In a case that could pave the way for another Indian casino, the Mishewal Wappo Indians of Alexander Valley are suing U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to regain their tribal status.
A conference in the case is set Feb. 1 in federal court in San Jose.
The lawsuit seeks a court order to restore the Wappos' tribal lands along the Russian River northeast of Healdsburg.
Sonoma County is worried that U.S. recognition could lead to a casino or other tribal development that would violate county land-use law, said Supervisor Paul Kelley, who represents Alexander Valley.
"We have serious concerns about restoring tribal lands in our area without our input," he said.
The county was not notified of the Wappos' federal lawsuit, said County Counsel Steven Woodside.
In 2003, Sonoma County fought a move by Sen. Barbara Boxer to sponsor legislation granting federal recognition to the tribe. Boxer later dropped the idea.
Boxer sponsored legislation in 2000 that recognized another Sonoma County tribe, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, who now planning a casino in Rohnert Park with Station Casinos, a Las Vegas gaming company.
A third tribe, the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, operates River Rock Casino on its 75-acre reservation in Alexander Valley.
Officials of the Wappo tribe couldn't be reached Friday to talk about their plans. The tribe has about 500 members.
Wappo-speaking people once occupied territory stretching from Napa to Geyserville and Middletown, according to the Smithsonian Institution.
The Mishewal Wappo tribe was recognized by the U.S. government from 1851 to 1959, according to the suit filed last year. But the Wappos — and many other California tribes — lost their tribal status after Congress passed a law in 1958 aimed at privatizing the state's small reservations, known as rancherias.
Some of those tribes have regained their status in recent years when courts ruled the federal government didn't keep a promise to improve living conditions on their reservations, which the U.S. had held in trust for tribe members.
But the Wappos and other tribes didn't get restored. Much of the Wappo tribe's land was sold to non-Indians after 1959, the lawsuit says.
The Alexander Valley rancheria was established in 1908, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs bought land for the Wappos, according to the tribe's lawsuit. More land was added in 1913, bringing the total to 54 acres. The tribe never adopted a constitution, but voted in 1935 to organize under federal law.
The Interior Department has delayed restoring the Mishewal Wappos' tribal status despite evidence it was unlawfully terminated, according to the lawsuit.
It's asking that the court order the Interior Secretary to recognize the tribe and restore its trust lands "within the historically aboriginal territory of the Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley."
Attorneys for the Interior Department and tribe didn't return calls seeking comment Friday. In a filing last month, they said they're considering a settlement.