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Tribal recall: Members disenrolled after financial dispute

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PALERMO, Calif. - After unsuccessfully trying to recall their tribal council, 70 members of a Northern California tribe, including the tribal vice-chairman, found themselves the victims of recall by that same tribal council.

The disenrolled were members of the Estom Yumeka Maidu tribe of the Enterprise Rancheria a formerly 214-member tribe whose home base is among the sprawling foothills of Butte County near Chico.

Former vice-chairman Robert Edwards claims the problems began when the tribe received the first payment from one of two trust funds set up by the gaming compacts. The fund is paid into by tribes with large casinos pay to be distributed to tribes with small or no gaming operations, of which Enterprise was one.

Of the funds that Enterprise received, it was agreed to that 60 percent would go to the tribal government and the remainder would be for cultural needs. According to Edwards, from that money the tribal council established a Human Services fund totaling $50,000 for tribal members with emergencies who needed the money.

Individual tribal members in need were allowed to draw on as much as $1,500 annually for emergencies. Edwards claims that tribal Treasurer Glenda Nelson withdrew the maximum yearly amount twice in a four month period and others in the tribal council followed suit ultimately draining the emergency fund dry.

Edwards also cites incompetence by the tribal Housing Authority in expanding the tribe's base by failing to purchase additional acreage to the tribe's existing 40-acre parcel in the Sierra foothills and claims that the Housing director was illegally taking further money from Housing Authority meetings.

Additionally Edwards also claims that the tribal council on numerous occasions violated the tribal constitution. For example, Edwards alleges that the tribal council set up a judicial system or tribal court with tribal consultant Gary Montana of Wisconsin as the tribal judge. However, Edwards says that it had to be voted on by the general membership as stated in the tribal constitution.

Adding fuel to the fire were rumors of a FBI investigation into the tribe. Though they could not give specifics, a special agent working at the Sacramento FBI field office confirmed that the Enterprise Rancheria was currently under investigation and that "subpoenas have been issued" in the case. However, it is not clear nor could the FBI comment on whether the investigation was related to any of these charges.

Edwards said instances like this led to the ouster of former tribal council member Ricky Wilson who had complained about the alleged corruption within the council and the illegality of their actions. Thus began the recall drive, which was certified as valid on Sept. 6 and contained 70 signatures.

Less than a week later, the 70 signers of the recall petition all received notices that they were being disenrolled.

"It was a clear case of retaliation," says Steven Mills, one of the disenrolled members.

During the period between the recall certification and a late October disenrollment vote by the general tribal membership the tribe added 21 members and disqualified the members facing disenrollment from participating in the recall vote. Edwards claims that the new members were connected in some way or another with tribal council members.

The recall vote failed. Only 13 members showed up, which is below the quorum of 18 established by the tribal constitution and Edwards said many feared they would be next for disenrollment if they attended the meeting.

Two additional tribal members also received disenrollment notices after they spoke out against the tribal council actions bringing the total number to 72.

After the recall the council changed the tribal constitution to require that tribal members be 1/16 Maidu to vote, which Edwards said was a way of eliminating potential allies. During the actual disenrollment vote, Edwards claimed several tribal members were barred from entering the meeting hall including tribal members whose own children were allowed in.

"It was a stacked deck," Edwards said.

The members facing disenrollment only had to receive 25 percent of the vote to remain in the tribe but lost by a total of six votes. The two members who were added to the list after criticizing the tribe face a similar general membership vote in December.

Though the Enterprise Rancheria does not currently have a gaming compact, they had one in the works that would have included a large casino near a large outdoor amphitheater, which features many major rock and roll acts that come through the Sacramento area. If the deal were to go through, fewer tribal members would mean larger gaming revenue dollars for the remaining members.

Edwards and Mills both said that much of the tension stems from what they term a "hostile takeover" of the Enterprise Rancheria, which at one time was split into two groups who simply labeled the separate tribal land holdings as Enterprise I and Enterprise II.

Enterprise II was flooded with the building of the Oroville Dam in the 1960s. Edwards claims that the family of current tribal chairman Harvey Angle accepted payment rather than relocation when the offer of either was made by the federal government while building the dam at the mouth of the Feather River Canyon.

In the 1990s the Enterprise II group won a challenge and joined the tribe eventually taking most of the seats on the tribal council which has three members named Angle, all immediate kin to Chairman Angle.

Edwards claims that the tribal council has mischaracterized the existing Enterprise Rancheria as Enterprise II in their amendments to the tribal constitution. He says that all 70 cut members are descendants of tribal members of the original Enterprise I Rancheria.

Currently Edwards and Mills say that their group does not have an attorney though they are trying to find one. One of the problems they face is because of tribal sovereignty the BIA is largely reluctant to intervene in internal tribal affairs, though they can become involved if criminal charges are filed though they might not intervene on the membership issue.

The disenrolled members have to act quickly though as they only have 30 days to appeal their dismissals and they say they are making as much noise as possible and have contacted several media outlets throughout the state.

Calls to the Enterprise Rancheria and specifically to Treasurer Nelson and tribal Chairman Angle were not returned and other media outlets around the state have also been unsuccessful in contacting Enterprise Tribal officials.

Enterprise follows several other California tribes, which in recent years have voted to expel members. Since the legalization of Nevada-style gaming disenrollments have become more and more common.