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Breaking News:

In a September 21, 2006, Memorandum Opinion, a United States District Judge has ruled favorably in our action against the U.S. Department of the Interior seeking review of the "Final Determination Against Federal Acknowledgment of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe."

The District Court has rejected the Department of the Interior's rationale for requiring the Muwekma Ohlone to proceed through tribal acknowledgment procedures that other tribes have been allowed to bypass. The Memorandum Opinion requires the Department of the Interior to complete an evaluation and submit a formal explanation of its rationale by November 27, 2006.

21 September 2006 Memorandum Opinion
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(July 30, 2001 and March 11, 2002 Determinations)
Background by Colin Cloud Hampson

To Preliminary Proposed Finding
Press Release

Statement On Reaffirmation Status

Response to Final Determination

Press Release on Lawsuit Against DOI and BIA

Download copy of lawsuit as filed
(Adobe Acrobat Reader Format)


The present-day Muwekma Ohlone Tribe is comprised of all of the known surviving Native American lineages aboriginal to the San Francisco Bay region who trace their ancestry through the Missions Dolores, Santa Clara and San Jose. The aboriginal homeland of the Muwekma Tribe includes the following counties: San Francisco, San Mateo, part of Santa Cruz, most of Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, and parts of Napa, Solano and San Joaquin. This large contiguous geographical area which historically crosscuts linguistic and tribal boundaries fell under the sphere of influence of the three missions between 1776 and 1836. The missionization by the Hispanic Empire brought many distantly related, but in some cases already intermarried, tribal groups together at the missions.

Prior to the American conquest of California in 1846, some of the secularized ancestral Muwekma-speaking families obtained formal Mexican land grants, while others found refuge on the rancho lands of friendly Californio families. After the American takeover of California at least six Muwekma rancheria communities emerged and maintained themselves during the 19th and early twentieth centuries. These rancherias were located at San Leandro/San Lorenzo, Alisal (Pleasanton), Sunol, Del Mocho (Livermore), El Molino (Niles) and later, Newark.

During the 1880s, George and Phoebe Apperson Hearst purchased part of the old Bernal Rancho located south of Pleasanton, which also contained the Alisal Rancheria with approximately 125 Indians residing there. Escaping the cold and foggy summers of San Francisco, the Hearst’s built their Hacienda del Poso de Verona (later Castlewood Country Club) on this newly acquired land. Western Pacific Railroad also built a train station so that the Victorian elite and other guests could visit with Mrs. Hearst at the Hacienda. This railway stop was called Verona Station.

In 1906, as a result of the discovery of the 18 unratified California Indian Treaties (negotiated between 1851-1852), Mr. Charles E. Kelsey of San Jose, was named Special Agent by the Indian Service Bureau in Washington, D. C.. Kelsey was charged to identify all of the landless and homeless Tribes and Bands in Northern California through a Special Indian Census. Based upon the results of these efforts and the discovery of the unratified treaties, Congress passed Appropriation Acts in 1906, 1908 and in later years for the purpose of purchasing "home sites" for these "politically identifiable Tribes and Bands".

One of the Tribes and Bands identified by C. E. Kelsey was the Verona Band of Alameda County residing in Pleasanton, Niles and surrounding towns near Mission San Jose. The direct ancestors of the present-day Muwekma Tribe were Federally Acknowledged by the U.S. Government in 1906. Between the years 1906 and 1927 the Verona Band fell under the jurisdiction of the Indian Service Bureau in Washington, D.C., and after 1914, the Reno and Sacramento Agencies. During this time the U. S. Government and Indian Service Bureau Agents tried to purchase land for the California Indians. The Indian Service Bureau and the Tribes were faced with two problems

  1. Many Californians did not want Indians living next to them so they would not sell suitable parcels of land, and
  2. Individuals who were willing to sell parcels to the government wanted greatly inflated prices greater than what was allocated to purchase lands.

By 1927, Sacramento Superintendent Lafayette A. Dorrington received a directive (policy) from Assistant Commissioner E.B. Merritt to list by county all of the Tribes and Bands who had yet to obtain a land base for their "home sites" so that Congress could plan an allocation budget for fiscal year 1929. Apparently, Dorrington decided not to respond to this request and as a result, he yet again received another letter from the Assistant Commissioner. To this second demand Dorrington responded by administratively dropping from their Federally Acknowledged status approximately 135 Tribes and Bands throughout California. The very first casualty on Dorrington’s list was the Verona Band of Alameda County. Without any benefit of on-site visitation or assessment of need, Dorrington wrote:

"There is one band in Alameda County commonly known as the Verona Band, … located near the town of Verona; these Indians were formerly those that resided in close proximity of the Mission San Jose. It does not appear at the present time that there is need for the purchase of land for the establishment of their homes."

Thus with the stroke of a pen and without any communication or due process, the Muwekma/Verona Band along with another 134 Tribes and Bands of California, lost their status as Federally Recognized Tribes.

Although landless and in some cases homeless, between 1928 and 1932 all of the surviving Verona Band/Muwekma lineages enrolled under the California Indian Jurisdictional Act and were approved by the BIA in the pending claims settlement. Meanwhile, anthropologists and linguists such as Alfred Kroeber, E. W. Gifford, James Alden Mason, C. Hart Merriam and John Peabody Harrington spent time (between 1902 and 1934) interviewing the last fluent speakers of the languages. It was also during this time that these knowledgeable Verona Band Elders still employed the linguistic term "Muwekma" which means "The People" in both the Tamien and Chocheño languages spoken in the East and South San Francisco Bay.

During World War I, even before California Indians became citizens, Muwekma men served overseas in the United States Armed Forces, and at least four (Tony Guzman and his younger brother, Alfred Guzman, Henry Nichols and Joseph Aleas) are buried in the Golden Gate National Cemetery. Jack Guzman and Frank Guzman also served in World War I, but are buried in the East Bay. Later, during World War II almost all of the Muwekma men served overseas in the various branches of the Armed Forces. Still landless, the Muwekma Tribe maintained their distinctive social ties and culture.

During the 1960s, a relationship was forged between Muwekma Ohlone families and the American Indian Historical Society located in San Francisco. Focus of this relationship especially centered around the potential destruction of the Ohlone Cemetery containing over 4,000 Mission San Jose Indian graves as well as immediate relations of the Muwekma families buried there during the early part of the 20th century. Between the 1960s and 1970s the Ohlone Indian Cemetery in Fremont was saved from destruction and the title transferred to a non-profit tribal entity the Ohlone Indian Tribe, Inc. Afterwards, the maintenance of the cemetery has come under the stewardship of one family.

During the early 1980s, many Muwekma families came together to continue to conduct research on the tribe’s history and genealogy and they considered applying for Federal Recognition. In 1984 the Muwekma Tribal government was formed. By 1989 the Tribal Council passed a resolution and submitted a letter of intent to petition the US Government for Federal Acknowledgment. A petition was drafted and submitted at a White House meeting on January 25, 1995. Additional research and documentation continued to be submitted and on May 24, 1996 the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Branch of Acknowledgment and Research (BAR) made a positive determination of previous unambiguous Federal Recognition, but reluctantly acknowledged that:

Based upon the documentation provided, and the BIA's background study on Federal acknowledgment in California between 1887 and 1933, we have concluded on a preliminary basis that the Pleasanton or Verona Band of Alameda County was previous acknowledged between 1914 and 1927. The band was among the groups, identified as bands, under the jurisdiction of the Indian agency at Sacramento, California. The agency dealt with the Verona Band as a group and identified it as a distinct social and political entity.

Even after obtaining a positive determination of "previous unambiguous Federal recognition" the Muwekma Tribe still had to submit additional documentation in order to satisfy BAR, which meant that the tribe still had to minimally meet the seven mandatory criteria (25 CFR 83.7). Almost two years later, on March 26, 1998, as a result of submitting several more historically documented Exhibits, Deborah Maddox, Division Chief of Tribal Operation, issued a letter to the tribe stating that:

A review of the Muwekma submissions shows that there is sufficient evidence to review the petition on all seven of the mandatory criteria. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is placing the Muwekma petition on the ready for active consideration list as of March 26, 1998.

After being placed on "Ready Status", the Muwekma Tribal Council, reviewed the Federal Registry and counted the number of tribes listed on both "Active Consideration" and "Ready Status". Muwekma was about the 24th tribe after factoring in both lists. Based upon the calculation that BAR was processing tribal petitions at the now rapid rate of approximately 1.3 petitions per year, it became very clear that it would take BAR over 20 years before it would get to Muwekma’s documented petition. The Tribal Council also raised the question whether if there were any other tribes on either list with a formal determination of "previous unambiguous Federal recognition". The only other tribe with that determination was the Cowlitz Tribe of Washington State, which had already obtained a preliminary positive final determination for Acknowledgment. As a result the Muwekma Tribal Council decided that a wait of twenty or more years was not acceptable to the Tribe, and therefore, sought alternative remedies.

On December 8, 1999, the Muwekma Tribal Council and its legal consultants filed a law suit against the Interior Department/BIA — naming Secretary Bruce Babbitt and AS-IA Kevin Gover over the fact the Muwekma as a previous Federally Recognized Tribe should not have to wait another 20 or more years to complete their reaffirmation process.

On June 30, 2000, Federal District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ruled in favor of the Muwekma Tribe and ordered the Interior Department to formulate a process to deal with the issues contained in Muwekma’s complaint (Civil Case No. 99-3261 RMU D.D.C.)

Between September to October 2000, following the court order, and after consultation with BAR staff, Muwekma submitted another two Exhibits which demonstrated how all of the currently enrolled members of the tribe are descended from full-blooded ancestors or siblings of ancestors listed on the Federal Indian Population Schedules of 1900 and 1910 for Washington, Murray and Pleasanton Townships, Alameda County, California and Kelsey’s 1905-1906 Special Indian Census.

As a result of the submittal of this documentation, on October 30, 2000, the Department of Interior’s Branch of Acknowledgment and Research/Tribal Services Division of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, responding to the Court Order issued forward the following statements and conclusions:

"Do current members "descend from" a previously recognized tribal entity?

… Analysis of the petitioner’s genealogical data indicates that 134 of a total of 397 current members are direct descendants of Indian persons appearing on the Indian population schedules of the 1900 Federal Census for this county. The same 134 current members are also direct descendants of a slightly different set of Indian persons appearing on the 1905-1906 Kelsey census. A total of 68 current members are direct descendants of Indian persons enumerated on the Indian population schedule of the 1910 Federal Census; however, if direct descendants of siblings of the 1910 Indians are included, that total jumps to 279 members … . When combined with the members who have both types of ancestors), 100% of the membership is represented. Thus, analysis shows that the petition’s membership can trace (and, based on a sampling, can document) its various lineages back to individuals or to one or more siblings of individuals appearing on the 1900, "Kelsey", and 1910 census enumerations described above.

Over the past 21 years, the Muwekma have politically, spiritually and culturally revitalized themselves and formed a formal tribal government in compliance with Congressional and the Department of the Interior's criteria. Presently, the Muwekma Tribe is seeking reaffirmation as a Federally Acknowledged Indian Tribe. The Muwekma have spent these past 21 years conducting research and submitting to the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research over several thousand pages of historical, anthropological and genealogical documentation as part of the petitioning process.

As Muwekma Elders are passing, the Muwekma Tribe has yet to advance through the "Recognition Process" for complete reaffirmation of its Acknowledged status. For other tribes it has been a long and difficult ordeal as well. For example, it took the Cowlitz Tribe of Washington 22 years to go through the Recognition Process and the Samish Tribe of Washington waited 25 years, including litigation in Federal Court for 8 years, before they won their Federal Recognition. As a result of their litigation, the Federal Courts decided that the Department of the Interior, BIA and BAR denied "Due Process" the Samish Tribe. Presently, there are over 200 unacknowledged tribes in the United States petitioning for recognition. After coming "back from extinction", the Muwekma now face, along with approximately 40 other California Indian Tribes, BIA bureaucratic inaction and obstruction.

The Muwekma, who have never left their ancestral homelands, have been waiting for a response from the United States Government since 1906. In 1972, as a result of the 1928 California Indian Jurisdictional Act, the U.S. Government made a token payment of $668.51 (this sum calculated with interest back to 1852) as just compensation for the illegal acquisition (theft) of California land, minerals and resources. This payment was issued to help California Indians build their futures upon.

As a result of the vision employed by the Muwekma Tribal leadership, the Muwekma have potentially paved the way for other previously Federally Recognized tribes to follow for reaffirmation -- a court ordered Fast Track. Based upon the Federal court’s decision the BIA has until July 30, 2001 to make its proposed finding and its final determination no later than March 11, 2002.


After all said and done, it will be approximately 96 years since the Verona Band was first Federally Acknowledged, and perhaps now the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, can be treated as an equal in the eyes of other Federally Recognized Indian Nations. Furthermore, Muwekma’s reaffirmation also sends a message to the larger dominant society, some of whom have emphatically stated and published that the "Costanoan/Ohlones are extinct" and/or that they "never have been Federally Recognized". Obviously these so-called "experts and authorities" are of the colonial mindset that continues to create policies and sow discord that seeks to erode the rights of the aboriginal inhabitants of this continent.


Makin Mak-Atuemi Muwekma-mak ic Eki’_i _i’nmatci-mak!

We will make things right for our People and dance for our children!