Sonoma County is trying to intervene in the case of an Alexander Valley Indian tribe suing the federal government to restore its tribal land.
Sonoma County leaders are worried the Mishewal Wappo tribe will build a casino or other project that violates the county's land-use law.
A hearing in the case was scheduled Monday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, but Judge James Ware postponed it until March 8.
Last week, county attorneys told Ware they will file a motion this month to intervene in the case "to help insure that the county's interests are not prejudiced."
The Wappos don't have plans for a casino and won't decide on their future until they've regained federal recognition, tribal chairman Scott Gabaldon said last month.
"We are trying to get back what was taken from us," he said.
If the tribe's lawsuit is successful, gaming would be allowed on the restored land, said Bruce Goldstein, an attorney for Sonoma County. Under federal law, only recognized tribes can operate casinos on their land.
"We don't know if they're talking about 5 acres or 500 acres," Goldstein said. "But when land goes into trust it goes out of county jurisdiction for land use and tax purposes. We need to make sure the county's interests are protected."
In the lawsuit filed last year, the Wappos said they were recognized by the U.S. government from 1851 to 1959, but lost their tribal status after Congress passed a law aimed at privatizing the state's small reservations.
Between 1908 and 1913, the Bureau of Indian Affairs established Alexander Valley Rancheria, a 54-acre reservation for the tribe on West Soda Rock Lane, on the Russian River northeast of Healdsburg.
The federal government distributed most of the land to non-Indians in 1959 after the Wappo tribe was disbanded, according to the lawsuit.
The Wappos said the action was unlawful because tribe members weren't properly notified and the government didn't keep a promise to improve roads, water and sanitation on the property.
The lawsuit, which names U.S. Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar, asks the federal government to restore the Wappos' tribal status, benefits and historic lands.
Attorneys for the Justice Department, which represents Salazar, denied most of the tribe's allegations.
In 2003, Sonoma County fought a move by Sen. Barbara Boxer to carry legislation granting federal recognition to the Wappos. Boxer later dropped the idea.
Boxer sponsored legislation in 2000 that recognized another Sonoma County tribe, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. The tribe now is planning a casino in Rohnert Park with Station Casinos Inc., a Las Vegas gaming company.
In its court filing last week, Sonoma County said it was allowed to intervene in an earlier lawsuit that led to federal recognition for a second Alexander Valley tribe, the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians.
The county was part of a settlement in that case barring the Lytton Pomos from opening a casino in Alexander Valley or elsewhere in Sonoma County. The tribe now operates a casino in the East Bay city of San Pablo.