Congressman Mike Thompson (CA-1) today released the following statement after testifying at hearing held by the House Committee on Natural Resources' Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee on federal recognition of the Wappo Tribe:
"The correct process for federal recognition of a congressionally derecognized tribe rests with Congress. The Wappo tribe is attempting to circumvent Congress and the Department of Interior by going through the courts. This is not in the best interest of the American people, and it's not in the best interests of Napa and Sonoma Counties.
"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. In Napa and Sonoma Counties, developments such as a casino would damage our agricultural preserves and put our local economy at risk. This is the absolute wrong region to build a casino."
The Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley filed suit against U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in January, 2010, charging the federal government acted unlawfully when it disbanded the tribe in 1958. In their suit, the Mishewal Wappo Tribe is asking the U.S. Department of Interior to restore their tribal status, benefits and historic land rights, despite a previous act of Congress terminating federal recognition of the tribe. If successful, the lawsuit could authorize casino gambling on its restored land.
In April 2011 Thompson, joined by Representatives Lynn Woolsey and Don Young, wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, raising concerns with the Department's interest in settling this case with the Wappos. In the letter, the representatives argued that it would be inappropriate for Interior to recognize the Wappos through a legal settlement because of the previous Congressional action that terminated federal recognition of the tribe. The hearing held today by the House Committee on Natural Resources' Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee was held in part to discuss the involvement of the Department of Interior in settlement negotiations.