The Muwekma Tribe, which the Branch of Acknowledgement and Research (BAR) has on two occasions during the petitioning process formally determined to be a "previous unambiguously Federally Recognized Tribe", is disappointed by the preliminary determination which was recently issued by the Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs declining to Acknowledge our Tribe (July 30, 2001). This preliminary proposed finding comes as no surprise to the Tribe and is simply the latest chapter in the deplorable on-going history of U.S. Indian policy towards legitimate tribes aboriginal to the State of California.

More than a decade ago, the United States Congress admitted that "unacknowledged" tribes in California, such as the Muwekma, faced problems that other tribal groups around the country do not necessarily face when seeking Federal Acknowledgement. In lieu of the proposed Federal Recognition Bill (HR 2144) proposed by Congressman George Miller, the Congress passed legislation in 1992 creating the Advisory Council on California Indian Policy (ACCIP) to study the unique problems California's "unacknowledged" tribes face when they seek Federal Acknowledgment through the procedures established by the Assistant Secretary. After years of studying the deplorable history of U.S. - Indian relations in California, the Advisory Council issued reports to Congress concluding that "[t]he current federal acknowledgment process (25 C.F.R. Part 83) is not appropriate for California {unacknowledged} tribes." The "major problem" with the current process, according to the Advisory Council, is that it requires "tribes to prove their status as self-governing entities continuously throughout history, substantially without interruption" but ignores the fact that for decades "federal and state policies contributed to the destruction and repression of these very same native peoples and cultures."

For almost a century, the Federal Government and the State of California pursued the eradication of Indian people and formal Termination of their status as Tribes in California (as earlier as 1943 and later in the case of the 1958 Rancheria Act). During the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, tribes were displaced from their homelands and became landless (as in the case of Muwekma), forced into poverty resulting in high rates of mortality and susceptibility to diseases, and marginalized politically, economically, and spiritually. Furthermore, it was dangerous, even deadly, for Indian people in California to identify themselves as Indian and at the same time maintain their traditional "governmental" institutions of leadership and cultural integrity so that it would be visible to "authoritative, knowledgeable external sources." Under the existing Acknowledgment process, the United States in essence simply says to the Muwekma and California's other "unacknowledged" (and in many cases previously Federally Recognized) petitioning tribes:

Sorry, we know that if you would have publicly maintained your Indian identity, culture and form of government during the late 19th and earlier 20th Centuries you would have been persecuted and perhaps killed, but since you choose to submerge your Indian identity from the non-Indian community to save yourselves and maintain your families and also allow yourselves to become landless and homeless you can't be considered a tribe today as far as BAR is concerned.

The Advisory Council realized that because of the history of persecution, repression, and being dispossessed of lands, California's "unacknowledged" tribes would find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate the necessary continuity expected of land based tribes and therefore, fully meet the first three (3) of the seven (7) mandatory criteria for Federal Acknowledgment under the existing process. In its report to Congress, the Advisory Council predicted that because California Indians were left landless and driven underground by decades of abusive and repressive Federal and State Indian policies, "unacknowledged" California tribes would find it impossible to provide evidence that fully satisfies BAR's expectations of the following criteria:

1. 83.7(a) - Identification as an Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis.
2. 83.7(b) - Comprises a distinct community at present.
3. 87.7(c) - Governing body exercising political influence or authority within group.

The Muwekma Tribe's Petition for Federal Acknowledgment is the first application by a previous unambiguously Federally Recognized "unacknowledged" California tribe to reach the preliminary determination stage of the existing process in 18 years. Based upon the Advisory Council's Reports and predictions, it is not surprising that the Assistant Secretary determined, on a preliminary basis, that the Muwekma Tribe has not presented sufficient evidence to fully satisfy the above criteria.

Even though the Muwekma, as a landless tribe, was adversely affected by years of repressive Federal and State Indian policies, economic hardships, and untimely death amongst its leadership, the Tribe nonetheless has submitted to the BIA thousands of pages (six linear feet) of very credible evidence which unquestionably demonstrates that the Muwekma Tribe: (i) has existed as an Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis; (ii) presently comprises a distinct community; and (iii) has and always had a governing body, which exercised political control over the Tribe and its members. Such evidence was compelling enough for BAR to issue its two formal determinations of previous unambiguous Recognition.

The Muwekma Tribe is confident that when we sit down face to face with the 2 or 3 overworked BIA/BAR staff people who reviewed the tens of thousands of pages of material in a very short time, and demonstrate to them the overwhelming body of evidence the Tribe has submitted and will continue to submit, the Assistant Secretary will reverse the present decision and make the determination that the Muwekma Tribe has more than adequately satisfied each of the 7 requirements and therefore, reaffirm the Tribe's Federally Recognized status by extending Federal Acknowledgement to our Tribe.

While the Muwekma Tribe is very confident that it has submitted overwhelming evidence satisfying each of the 7 mandatory criteria, the plight of other "unacknowledged" California tribes must also be addressed. The Muwekma, the very first California tribe to make it through the BIA's existing acknowledgment process, is experiencing the very unfairness, inequities, and injustice, which the Advisory Council predicted and cautioned Congress about. The Congress has known for years from testimonies of ranking BIA officials (including the past Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs, Kevin Gover, and Bud Shapard, former chief of Branch of Acknowledgement and Research) that the existing acknowledgment process is unfair to California and other tribes. Shapard in giving testimony to Congress on September 15, 1992 regarding HR 3430 stated:

"... I retired from the BIA in 1988, after 24 years of service. I was the primary author of the acknowledgment regulations, and the Branch Chief for the Bureau's Acknowledgment branch during the first 10 years.

... After fourteen years of trying to make the regulations which I drafted in 1978 work, I must conclude that they are fatally flawed and unworkable. ... The decisions are subjective and not necessarily accurate. The criteria are limited in scope and are not applicable to many of the petitioning groups which are in fact, viable Indian tribes."

Furthermore, the Advisory Council has made recommendations in their report to Congress to eliminate this unfairness and inequity. It is time for Congress as recommended by the ACCIP, Bud Shapard, and other officials to enact legislation correcting and eliminating the lingering effects of a century of abusive and repressive Federal Indian policy in California.

While Congress needs to address the situation facing all of California's "unacknowledged" tribes, the Assistant Secretary's preliminary proposed finding on Muwekma's Petition is even more offensive when placed in its historical context. The United States has previously admitted that the Muwekma Tribe was Federally Acknowledged by the United States as the result of the 1906 and 1908 Appropriation Acts to purchase land for landless and homeless Indian tribes in California. These Congressional appropriations came about as a result of the discovery in 1905 of the 18 unratified Treaties of California, which were suppressed into secrecy by the United States Senate. The Muwekma were identified along with approximately 150 other landless tribes and bands in California, which were slated for land purchases. The Muwekma Tribe (historically Recognized as the Verona Band of Alameda County) was under the jurisdiction of the Indian Service Bureau in Washington DC and later under the Reno and Sacramento Indian Agencies as late as 1927.

As a matter of law, an Indian tribe's acknowledged status can only be terminated by an expressed Act of Congress. The U.S. readily admits that the Muwekma Tribe's status, as an acknowledged Tribe was never terminated by an Act of Congress. Instead, the BIA's position is that the Tribe's Acknowledged status simply "withered away" as a result of some BIA bureaucrat in Sacramento 75 years ago, who decided to remove them from the list of California's Acknowledged Tribes, because in his opinion the Tribe was not in need of land for their homes.

Rather than admit that Muwekma is an Acknowledged tribe whose legal status was never lawfully Terminated by Congress, as the BIA did last year for the Lower Lake Koi Tribe of Sonoma County, the BIA has forced the Muwekma to go through the existing acknowledgment process even though the process, according to Congress and the Advisory Council "[is] unfair to California tribes." The BIA keeps adding insult to injury, and the Assistant Secretary's preliminary determination is just a continuation of the Bureau's unjust history and policy towards tribes. The Muwekma Tribe has maintained its Indian heritage, culture, and government and has contributed to the larger American society. Muwekma men served in the United States Armed Forces overseas during WW I, WW II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. Four of the six Muwekma men who served overseas during WW I are buried in the Golden Gate National Cemetery.

Seventy-five years ago, against Interior policy and request, Sacramento Superintendent, L. A. Dorrington, without benefit of site visitation, notification to the Tribe, or due process, arbitrarily decided that Muwekma as a landless Tribe was not in the need for the purchase of land for homes. Nonetheless, the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area will ultimately succeed in reversing this injustice and be fully restored as a Federally Acknowledged Tribe.

Background on July 30, 2001 and March 11, 2002 Determinations
By Colin Cloud Hampson