Washoe leader answers critics
With a recall election looming March 7, Washoe Tribal Chairman Brian Wallace says his opponents represent only a fraction of the tribe’s 1,564 members.
“It’s a very small group,” Wallace said Monday of the petition group which organized the recall. “It sounds like 1,000 people, but it was more like three. That swelled to six,” he said. “I heard complaints that people were showing up at funerals to get the mourners to sign the petition for my recall. I’m hearing things like I worked a deal with Bill Clinton and now I have fee title to Emerald Bay.”
What he’s done, Wallace said, is continue to work for tribal interests as he has since he was first elected chairman of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California in 1990. He was first elected to the Tribal Council in 1980.
The petition committee accused Wallace of gross neglect of duty and improper conduct in an affidavit submitted to tribal officials in November. He was cited for driving under the influence in Washoe County in 1996. Dissidents say tribal funds also are being mismanaged, a charge Wallace vehemently denies.
The allegations, Wallace said, have taken their toll on him and his family.
“How long does a person have to pay the price?” he asked. “That was 24 months ago and things have never been better for me. It’s probably not the easiest way to look at things, but I am making pivotal changes in my personal and professional life. I work every day to redeem myself to the community I am lucky enough to represent.”
Wallace said Department of Justice officials have been unable to verify allegations of police brutality brought against the tribal police. Tribal police chief Lionel Adhunko was fired in October.
“The allegations of police brutality were nullified by the Department of Justice,” Wallace said. “It’s a very small part of our community whose voice has been amplified by the publicity they have received.”
He also dismissed efforts by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the tribal dissidents.
“I have not been contacted by anybody at the ACLU,” he said. “Where has the ACLU been in our attempts to deal with the issues of Indian children, trespassing and land issues? Let’s talk about civil rights. We’ve made significant contributions in the arts, sciences, education and democracy and we’re getting shortchanged.”
The allegations against Wallace and the tribal police surfaced shortly after the signing of an historic agreement returning the use of more than 400 acres of land within the Tahoe Basin to the Washoe Tribe. The land will come in the form of a 30-year special use permit for 350 acres of the Meeks Bay meadows on Lake Tahoe’s West Shore. The tribe will also be granted a permit for about 90 acres on the South Shore near Taylor Creek, including 15 acres of beachfront property, the potential site for a new cultural center.
For the tribe, the agreement was the culmination of last summer’s presidential summit which brought President Clinton and Vice President Gore to Lake Tahoe, the Washoes’ spiritual home.
“This is a sacred responsibility, not only to the land we love, but the children in our community who don’t have a choice now,” Wallace said. “Children are at the bottom. They always pay the highest price. Discussions and debate about children are at the national and regional level, at the adult level. Children pay the highest price every time. They carry the burden more unevenly than most people.”
In some ways, Wallace said, the allegations against him have strengthened his base of support.
“We work very hard to be an asset to this community,” he said. “We’re in it for our own purposes, but everyone else’s, too.”
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