The Mishewal Wappo Indians of Alexander Valley — who are suing the U.S. government to restore their tribal status — have no plans for a casino, according to their leader.
"We are trying to get back what was taken from us," said Scott Gabaldon, chair of the Wappos' tribal council.
The tribe won't decide on future plans until it has regained federal recognition, he said.
Only federally-recognized tribes are allowed to operate casinos. Sonoma County officials are worried the tribe will develop a casino or other project that would violate the county's land-use law.
The county blocked another Sonoma County tribe, the Lytton Pomos, from opening a casino in Alexander Valley in 1991. The Lytton tribe now has a casino in the East Bay city of San Pablo.
A conference in the Wappos' case is set Feb. 1 in federal court in San Jose. They filed suit against U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last year alleging their tribe was unlawfully disbanded by the federal government in 1959.
They're also seeking a court order to restore their tribal lands on the Russian River northeast of Healdsburg.
On Friday, attorneys for the Justice Department denied most of the Wappos' allegations and asked Judge James Ware to dismiss the case.
Meanwhile, the two sides are considering a settlement, according to court documents.
Wappo-speaking people once inhabited territory from Napa to Geyserville and Middletown, according to a report by the Smithsonian Institution.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs acquired 54 acres in Alexander Valley for the tribe in the early 1900s. But the Wappos lost their tribal status in 1959 after Congress passed a law aimed at privatizing California's small Indian reservations or "rancherias." Most of the tribal land was distributed to non-Indians, the lawsuit alleges.
The government's action was unlawful because tribe members weren't properly notified and the bureau didn't keep a promise to improve roads, water and sanitation, according to the lawsuit.
The Wappos lost access to federal programs for Indian tribes as a result of the government's action, it said.