Tribe sues genealogist for talking to reporter
PRESCOTT – The Yavapai-Prescott Tribe is suing a genealogist for telling The Daily Courier newspaper the results of her findings about the ancestry of a late tribal member.
The tribe's lawsuit says the genealogist, Lorraine Escobar, breached their contract by talking about her analysis of the late Robert Rice's blood quantum. The tribal board of directors is seeking more than $100,000 in damages, and an injunction to prevent Escobar from talking about the report anymore.
The lawsuit cites part of the tribe's contract with Escobar, which states that she can't disclose information about her report that she didn't know before or that wasn't already in the public domain, unless the tribe asks her to.
Escobar sided with the Rice family in concluding that their ancestor was full-blooded Yava-pai, contrary to the tribal board's stance that he was half Yavapai and half Apache.
The tribal board and 48 Rice family members are embroiled in a federal lawsuit over the issue. Right now both sides are waiting for U.S. District Court Judge Robert Broomfield to decide whether his court has jurisdiction in the case.
The Rice family lawsuit in federal court alleges that, in 1972, the late Yavapai-Prescott president Pat McGee illegally changed the blood quantum of Robert Rice on the 1960 Indian Census Roll from full-blooded Yavapai to half Yavapai and half Apache.
Various boards of directors for the past few decades have repeatedly refused to consider strong evidence that Robert Rice was a full-blooded Yavapai, the lawsuit alleges. The other defendants, including tribal employees and elders, have conspired with the current board to rob the Rice family of its rightful heritage, the Rice family lawsuit adds.
Because of the allegedly altered blood quantum, the tribe doesn't officially consider some great-grandchildren of Robert Rice to be at least one-fourth Yavapai. Therefore, it doesn't officially consider them tribal members who are eligible for health and education benefits as well as casino revenues.
The tribe paid Escobar $14,300 to research Robert Rice's genealogy last year, but never released the results of her research to the public. The tribe's new lawsuit against her claims that the report contained "factual inaccuracies, bias and an overstated and unreliable conclusion." Escobar is a certified American Indian lineage specialist.
The tribe's lawsuit against Escobar alleges that a Rice family member somehow got a copy of Escobar's report, then gave it to the BIA.
BIA Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb cited Escobar's research when he sided with the Rice family on the blood quantum issue in December. He noted that Escobar's "detailed" report filled two volumes, and that seven separate BIA Census lists from 1919 to 1930 show Robert Rice as full-blooded Yavapai.
The January letter from tribal board attorney David Bodney demands that the BIA do several things:
• Rescind McCaleb's decision about Robert Rice, or at least reconsider it.
• Allow the tribe to review all of the BIA's background information about Robert Rice and make a recommendation about Rice's blood quantum.
• Return all copies of Escobar's study.
• Confirm the BIA's decision is "merely advisory to the tribe and imposes no duty to alter any tribal membership record."
• Confirm that the BIA cannot revise Robert Rice's blood quantum in the 1960 Census Roll or the 1972 Judgement Roll.
• Confirm the tribe has no standing to appeal the BIA's ruling.
Bodney's letter also asks for the BIA's "assurance that such matters will be taken up with the tribe in the first instance, not the press."
BIA officials have not said how they will respond to the tribal board's written demands, and tribal officials said they are not commenting about issues related to their lawsuits and internal matters.
Bodney's letter requests the opportunity to appeal McCaleb's decision, if it's allowed.
That spurred a response from the Interior Board of Indian Appeals.
The Board of Indian Appeals wrote to the tribal board that it has no jurisdiction to review McCaleb's decision.
McCaleb's written decision notes that family members have a legal right to appeal his decision. But none of them did.
"Anyone can protest and ask for reconsideration of the decision, but it has to have new supporting documentation not previously considered," said Carolyn Newman, the BIA's tribal enrollment specialist.
She hasn't seen any new documentation from the tribal board, she said.
Contact Joanna Dodder at firstname.lastname@example.org