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California Valley Miwok Tribe v. USA

March 31, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Robertson United States District Judge


The California Valley Miwok Tribe, an Indian tribe "recognized and eligible for funding and services" pursuant to Section 104 of the Act of November 2, 1994, Pub. L. 103-454, 108 Stat. 4791, see 70 FR 71194, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief against what it calls federal government interference with its internal affairs. The government moves to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Dkt. #15-1. For the reasons set forth below, the government's motion to dismiss [Dkt. #15-1] will be granted.

1. Background

In 1915, a federal Indian Agent located a cluster of thirteen Miwork living on 160 acres in or near the city of Sheep Ranch, California. Dkt. #18-1 at 3. The government purchased two of the 160 acres, in trust for the Miwok, in April 1916. The two-acre parcel came to be known as "Sheep Ranch Rancheria." The number of people living there dwindled, to the point that, when the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, 25 U.S.C. §§ 461-479, was adopted, the government recognized only one individual as a Tribe member. Dkt. #18-1 at 4.

In 1965, the government (i.e., the Bureau of Indian Affairs - BIA) began investigating the possibility, under the federal legislation known as the Rancheria Act, of terminating the Sheep Ranch Rancheria of Miwok Indians. P. L. 85-671, 72 Stat. 619; amended by P.L. 88-419, 78 Stat. 390.*fn1 A December 30, 1965 list, prepared pursuant to the Rancheria Act, named Mabel Hodge Dixie as the only Indian living on Sheep Ranch. Id. In 1966, finding no evidence that Lena Shelton, her brother Tom Hodge, her daughter Dora Shelton Mata or her two granddaughters had ever lived on the Rancheria, the government denied their claims to membership in the Tribe, conveyed Sheep Ranch to Mabel Dixie by deed, and terminated the Tribe. Id. at 5.

In 1994, Congress enacted the Federally Recognized Indian Tribe List Act of 1994, Pub. Law 103-454, and the Tribe's name was placed on the list of federally recognized tribes. Dkt. #18-1 at 8. On September 24, 1998, the Superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Central California Agency (BIA CCA) advised Yakima Dixie, as tribal chairman, that Yakima Dixie, Melvin Dixie, Silvia Burley,*fn2 Rashel Reznor, Anjelica Paulk, and Tristan Wallace "possess[ed] the right to participate in the initial organization of the Tribe." Id. The BIA letter recommended a general council form of government for the initial organization process. On November 5, 1998, by Resolution #GC-98-01, the Tribe established the tribal council. Dkt. #1 at 5.

On April 20, 1999, for reasons not explained in the record, Yakima Dixie resigned as tribal chairman. Dkt. #18-1 at 8. On May 8, 1999, the Tribe held a general election. Yakima Dixie participated in the unanimous vote to elect Silvia Burley as chairperson and to ratify the Tribe's constitution. Subsequently, he participated in several more tribal council meetings and signed several documents as vice-chairman. Dkt. #18 at 8-9. On June 25, 1999, the BIA CCA recognized Silvia Burley as tribal chairperson. Id. at 9.

On July 20, 1999, the Secretary of the Interior and the Tribe entered into a "self-determination contract" that would provide funding for tribal government activities, and, on September 30, 1999, the Tribe became a "contracting Tribe" pursuant to the Indian Self Determination Act, PL 93-638. Dkt. #18-1 at 9. On October 9, 1999, the Tribe adopted an "Interim Operations Authorities and Rights Resolution." Dkt. #1 at 5.

At some time in late 1999, a leadership dispute developed within the Tribe. Apparently*fn3 responding to an inquiry by vice-chairperson Yakima Dixie, the superintendent of the BIA CCA office wrote on February 4, 2000 that only Tribe members over the age of 19 (Mr. Dixie, Silvia Burley, and Rashel Reznor) were entitled to participate in the organization of the Tribe, and that all issues involving tribal leadership were internal matters to be resolved by the Tribe. Dkt. #1 at 5.

Yakima Dixie apparently then made a complaint within the Tribe about his removal from tribal leadership. On February, the Tribal Council notified him that he had 30 days to initiate a review of his claims regarding his resignation. There is no record of a timely response. Dkt. #1 at 5.

On March 6, 2000, the Tribe ratified its Constitution. A March 7, 2000 letter from the Superintendent of the BIA CCA to Silvia Burley indicated that, as of that date, the BIA believed the Tribe's General Council to consist of Mr. Dixie, Ms. Burley, and Ms. Reznor, and stated that the leadership dispute between Mr. Dixie and Ms. Burley was an internal tribal matter. The BIA informed the tribe that the appropriate forum for resolving the tribal leadership dispute was the Tribal General Council, and that, generally, the rights of others to participate in the governance of the Tribe should be determined by the appropriate Tribal Forum. The BIA stated that, as a matter of federal law and policy, there was no basis for agency involvement in the leadership dispute. Dkt. #1 at 6.

The Tribe then requested that the BIA CCA review the Tribe's Constitution, and that the BIA CCA set up a secretarial election, pursuant to the Indian Reorganization Act, 25 U.S.C. § 476, so that the Tribe could become fully "organized" under federal law. On March 9, 2000, the BIA CCA acknowledged receipt of the Tribe's requests. Under the Act, the BIA CCA was required to conduct the requested election no later than 180 days after the Tribe's request. In this case, that time period would have ended on September 7, 2000 -- 180 days after the BIA's acknowledgment letter. Dkt. #1 at 6.

On March 16, 2000, the Tribe passed a resolution that Yakima Dixie had waived his right to contest his resignation as Tribal chairperson by failing to respond to the February 9 notice. Dkt. #1 at 6. A July 12, 2000 letter from the BIA CCA to Ms. Burley recognized her as chairperson of the Tribe, with the vice chairperson seat empty and Ms. Reznor as the secretary/treasurer. Dkt. #1 at 6.

On June 7, 2001, when the BIA CCA had not conducted the secretarial election that should have been done nine months earlier, Ms. Burley withdrew the Tribe's request. Dkt. #15-1 at 6. On July 18, 2001, Yakima Dixie sued the Tribe in the Eastern District of California challenging its ...

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