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´╗┐says Nancy Ayala is tribal leader

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The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has finally stepped into the feud over control of the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians and its lucrative Highway 41 casino by identifying Nancy Ayala as the tribes leader.

No so fast, said an attorney for one of Ayalas two adversaries, Reggie Lewis, who also wants control of the Madera County tribe and its estimated haul of $9 million a month from slot machines and table games.

Robert Rosette, who represents Lewis, said Monday that the BIA only ruled that the Dec. 1 tribal election was valid; it did not establish Ayala as the current tribal leader.

The BIA puts us one step closer to resolution, Rosette said.

A Fresno federal judge will rule this week who is the rightful leader.

For years, factions led by Ayala, Lewis and Morris Reid have vied for power. Though the dispute has exploded in several violent skirmishes, including a riot in February 2012, the BIA took a handsoff approach.

In March, dispute over who are the rightfully elected tribal council members led Rabobank to freeze the tribes bank account. This put the tribe at risk of defaulting on roughly $310 million in bonds for Chukchansi Gold Resort Casino near Coarsegold.

Ayalas group blamed Lewis and his faction for the delay in bond payments. Under Ayalas leadership, the tribe figured out a plan to make bond payments, but members still fight over whos in charge. District Court in Fresno, asking the court to recognize it as the rightful leaders. Federal Judge Michael J. Seng is mulling over the issue.

That same month, the BIA got involved when Reid submitted grant proposals on behalf of the tribe. In a May 17 letter to Reid, the BIA informed him that his faction does not represent the tribes governing council.

In the letter, the BIA ruled that the Dec.

Because Ayalas supporters include Brechbuehl, Wynn and Sargosa, she has a fourvote majority to run the tribe, she contends. Alberta and Bushman support Lewis.

Monday, Reid said he has filed an appeal to the BIA ruling. He also said he is seeking legal standing in the tribes federal case.

We are still key players, said Reid, who has been involved in tribal leadership and upheavals since the 1990s when the Chukchansi casino was first planned. It opened in June 2003.

Meantime, Ayala called Lewis faction a rogue group that has set up an unconstitutional shadow government in a north Fresno office. Her group has tribal meetings in an office near the casino.

Obviously, the Chukchansi Tribal Council welcomes this landmark decision from the Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Ayala said. We need to end the months of confusion surrounding control of our tribe for the sake of our people, who need us to concentrate on protecting the tribal services they rely on, and for the sake of our casino, which needs clarity in order to do business.

But Rosette said Ayalas leadership remains in dispute.

He pointed to Ayalas recent attempt to get a federal court order to uphold a tribal court ruling that prevents Lewis from withdrawing the tribes bank funds. The temporary order also would have made sure Rabobank made timely payments to bond holders.

Judge Lawrence ONeill last week denied the motion, saying this court finds that it is more likely than not that the Ayala Tribal Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the underlying dispute with Rabobank.

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´╗┐Ardis kind had a skull fit for a hominid

KNOXVILLE One of the most controversial proposed members of the human evolutionary family, considered an ancient ape by some skeptical scientists, is the real hominid deal, an analysis of a newly reconstructed skull base finds.

By 4.4 million years ago, Ardipithecus ramidus already possessed a relatively short, broad skull base with a forwardplaced opening for the spinal cord, an arrangement exclusive to ancient hominids and people today, William Kimbel of Arizona State University in Tempe reported on April 11 at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists annual meeting.

Although features of the skulls floor evolved substantially in Homo species leading to modern humans, Kimbel said, those changes appeared in piecemeal fashion starting at least a couple of million years earlier in hominids such as Ardipithecus.

A. ramidus is best known by the partial skeleton of an adult female, dubbed Ardi, described in a set of papers published in 2009 SN: 10/24/09, p. 9. Elements of Ardis build related to tree climbing, such as grasping feet and an elongated lower hip bone, have raised suspicions that she and her kind come from apes that evolved a rudimentary ability to walk upright without being hominids. However, Ardis discoverers argue that shes a hominid whose species split time between slow, awkward walking and shuffling along tree branches while grabbing upper branches for support.

The new skull reconstruction, which fits that view, relied on a partial A. ramidus skull base reported in 1994, long before Ardis remains were painstakingly removed for analysis from rock that had encased the partial skeleton in Ethiopia.

By examining 79 skull bases of chimps, gorillas, modern humans and ancient hominids, Kimbels group identified relationships among anatomical landmarks that distinguish apes from people and hominids. The researchers estimated the total length of A. ramidus skull bottom and found that it fell within a range characteristic of hominids, not apes.

As in more recent members of the Australopithecus genus, such as the 3.2millionyearold partial skeleton nicknamed Lucy, Ardipithecus ramidus displays a relatively short, humanlike skull base, Kimbel said.

A new 3D analysis of Ardis previously reconstructed pelvis, also presented April 11 at the anthropology meeting, finds a mix of monkey, ape and hominid characteristics. Although not confirming a consistently upright gait, this version of Ardis hips doesnt undermine her proposed hominid status, said Nicole Webb of City University of New York, who led the research.

As for Ardis disputed mode of travel, she probably had a twolegged gait but didnt use her hands much while upright, said Caley Orr of Midwestern University in Downers Grove, Ill., who didnt participate in the new research.