The leader of Alexander Valley's Wappo Indians on Thursday disagreed sharply with Rep. Mike Thompson's assertion that the tribe will try to build a casino if it attains federal recognition.
"He's a flat liar. I never admitted to building a casino," Tribal Chairman Scott Gabaldon said the day after testifying to a congressional subcommittee about why the Mishewal Wappo Indians are seeking to be restored as a tribe. "I said the casino could be an option."
Gabaldon said he didn't know "where Thompson is getting this from," when it came to Thompson's press release that stated: "By the tribal chair's own admission, if the Wappos receive federal recognition, they will attempt to build a gaming facility in Napa or Sonoma counties."
But a Thompson aide said Thursday that Gabaldon has previously admitted the tribe plans to pursue a casino.
"He told the congressman in his office at one point he wants to build a casino," said Austin Vevurka, Thompson's communications director.
The clash came the day after a hearing in Washington, D.C., in which Gabaldon singled out Thompson as an opponent to tribal recognition who wants to see the 350-member tribe become "a memory."
"Those that oppose us are rich, wine-profiteering politicos of Napa and Sonoma counties," Gabaldon said in his testimony before the subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. He also described the opposition as "a coalition of vintners."
He added that vineyard workers and minimum wage earners are not lining up to oppose Wappo recognition and neither are six local Indian tribes.
Instead, Gabaldon claimed, "It's the wealthy that bear political agendas that stand to lose a tiny bit of their stronghold of political power in Napa and Sonoma county when our tribe's restored."
Thompson, however, said the tribe, which has filed a federal lawsuit to regain recognition, is trying to circumvent Congress and the Department of the Interior by going through the courts.