Napa and Lake counties join fight against Wappo tribal status

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.

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