SACRAMENTO, Calif. - In a letter to a congressman who had asked for an
investigation, the federal Office of the Inspector General concluded an
investigation that cleared Northern California BIA officials of any
interference in a tribal election and for allegedly placing otherwise
ineligible relatives of BIA members on the tribal rolls.
This is the latest chapter in a dispute between members of the Ione Band of
Miwok over governance and direction of the tribe.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia had asked for an investigation after press
reports of a possible conflict of interest had raised questions about the
area's BIA involvement in alleged roll padding of relatives of tribal
There has been a dispute over the tribal government at Ione for the past
several years. About 70 tribal members, who call themselves
"traditionalists" have long disputed the tribal rolls and have insisted
that a 1996 election was invalid.
Nicholas and Joan Villa lead the traditionalist faction and claim that
Nicholas is the rightful leader of the tribe and claim most of the new
tribal members are actually from neighboring tribes and are ineligible to
be members at Ione.
The traditionalist faction also opposes a casino that is favored by the
larger tribal body that currently includes 535 members. Ione tribal
Chairman Matthew Franklin is the leader of this body and was elected in
The casino is a story in itself and has met with opposition from local
residents in the tiny Sierra foothill hamlet of Plymouth who recalled their
mayor and two city council members, who supported the casino project.
The Villas have claimed BIA official Amy Dutschke had padded the rolls with
her relatives. Dutschke, along with other BIA officials, were cleared of
wrongdoing in the Inspector General's letter. They had also claimed that
there was influence from Republican consultant Roger Stone and others who
wanted to benefit from developing a tribal casino, something Stone has
Not surprisingly, the Villas are not pleased with the decision and have
written a letter to Congressman Wolf requesting that he reopen the
investigation. In the letter they claim that they were only contacted by
the Inspector General's office one time while they were preparing to leave
When the Villas told officials of their travel plans they alleged that
officials from the Inspector General's office promised them a meeting at a
later date in California.
Additionally, the Villas claim the Inspector General's office contradicted
itself in its findings. They point out that while the Inspector General
agreed with the Villas that the tribe had been federally recognized since
1972, they allowed the tribe to reorganize in 1994 under the Indian
Reorganization Act from the 1930s as if they were a brand new tribe.
It is this point that the Villas dispute the members who came to the tribe
after that date and claim that the new members were from neighboring tribes
that were extinct and not affiliated with the tribe.
"The BIA has blatantly ignored all federal Indian law and the
Administrative Procedure Act while opening our rolls to total strangers,
unaffiliated biologically, politically and historically," wrote Nicholas
Villa in a letter to Rep. Wolf.
Ione Chairman Franklin said that the new members, including himself, are
descendants of Ione-area Indians from a 1915 census. He claims that since
the tribe was not recognized in 1915, the census of landless area Indians
served as a predecessor to tribal rolls.
Things are a little hazy here as the BIA issued a "reaffirmation" of the
tribe in September of 1993. The 1972 recognition, said Franklin, was a
court case in which the tribe had entered as a litigant in a dispute and
Franklin said provided the basis for the re-recognition of the tribe in
1973, though this is disputed by the Villas.
Franklin claimed that the BIA had done extensive research and listed the
535 names of individuals with the right to join the tribal rolls and
published the list of eligible tribal members in the Sacramento Bee and
Amador (County) Ledger in the 1990s.
Furthermore, Franklin said that the Inspector General's office thoroughly
researched the history of the tribe.
"They went through the whole history of tribal enrollment, literally
thousands of documents," said Franklin.
One of the individuals listed on the 1915 census is Alec Blue, who Franklin
said is his great-great-great-grandfather and said that both his father's
mother and mother's mother were both listed on the 1915 census.
Many tribes in California were dissolved and organized in a similar manner.