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 Ohlone Tribe includes a large contiguous geographical area that historically crosscuts linguistic and tribal boundaries that fell under the sphere of influence of the three missions between 1776 and 1836. Sixty years after the American conquest of California, as a result of the discovery of the 18 unratified California Indian Treaties (negotiated between 1851-1852), Charles E. Kelsey of San Jose, was named Special Agent by the Indian Service Bureau in Washington, D.C. Kelsey was specifically charged with the task of identifying all of the tribes and bands located in Northern California (Santa Barbara north to Oregon) in need of land for their homesites. One of these tribes was the Verona Band of Alameda County residing in Pleasanton, Niles, and surrounding towns near Mission San Jose whom Kelsey specifically recommended for the purchase of land under the Congressional Acts of 1906 and 1908. Evidence presented to and accepted by the BIA's Branch of Acknowledgment and Research, demonstrates that the direct ancestors of the present-day Muwekma Ohlone Tribe were Federally Acknowledged as the Verona Band by the U.S. Government beginning in 1906. Independently, since the late 19th century, noted anthropologists and linguists such as Jeremiah Curtain, A. L. Kroeber, E. W. Gifford, J. A. Mason, C. Hart Merriam, and J. P. Harrington (between 1890 & 1934) interviewed the last fluent speakers of the languages spoken at these rancherias. During this time, these knowledgeable Verona Band Elders still employed the linguistic term "Muwekma" which means "The People" in the Ohlone languages spoken in the East and South San Francisco Bay.
During World War I, Muwekma men enlisted and served overseas in the United States Armed Forces. Later, during World War II almost all of the Muwekma men served overseas in the various branches of the Armed Forces. Still landless throughout the 20th century and without any benefits, the Muwekma Tribe maintained our distinctive Indian social ties and culture. During the early 1960's, Muwekma families came together to protect the Ohlone Cemetery located in Fremont from destruction. Around 1964, the American Indian Historical Society (AIHS) under the direction of Rupert Costo and Jeannette Henry, made contact with the Muwekma families, and used their non-profit status to secure title to the Ohlone Cemetery. Since that time, the Ohlone Cemetery has been under the care of one family. By 1984, as a result of being disenfranchised by the dominant society, politicians, and especially archaeologists, the Muwekma Ohlone Tribal government was formed in order to legally articulate with public agencies. The views that were held by the dominant society and its agencies at that time, and that Muwekma had to contend with, were: 1) That the Ohlone are extinct; 2) That even if they still existed, they were never Federally Recognized by the US Government, and therefore, never considered a historic tribe; and 3) All people claiming to be Ohlone are members of a single community that spans from the Monterey Bay to San Francisco.
In 1989, the Muwekma Ohlone Tribal Council submitted a letter of intent to petition the US Government for Federal Acknowledgment. A petition was submitted at a White House meeting on January 25, 1995, and by May 24, 1996 the Bureau of Indian Affairs' (BIA), Branch of Acknowledgment and Research (BAR) made a positive determination that the direct ancestors of the Muwekma Ohlone
Tribe comprising the Verona Band of Alameda County were a Federally Recognized tribe. BAR staff concluded that: The band was among the groups, identified as bands, under the jurisdiction of the Indian agency at Sacramento, CA. The agency dealt with the Verona Band as a group and identified it as a distinct social and political entity. Almost two years later, as a result of submitting additional documentation, Deborah Maddox, Division Chief of Tribal Operations, 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.On December 8, 1999, the Muwekma Tribal Council filed a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior/BIA arguing that as a "Previously Federally Recognized Tribe" that was never terminated by any Act of Congress, Muwekma should not have to wait 20+ years for our status clarification. On June 30, 2000, Federal District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ruled in favor of the Muwekma Tribe and found that the BIA was in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and that the Muwekma Tribe was entitled to an expedited process. Furthermore, Judge Urbina wrote in the Introduction of his Memorandum Opinion Granting the Plaintiff's Motion to Amend the Court's Order dated July 28, 2000 that:
The Muwekma Tribe is a tribe of Ohlone Indians indigenous to the present-day San Francisco Bay area. In the early part of the Twentieth Century, the Department of the Interior ("DOI") recognized the Muwekma tribe as an Indian tribe under the jurisdiction of the United States.Over the past century, the Muwekma have suffered and survived and formed a legally constituted tribal government. Presently, the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe is seeking reaffirmation as a Federally Acknowledged Indian Tribe. The Muwekma have spent these past 22+ years conducting research and submitting to the BAR over several thousand pages of historical, anthropological, and genealogical documentation as part of the petitioning process. As a result of the strategy employed by the Muwekma Tribal leadership, Muwekma has potentially paved the way for other previously Federally Recognized tribes to follow for reaffirmation -- a court ordered Fast Track. On July 30, 2001, the BAR staff issued their proposed "preliminary determination" which stated that Muwekma did not meet Criteria 83.7a, 83.7b and 83.7c. Muwekma spent an intensive six months "repackaging" our petition and providing additional evidence as a response to BAR's "preliminary proposed finding" by charting the tribe's evidence for each decade from Pre-1900 to the present. On January 28, 2002, Muwekma submitted several thousand pages of charted evidence, summaries, and documents to the BIA. The BAR has until August 8, 2002 to make its "final determination" on the future lives of our people.
After all said and done, it will be approximately 96 years since the Verona Band was first Federally Acknowledged. Perhaps now the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe will be treated as an equal in the eyes of other Federally Recognized Indian Nations. Furthermore, Muwekma's reaffirmation also sends a message to the dominant society, some of whom have emphatically stated and published that the "Costanoan/Ohlones are extinct" and/or that we were "never Federally Recognized." Once again, we proved that the so-called experts and authorities on our culture and history know nothing about who we are as the aboriginal people of this region.
Aho! The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area
We will make things right for our People!
Makin Mak-Atuemi Muwekma-mak!