Senator Feinstein side-steps her involvement in California Valley Miwok Tribe battle with federal government

Pictured: U.S.Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).(Photo: United States Congress, US Senate Photo/Becky Hammel / Public Domain)

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Feinstein and others advised to remain neutral on matters related to the tribe’s governance and allow the United States to conduct relations with the tribe as mandated under the law

News Release

California Valley Miwok Tribe

In a letter responding to the Tribe’s concerns, United States Senator Diane Feinstein side-stepped the bulk of her documented and unusual involvement in the California Valley Miwok Tribe’s battle with the federal government over its sovereign rights to self-govern and control its own membership.

While the Tribe accepts at face value that Senator Feinstein personally denies asserting influence in favor of a casino in the Tribe’s name in the Bay Area, Senator Feinstein’s incomplete response raises further concerns that others are taking advantage of their long-term personal connections to her. In her letter to the Tribe, Senator Feinstein failed to address why she would weigh-in with federal agency officials on behalf of the same long-time political associate linked to repeated attempts to develop a casino under the Tribe’s name for over a decade. 

Senator Feinstein’s letter raises the Tribe’s fear that Senator Feinstein has been an unwitting pawn in an attempt to replace the leadership of a federally recognized tribe with leadership chosen by non-Indian gaming development interests. 

In its February 6, 2020 letter, the California Valley Miwok Tribe expressed its concern and confusion related to Senator Feinstein’s 2007 and 2019 correspondence with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The tribe also requested the Senator’s response to why she was involved in internal tribal governance given she was doing so at the behest of a long-time political associate who had been hired to pitch a casino in the Bay Area under the tribe’s name. Also in the letter, the tribe expressed hope that Senator Feinstein could explain her interventions given her staunch opposition to Indian gaming in urban areas. 

In her response to the Tribe, Senator Feinstein made reference only to her March 2019 letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and completely, or perhaps, intentionally side-stepped her 2007 correspondence, which initiated her involvement in the Tribe’s internal affairs.

In her February 27, 2020 letter, Senator Feinstein wrote the Tribe that “At the time of my March 6, 2019, letter to the Bureau, the Bureau had already made findings about who is eligible to vote in the Tribe’s election. Thus, the Bureau had a central role in the election when I sent my letter.”

“Senator Feinstein is correct that the Bureau had made voting eligibility findings if and when a referendum for a new constitution is lawfully held prior to her sending her letter,” said Sylvia Burley, Chairwoman of the California Valley Miwok Tribe. 

“Senator Feinstein, however, leaves out the fact that the Bureau’s new genealogy came from an invasive and unnecessary genealogical determination issued in May 2019 by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that mirrors and tracks ancestry information, which she forwarded to the Bureau in her March 6, 2019 letter requesting their review. 

“In her letter, Senator Feinstein ommits the fact that the core group eligible to vote in our Tribe was already determined and, rather than a simple review request, her letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs spurred on a new eligibility determination, which significantly altered voting rights within our Tribe midway through the process. Feinstein’s letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs begs a more important question of why the government has taken the unusual step to find new Indians to be members of our Tribe when tribes determine their kin? 

“This new so-called ancestry determination is a blatant effort by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to disenroll the current citizen-members of our Tribe including me. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has turned self-determination and self-governance up-side-down. 

Senator Feinstein has now weighed-in on behalf of her close political associate twice within a ten year period. Each time, the Tribe’s future is impacted and political favors result in the erosion of our Tribe’s lawful right to self-determination and self-governance. In this context, it appears the Bureau of Indian Affairs’s effort to reorganize our Tribe is a direct attempt to replace our current leadership with one of the federal government’s choosing regardless of Tribal citizenship. This is the definition of arbitrary and capricious government action.” 

In its February 6, 2020 letter, the California Valley Miwok Tribe reminded Senator Feinstein of her 2007 and 2008 correspondence with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In the summer of 2007, Mr. Arlo Smith wrote to Senator Feinstein claiming the Tribe was “not organized” properly and requested that government to government relations with the Tribe cease and federal funding be pulled from the Tribe. Mr. Smith’s letter was followed shortly by a letter from Senator Feinstein to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in August of 2007 repeating Mr. Smith’s concerns to the agency. In February 2008, the Bureau of Indian Affairs wrote Senator Feinstein relaying the news that federal funds were withdrawn from the Tribe and no further government relations would be conducted with the duly elected leadership including Chairwoman Burley. 

In her February 2020 letter, Senator Feinstein admitted she communicated with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on March 6, 2002, though she downplayed the communication noting her request was merely on behalf of a “constituent”when in fact, it was at the request of her long-time political associate Mr. Smith. 

Mr. Smith was the District Attorney of San Francisco at the time Senator Feinstein served as mayor and he later served as a commissioner on the California Gambling Control Commission, the agency with regulatory authority over Tribal casinos and Tribal-State Gaming Compacts.

 “Senator Feinstein referenced a “constituent request” in her letter to the Tribe as the sole reason for her “interest in this case, said Burley. Unfortunately we know this is not true as there is documented evidence of her longtime political associate Arlo Smith’s interest in how our Tribe is organized.

“It seems, contrary to Senator Feinstein’s response to our Tribe, Mr. Smith appears to be the catalyst to her involvement in our Tribe’s internal matters. Senator Feinstein’s involvement in the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ questionable dealings with our Tribe to date was not just spurred by a simple constituent request to ‘verify the accuracy of their initial findings.’

“Something is off. We take at face value Senator Feinstein’s assertion that her position on casinos is unchanged; however, her intervention with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on behalf of Mr. Smith indicates she is either uninformed or her long-time relationship is being leveraged without her actual understanding or engagement.

“We encourage Senator Feinstein and others to remain neutral on matters related to the Tribe’s governance and allow the United States to conduct relations with our federally recognized tribe as mandated under the law.”

Records referred to in this release will be made available upon request.

The California Valley Miwok Tribe is a federally recognized tribe. The Tribe, formally known prior to 2001 as the Sheep Ranch Rancheria, is listed on all lists eligible to conduct relations with the United States from 1947 forward including the February 1, 2019 List. The Tribe and its current leadership have conducted relations at various times with the United States since adopting governing documents in 1998 with the assistance of Department of the Interior officials. The Tribe is landless and desperate to access congressionally mandated government programs to support its members. The Tribe and its leadership have no casino development plan and no plans to develop a casino.

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