Department of Interior Upholds Coyote Valley Council in Tribal Governance Dispute
Ending a disruptive tribal governance dispute, the U.S. Department of the Interior has upheld the right of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians to govern itself and chastised the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for improper intervention in the matter.
In a nine-page decision issued April 18, the department’s Interior Board of Indian Appeals said the BIA’s superintendent for Central California and its Pacific Regional director were wrong to validate a group attempting to unseat Coyote Valley’s duly elected Tribal Council.
Last May, that group met without notice to all tribal voting members and attempted to establish a tribal government of its own, actions that violated the Tribal Constitution. The BIA, without consulting elected tribal leaders, inexplicably recognized the group and its leaders, who then moved to seize tribal funds and files and occupy tribal buildings.
In its decision, the Interior Board of Indian Appeals said the BIA’s intrusion into the dispute was unjustified and warned the BIA not to take sides in such conflicts unless action is clearly warranted.
“At no time has BIA identified, as justification for taking sides in the tribal dispute, any required BIA action that prompted BIA’s intervention and adjudication of issues of tribal law at the time of BIA’s decisions,” the board wrote.
“We vacate BIA’s decisions because in issuing them, BIA acted contrary to well-established precedent forbidding such intrusion into tribal affairs in the absence of required Federal action,” the board said.
“We are relieved and we are gratified by the Interior Board of Appeals’ decision,” Tribal Chairman John Feliz, Jr. said. “The Tribal government and the Tribal membership can now continue to build our nation and strengthen our governmental structure without the undue and unnecessary intrusion of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”
On behalf of the Tribe, the chairman expressed appreciation of the legal team who assisted the Tribe, and recognized the Tribal Chief and Tribal Council for their resilience, leadership and diplomacy throughout the appeal process.
“Their responsiveness and proactive decision-making assured the continuity of our tribal government and maintained transparency to our community during this disruptive period,” Feliz said. He also praised the “dedication of our advisers, tribal leadership and members,” calling it “instrumental in our communication with local agencies and our business partners.”
“We are empowered by our membership and our actions continue to reflect the will of the Coyote Valley Band as a whole,” added Patrick Naredo, vice chairman of the Tribal Council. “I sincerely thank our tribal membership for their unwavering support and dedication in preserving the rights of the Coyote Valley Tribal Members and the protection of the Tribe’s inherent sovereignty.”
Since their election, members of the Coyote Valley Tribal Council have developed and adopted a new tribal tax code, streamlined casino operations, and obtained and retained grants that will enhance services to the tribe. Leaders are also working hard to diversify the tribe’s economic base, with plans for a convenience store/gas station as well as a new casino and hotel.
The tribe hopes these initiatives will create jobs for members and outlying communities and increase Coyote Valley’s income stream to allow for improved services.
The Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians is a federally recognized Sovereign Tribal Nation located in the Mendocino County community of Redwood Valley. The Tribe operates under a “Document Embodying the Laws, Customs and Traditions of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians” (Governing Document), enacted by the General Council on October 4, 1980
The Interior Board of Indian Appeals decision can be found at http://www.oha.doi.gov/IBIA/Ibiadecisions/54ibia/54ibia320.pdf.
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