Heavily armed guards outside the Paskenta Tribe’s Rolling Hills Casino in Corning, California.

Epic Paskenta Dispute Continues, Despite BIA Cease and Desist Letter

Gale Courey Toensing

A nine-week leadership and disenrollment fight in the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians of California that threatened to spiral out of control into violence abated for a brief moment when the Bureau of Indian Affairs issued a cease and desist letter on June 9. That message ordered one faction to stop illegally operating the tribe’s Rolling Hills Casino, and stated that the agency recognized the elected tribal council as the tribe’s legitimate governing body, and would continue to do so until the tribe resolves its internal dispute according to its own laws and practices. But the BIA’s intervention did not end the dispute: an appeal of the cease and desist order was filed almost immediately and the conflict continues.

Troy Burdick, the superintendent of the BIA’s Sacramento office, issued the administrative cease-and-desist order in a letter based on information received from the State Attorney General's Office and the Tehama County Sheriff's Office.

Burdick said the BIA recognizes the last  elected tribal council of Andrew Freeman, chairman; David Swearinger, vice chairman; Leslie Lohse, treasurer; Geraldine Freeman, secretary; and Allen Swearinger, member at large.

Andrew Freeman is at the center of the dispute, which began at the tribe’s annual meeting on April 12 at Carlino’s Event Center at Rolling Hills Casino in Corning, California.

According to witness statements in a lawsuit filed in tribal court against Andrew Freeman by his cousin, council member Geraldine Freeman and Ines Crosby, a Paskenta tribal member and Chair of the Board of Directors for the Rolling Hills Health Clinic and Dental Lab, Freeman went off the agenda at the meeting and tried to order tribal members with lineage to the Henthorn/Pata Family, including Crosby and council member Lohse, to be removed from the meeting. Then he “purported” to banish them from tribal lands, the lawsuit says, and the meeting descended into chaos.

“None of the remaining Councilmembers were aware of the Chairman’s unilateral proclamation, or understood the reasoning behind it; in shock, they objected,” the lawsuit says.  “Chairman Freeman did not honor the objection of the four Council members or otherwise call the meeting to order, and pandemonium ensued.”

According to a witness statement, security officers from the casino and law enforcement officers from the sheriff’s office “swarmed” the place and took up positions behind the tribal council. “I could see [the Tribal Council] were being surrounded by the crowd and it didn’t look safe up there for anyone. The first three rows stood up and began yelling loudly,” the witness said.

Events, as described in the lawsuit, then became murky. The tribal council and general council adjourned the meeting – local police reports say the meeting was adjourned by 10:48 a.m. But the plaintiffs claim the minutes of the meeting were falsified to say that during that same time period Freeman said the council members who had left the meeting had abandoned their positions on the tribal council and should be removed immediately. The general council approved his resolution to remove them “by acclamation,” the lawsuit says. Then new council members were nominated and approved “by acclimation.”


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