At least eight people living on the Winnemucca Indian Colony were served eviction notices July 9. The eviction notices were served on behalf of the Colony’s Council and its Chairwoman, Judy Rojo. The residents served the eviction notices have until October 24 to comply.
Winnemucca resident Shelby Sauers is concerned about the outcome for these people. “They're really, really in a tough situation. It's more of a humanitarian issue at this point because they can't do anything tribal-wise.”
Sauers says Colony residents like Doreen Brown and her sister Luella Stanton are in fear of having their homes bulldozed. “Our main concern is about this eviction,” Stanton said. “We don't want to be evicted because we don't have no place to go. We're going to be homeless.”
Colony resident Jim Ayer, who was served with an eviction notice, says he has contacted the Lovelock Tribe but they told him there is no room. He says it is the same with the Ft. McDermitt Tribe.
“So the people will just be homeless, I guess,” said Linda Ayer, who does not live at the Colony but has family who does. “They don't have savings. They live pay check to pay check, most of these people.”
Sauers has been in contact with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and hopes the organization will get involved because the Colony’s Constitution guarantees the same equal rights as designated under the US Constitution. “We have several people including myself who have reached out to the ACLU,” she said, “to have them submit a lawsuit on behalf of the Winnemucca Colony because they're in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Fair Housing Portion.”
This act prohibits “discriminatory practices [making] housing unavailable to persons because of: race or color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability.” And under the Colony’s Constitution, Article VIII, rights of members are guaranteed. “No members shall be denied any of the rights or guarantees enjoyed by non-Indian citizens under the Constitution of the United States …. No person shall be denied any of the applicable rights or guarantees as provided in Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.” Titles II through VII pertain to the Indian Civil Rights Act, while Titles VIII through IX relate to the Fair Housing Act.
Winnemucca Indian Colony Chairwoman Judy Rojo and the Council say those people who are to be evicted have not applied to be members of the Colony.
However, Linda Ayer claims she has repeatedly applied for membership and has not been accepted.
According to the Colony Constitution, there are three requirements to be admitted: “all persons of at least one-fourth (1/4) degree Paiute and/or Shoshone Indian blood” and whose “names appear, or they are descendants of persons whose names appear, on the December 9, 1916, census of the Winnemucca Shoshone Indians.” The constitution further states that “No person shall be eligible for membership in the Winnemucca Indian Colony who has received land or money as a result of having been enrolled as a member of some other tribe, band or community of Indians.”
Linda Ayer and her brother Jim Ayer say they can trace their ancestry back to Sally Cinnabar Toy whom Linda says is her grandmother's grandmother. “So my grandmother died on the Winnemucca Indian Colony in 1988,” Linda says, adding that her “grandmother’s grandmother died on the Winnemucca Indian Colony in 1936.” Linda Ayer says Cinnabar Street is named after her great-great-great grandmother, Sally Cinnabar Toy.
Both Linda and Jim Ayer say that no one has looked into Judy Rojo’s ancestry. Rojo, however, says she is Glenn Wasson’s second cousin. Wasson was a former Chairman for the Colony who was murdered in February 2000 in front of the Tribal Administration Building. His murder remains unsolved. “I called him my ‘uncle’,” Rojo said, “because he and my mother were first cousins and that would make me his second cousin, but I called him ‘uncle’ because he was so much older than I was. He was my mother's age ... they were the same age.”
When asked about the possible violation of the Fair Housing Act, Treva Hearne, an attorney for Rojo and the Council, disagreed that the evictions infringe on rights under Fair Housing standards because all the homes sit on property that belongs to the Colony and is leased by the residents. She says the leases have expired and current residents have not applied to continue to lease property, or residents are in violation of Colony ordinances. The residents, Hearne says, “have specifically stated they refuse to recognize the Council and presumably won't be applying to live there.”
According to Hearne, in the 1970s, the Lovelock Tribe’s Housing Authority applied for HUD money to build five homes. The Winnemucca Indian Colony did not have a housing authority so the Lovelock Housing Authority agreed to build homes at the Colony with the understanding that the Lovelock Housing Authority would manage the lease. Hearne said the Lovelock Housing Authority later decided not to continue to manage it and breached the lease.
In a legal opinion submitted to the Winnemucca Indian Colony Council on April 16, 2016 written by Hearne, the opinion stated that Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) approved of the conveyance of HUD housing leases to the lessors, allowing “persons who had no membership rights in the Winnemucca Colony to become lessors of the HUD homes on Colony land ….” However, the opinion goes on to state that “no party with a valid interest in a HUD lease or assignment will be evicted because such persons clearly have a property interest at stake” and “those who live on the Colony with no right of assignment and no property right for which they can claim just compensation. Just compensation is only available as a claim to those who have a property right. The only property rights available on the Winnemucca Indian Colony are leaseholds and assignments.”
In a press release from the Colony Council dated July 3, 2019, “Many of the residents who have resided on the lands of the Colony for several years and who are law abiding and have recognized the government, will remain as residents on the lands. The Colony only seeks to evict those who have violated the ordinances of the Colony and/or engage in unlawful conduct.”
A more immediate goal, Rojo says, is to clean up the Colony. “Number one on our list is to clean up the lands of the Winnemucca Indian Colony on the 20 acres,” Rojo said.
According to a memorandum submitted last year to the superintended of BIA’s Western Regional Office, Regional Environmental Scientist John F. Krouse surveyed the 20 acres to review the property for potential hazardous and solid waste. Krouse’s report found accumulated solid waste such as “cars, furniture, mattresses, appliances, and miscellaneous equipment.” The accumulation of this waste is a concern to public health and safety.
While the report states that no hazardous waste was observed, Krouse was unable to verify that it didn’t exist on the property because he was refused access. His report stated that a “more detailed review of the property would need to be conducted.” Krouse’s report concluded that the “generation of solid waste in the two residential areas probably does not constitute any violation of federal environmental laws and regulations. However, further analysis may reveal information indicating otherwise.”
As recently as May 2019, the Council has requested technical assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up the debris and waste on the property which the Council believes poses a “serious threat to health and safety on our Colony.” The EPA has yet to respond.
The residents, however, don’t believe there is hazardous material on any portion of the land.
Luella Brown, a resident of the Colony and one of those who was served an eviction notice said it’s a way to get people removed. “They figured it was chemical up there,” she said. “That's what they were checking and they didn't find anything like that. There was no chemicals.”
Linda Ayer agrees, “I think it's just her [Rojo’s] idea of how to get the people off the land, is my opinion, so she can say asbestos or lead, or black mold and they will condemn the trailers and the houses and that was one way to get the people out.”
The second phase assessing environmental conditions on the property is scheduled to begin Nov. 1.
Rojo and the Council have other plans for developing the reservation. “We also want to try to bring back the services that we should already have had such as the child care, transportation, housing development, economical development.”
In addition to rehabilitating the 20 acres, Rojo says the Council would like to develop the 320 acre site for housing because they would like to return to live on the land in the future. There is currently no housing at the 320 acre property.
When pressed for more details about development, Rojo said the Council has been working to bring in a medical marijuana facility. Rojo confirmed that the Council is in contact with Winnemucca city officials to bring a dispensary to the reservation.
But some Winnemucca residents have expressed concern about the future location of the marijuana dispensary and its proximity to Sonoma Heights Elementary School and the Pleasant Senior Center. According to Nevada statutes, a marijuana facility cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a public or private school associated with preschool or kindergarten through grade 12 or 300 feet of a community facility. If the dispensary were located at site of the old smoke shop on Lay Street and West South Street, it could be in violation. However, it is unclear how much jurisdiction either the state or city would have over the location of a facility because it would sit within tribal borders. Because the Winnemucca Indian Colony is a federally recognized tribe, the Colony possesses both the right and the authority to regulate activities on its land without state or local authority interference. The Colony, however, can enact and enforce stricter or more lenient laws and regulations.
By the standards of the law of both the Tribal Courts and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Chairwoman Judy Rojo and the members of the Council have won their case. How this dispute gets resolved will have repercussions not only for the Colony but for Winnemucca as well. And as Sauers said, this fight is far from over. The Browns and the Ayers say they will fight the eviction order. “That's all we can do is fight it,” Jim Ayer said. “And if we lose then we're homeless.”