeting on Monday. She says people “came in droves,” and per capita payments were made to all members who attended. Payments were to be mailed out today to those who were not present.

All the factions were scheduled to meet again today at 10 a.m. in the Board of Supervisors Offices to continue the negotiations from last Friday. (Neither McDonald nor Reid had arrived by the scheduled time of the meeting, so were not available for comment for this piece).

Another meeting of the membership was schedule for tonight at 5 p.m. at the casino to report on the progress made at today’s mediation conference.

No matter the outcome of today’s negotiations, all parties will be back before Judge O’Neill at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. The hope is that they will have a unified plan to present to the court, and can begin moving toward a resolution and putting many hundreds of employees back to work.

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