Bishop Paiute tribal land dispute back in court

By Deb Murphy

The Napoles family and interested tribal members gathered at the Bishop Paiute Tribe administration building Tuesday to hear a skyped Tribal Court session addressing a land assignment issue that has dragged on for more than 15 years.

The Tribe contends two parcels initially assigned to Ida Warlie are needed for expansion of the Paiute Palace Casino project and are no longer available for use by Warlie’s descendants. The Tribe removed fencing and charged family members with trespass when they tried to reclaim the land.

The Tribal Council’s case has been based on the fact the Warlie family was initially assigned 11 parcels to accommodate the size of the family. Assignments were later limited to two per family, but the previous, larger assignments were grandfathered in.

Over the last 15 years, Ron and Rick Napoles have compiled a paper trail that, matched with the customs and traditions of the Tribe, make a case for Warlie’s descendants’ right to the land.

The case has bounced between the Tribal Court, an Appellate Court and Intertribal Court of Southern California. Two years ago, the Appellate and Intertribal courts found in favor of the Warlie’s family claims. The Bishop Tribal Court has refused to accept that decision, contending it could rule in the trespass charges but not the legality of the assignments.

Tuesday, a panel of three judges heard the case from the Warlie family attorney Andrea Sielstad and Bishop Paiute Tribe attorney Anna Kimber.

The issue of whether the case was on the trespass charges or the assignments and just who has the jurisdiction to rule on assignments was brought up by Judge Patricia Lindsay. Sielstad maintained the Tribal Court’s jurisdiction “flowed from the trespass ordinance. We must resolve the elements of trespass and prove Tribal Council had the right in leveling those charges,” she said.

Sielstad went on to explain the crux of the family’s case. The procedure was to pass assignments from one generation to the next and at no time would assignments pass to the Tribal Council. “The family retains property rights even within the time gap to determine who gets the assignment,” she said.

Sielstad’s ask of the court was to reverse previous decisions the land belonged to Tribal Council and dismiss the case.

Kimber stuck with previous arguments and decisions: the Tribal Council was the final word on who had a right to assignments and the court had limited jurisdiction in the matter. “The family has undermined Tribal Council’s authority and jurisdiction over the land and the right to do what is best for the Tribe,” Kimber said.

The attorney cited previous testimony from Val Spoonhunter the two parcels were unassigned since Warlie’s death. Sielstad’s response: the Council approved other assignments passed to Warlie’s descendants, proving the family did have rights to the original 11 assignments.

At the end of the arguments, Lindsay announced the judges would review and come back at a future date with their decision.

 

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