Lake County drops opposition to Wappo tribe, Sonoma and Napa persist

Lake County won't challenge an Indian tribe's legal quest for federal recognition, which could lead to a new tribal casino in the North Bay.

Sonoma and Napa counties still oppose recognition for Alexander Valley's Mishewal Wappo tribe, which lost its federal status in 1959.

The Wappos filed suit against U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2009, charging the federal government acted unlawfully when it disbanded the tribe. The Wappos are asking the Interior Department to restore their tribal status, benefits and historic land rights. If successful, the lawsuit would authorize casino gambling on its restored land.

The tribe historically lived in parts of all three counties. There were 8,000 Wappos in 1851, but only 340 today, the tribe said.

The case is pending in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

Last year, Sonoma, Lake and Napa won Judge James Ware's approval to intervene in the lawsuit, arguing the tribe shouldn't be allowed to take land from their jurisdictions without consulting them.

The counties asked Ware last July to throw out the tribe's lawsuit, alleging the Wappos waited too long to bring their complaint. A hearing on that motion is scheduled April 4.

But Lake County has dropped out of the case after reaching a settlement with the tribe in November. Under terms of the deal, the Wappos can't acquire tribal land in Lake County for at least 10 years after they regain federal recognition.

After the moratorium expires, the tribe must consult with the county and comply with its development rules before taking land into federal trust, according to the settlement. Any tribal development also would have to meet state and federal environmental laws.

In exchange, Lake County agreed to withdraw from the court case. The county dropped out in December.

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