Napa and Lake counties have joined Sonoma in a court fight over federal recognition of Alexander Valley's Mishewal Wappo Indian tribe, saying it would open the door for casino gambling.
The Wappos could build Las Vegas-style casinos "at currently undisclosed locations across the North Bay" if their lawsuit is successful, Napa County deputy counsel Tom Capriola said in court papers.
The case was scheduled for a conference Monday in U.S District Court in San Jose, but was continued to June 14 for further action.
The Alexander Valley tribe filed suit last year against U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, saying the federal government should restore tribal status the Wappos lost in 1959.
The Wappos once occupied a large swath of territory in Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties, according to anthropologists.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs established a 54-acre reservation for the Wappos on the Russian River northeast of Healdsburg, starting in 1908. But Alexander Valley Rancheria and other small California Indian communities lost their federal trust status after Congress passed a 1958 law aimed at privatizing them.
In a series of lawsuits beginning in the 1980s, tribes said the government's action was unlawful because it didn't give them proper notice and it broke a promise to improve roads, water and sanitation on the former reservations.
The federal government distributed most of the Wappos' lands to non-Indians after the tribe disbanded, according to their lawsuit.
While some tribes have regained U.S. recognition through court or congressional action, the Wappos and others have not.
The Wappos are asking the Interior Department to restore their tribal status, benefits and historic lands.
The lawsuit also seeks authority for casino gambling under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Only recognized tribes are allowed to have casinos under the 1988 law.
In March, Sonoma County filed a motion to join the case, arguing land shouldn't be taken out of its jurisdiction without consultation.
Casino gambling would impose "massive new obligations" on county services while removing property from its tax base, the county said.
In court papers filed later, Napa and Lake counties voiced similar objections. The Wappos' lawsuit is an attempt to "sidestep" local input, according to Napa's motion.
The Interior Department would be forced to "take unidentified lands out of local jurisdiction, place those lands into trust and federal jurisdiction, and allow development of casino-style gaming, all with no review or input by Napa County, Sonoma County, Lake County and other affected parties," Napa's attorney said.
Lake County is worried the Wappos would remove land in the southern part of the county, where the tribe claims ancestral rights, said Lake County counsel Anita Grant.
David Glazer, an attorney for the Interior Department, declined comment Monday. Joseph Kitto, an attorney for the Wappo tribe, didn't respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Earlier this year, Wappo Chairman Scott Gabaldon said the tribe won't decide on its future plans until it regains federal recognition.