Berry Creek calls for second vote
OROVILLE, Calif. - The presidential race is not the only place where an election is being disputed. The Sierra-foothill Berry Creek Rancheria is having difficulty deciding if its election to decide the status of 28 tribal members was legitimate.
On Oct. 22 the rancheria's general assembly voted 83 to 78 - with 13 abstentions - to retain the disputed members in full status.
That should settle the matter, right? No says the tribal council whose members felt there were sufficient irregularities in the voting process to establish grounds for a new election. This has disputed tribal members crying foul.
The central issue is whether disputed members, largely from one family, were descended from Dick Harry, a tribal member from the 1850s. Disputed members say they are descended from Dick Harry's half-brother, a historically documented Maidu Indian named Billy Day. The members in question claim the evidence they have was sufficient for the tribal council in the 1980s when many of the family members were admitted to the tribe.
Disputed members say the reason their membership has been called into question relates to gaming revenue. The disaffected members feel the tribal council wants to gain bigger gaming shares for themselves and their families.
Last summer the tribal council decided to put the matter to a vote in September, later delayed until October. Ballots were sent by certified mail to all voting members who were asked to vote on whether the 28 members were full members. All 28 disputed members were allowed to take part in the vote.
In a summer interview, tribal council members said that no one was being considered for disenrollment. They said a discrepancy was found in 1992 regarding their descent and the disputed members were informed at that time and they were looking to change the members' status to a lesser rank without full member rights.
When the ballot appeared in October, however, it asked for the disputed member's disenrollment. Enrollment committee chairwoman Bolton says the reason for this discrepancy was because the council was "still researching the matter."
One of the disputed members, Victoria Mahnke, points out that the tribal council is claiming the members in question had known of the council inquiry into their ancestry since 1992.
"If that's the case, then they (the tribal council) must have known about it as well, so why were they still researching this several years after the fact," Mahnke asks.
She goes on to say the council is claiming they had informed Mahnke's cousin Alice Pittman of the questionable record since 1992.
"In 1992, I was asked by the administrator Kathy Frazier to gather some information for 20 or so applicants who had applied at that time for membership into the Berry Creek Rancheria," says Pittman.
Pittman says she was only asked by the tribal council to find documentation that stated her grandmother was Billy Day's daughter. The BIA sent Pittman her grandmother's BIA application listing Billy Day as her father. Several Maidu elders who had signed the document corroborated this testimony.
"I turned that official BIA documentation into the Berry Creek Rancheria and my appointed job was done," says Pittman.
After the results were read, Chairman Jim Edwards announced the motion had failed. Berry Creek sources say immediately following Edwards' proclamation, Vice Chairwoman Debbie Armos and Enrollment Committee Chairwoman Eleanor Bolton immediately called for a freeze on per capita revenue leading the disenrolled members to further speculation that the disenrollment was financially motivated.
The matter was not quite settled. Sources say on Nov. 5, tribal attorney Anna Kimber told the council a re-vote would be possible on several grounds. Apparently there was nothing in the tribal law that established grounds for a re-vote. Using instead a common bookstore text called "Robert?s Rules of Order," the council based its claims that the tribal members were not aware of what they were voting for.
Another allegation made by the tribal council was that there were around 100 ballots that never made it into the hands of tribal members. Since the ballots were sent as certified mail, the recipient's signature was required and if the recipient is not home, a notice is left.
Disputed tribal members point out that all a person would have to do when they receive notice of a certified letter is to simply check a box on the postal slip and stick it on their door. Apparently these 100 tribal members did not do that.
Tribal attorney Anna Kimber says many members did not understand what they were voting for. She says there was sufficient evidence that tribal members who abstained mistakenly thought their votes would count toward the majority.
Kimber also says the council motion was to immediately admit the disenrolled members as adoptees.
Mahnke thinks this is ridiculous. She points out that as adoptees, they wouldn't receive gaming revenues and uses this point to justify her position. She also says that at an earlier meeting the council had warned disputed members their per capita would be frozen if they hired an attorney.
The general council, or all voting tribal members in attendance at any given meeting, approved a motion at a Nov. 5 meeting to rescind the original vote. It passed 52-20. No date has been set on the new vote.