Our View: Greed could bring demise of Chukchansi

April 4, 2013 

Paramedics treat an injury after a fight broke out at the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians on Tuesday morning. The incident began Monday morning when a rival group of leaders broke into tribal offices in Coarsegold.

MARC BENJAMIN — Fresno Bee

According to Buddha, "There is no fire like passion, there is no shark like hatred, there is no snare like folly, there is no torrent like greed." A torrent of greed is ripping apart the Chukchansi tribe, which owns a Las Vegas-style casino and resort below Yosemite National Park.

Three factions have claimed to be the rightful tribal council in little more than a year. There has been a riot that required law enforcement intervention. There have been continuing disenrollments. And, in fact, the situation is so messy that bankers stepped in and froze a $12 million account.

Profits from Indian gaming are supposed to lift up tribal members, many of whom are impoverished. The money flowing from table games, slots, hotels and concerts should go for education, health care and investments in other businesses.

But the focus among some Chukchansi has been on getting as rich as possible and as quickly as possible -- even if it means casting others aside. And profits meant to help tribal members are being diverted to lawyers for legal battles.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs bears responsibility in these contentious events. Its hands-off policy allowed a feud to snowball into dysfunction.

Finally, last month, Troy Burdick, the Central California superintendent for the bureau, offered mediation. Tribal leaders should take up his offer because it is abundantly clear that they are incapable of working out things on their own.

Most of the tourists and valley residents who flock to the casino don't concern themselves with tribal matters. They just want to know that their chips will be cashed, the food will be good and there will be clean sheets on the beds.

But with the federal government and Gov. Jerry Brown approving the North Fork Mono Indians' proposed casino along Highway 99 in Madera County, the Chukchansi better soon get their house in order.

It's possible, perhaps even probable, that the specter of a rival casino is driving one or more of the Chukchansi factions. They see the writing on the wall, and want to split the spoils with as few as possible.

This is, more than anything else, a classic case of greed. Question is, can it be cured?

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