News


Local Native American tribe seeks identity

Muwekma Ohlone lose federal court battle over official recognition of tribe

The Muwekma Ohlone, whose ancestral lands are in Palo Alto and throughout the Bay Area, have lost a federal lawsuit seeking recognition of their tribe by the United States, according to U.S. District Court documents.

The group -- which now numbers 550 members in the Bay Area, many in San Jose and Pleasanton -- traces its ancestral lineage to aboriginal villages that extended from the tip of the Marin headlands and north edge of San Pablo Bay through Contra Costa, Alameda, San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and portions of Napa, Santa Cruz, Solano and San Joaquin counties.

Federally recognized tribes are considered sovereign nations. That designation allows a tribe's members to receive government benefits such as housing, health care and education funding and more recently, special dispensation to open lucrative casinos.

The Muwekma began petitioning the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for federal acknowledgement as an Indian tribe in 1989 and received a determination in 1996 that their group had received "previously unambiguous recognition" from the government. But in 2001 the bureau denied the Muwekma's request for federal tribal recognition because the Muwekma did "not meet all seven criteria required for federal acknowledgement." The Muwekma failed to present sufficient evidence that they were "the same tribal entity that was previously acknowledged or as a portion that has evolved from that entity," according to court documents.

The Muwekma sued in 2003, saying the tribe has a paper trail of descendants that were recognized on government rolls.

But Reggie B. Walton, a district judge of the District of Columbia, said surviving as Indian descendants is not the same as surviving as an Indian tribal entity.

It is '"obvious that Indian nations, like foreign nations, can disappear over time ... whether through conquest, or voluntary absorption into a larger entity, or fission, or dissolution or movement of population,'" Walton wrote, quoting a 2001, 7th Circuit Court decision regarding the Miami Nation of Indians of Indiana.

"Should a tribe cease to exist, it follows that the federal government would no longer have a trust relationship with that entity," Walton wrote. "The Muwekma thus needs to demonstrate it did not cease to exist after 1927."

The judge also said the Muwekma's claims are barred by the statute of limitations because the tribe could have pursued a cause of action against the Bureau of Indian Affairs at several dates in time, as far back as 1927.

The Muwekma filed an appeal to Walton's decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals on Nov. 22.

Land, the most visible benchmark of tribal status, appears to be the crux of the Muwekma's predicament. Through treaties and government land purchases in the 1800s, tribes throughout the country were delegated property as a means to settling "the Indian question," and those land designations also established them as sovereign nations.

But California Indian tribes were not part of the land/reservation equation, having first been supplanted and then devastated by the mission system under Spanish rule.

Bounty-hunted for their scalps in the late 1800s by white settlers and subjected to continuous acts of violent racism into the early 20th century, Muwekma survivors retreated to the Spanish-speaking Californio rancherias, where they were better accepted, said Alan Leventhal, a San Jose State University archaeologist who has worked with the tribe.

In the early 20th century, the government set about purchasing land for the surviving landless Indians. Indian rancherias in southern California evidence those land purchases.

But northern California tribes did not fare as well, Leventhal said. Many, including the Muwekma, were politically erased by a government administrator's decision in 1927. L.A. Dorrington, the Office of Indian Affairs superintendent charged with locating the tribes that would receive land, in 1927 specifically did not recommend purchasing land for the Muwekma and other tribes, according to court papers.

That decision politically erased the Muwekma, who were even termed "extinct" as a tribe by noted anthropologist A. L. Kroeber, who later rescinded the comment.

Should a group of people who were previously disenfranchised by the government be expected to conform to a government-constructed definition of a tribe?

Leventhal doesn't think so.

"It's gestalt. This is how colonial systems operate. It is the continuation of a colonial system (where) you are made invisible or erased from the forum. If you appear, you are viewed with contempt," he said.

"The politics of erasure" has also worked to the advantage of some tribes that are claiming ancestral heritage to lands in the Bay Area where they never lived, Leventhal said. In the new world of big-money investment on tribal lands, the Muwekma pose a significant threat to the power brokerage, Leventhal said.

Muweka Tribal Chair Rosemary Cambra could not be reached for comment. But she has said in the past that her goal is to provide access to higher education and good, stable housing for the tribe, especially for elders.

Colin Cloud Hampson, an attorney for the Muwekma, said he could not comment due to the ongoing case. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has not returned requests for comment.

Leventhal said the appeal is the most crucial step for the tribe; he does not think the U.S. Supreme Court would hear the case. Many other similarly situated tribes in California are watching the Muwekmas' case, he said.

Comments

1 person likes this
Posted by racz
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm

the police state denies your human rights.


1 person likes this
Posted by paloaltotreewatch
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Dec 3, 2011 at 4:11 pm

why isn't Stanford Law School helping?
Ohlone remains were found on Stanford land in early 1990s, and for sure there are other undiscovered sites.
Stanford you owe it to the natives - just holding a powwow once a year is not enough.
You are a tax exempt institution - please use your largesse for things other than new buildings.


1 person likes this
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2011 at 6:52 pm


Since the fraud by Ward Churchill and the the corruption in involving Indian casinos and tobacco tax avoidance.

Plus the Jack Abramoff fraud and conspiracy involving Indian tribes

Web Link

The government is taking a wise hard line these days and will moving forward.

People born in America are American first.

- E Pluribus Unum

The European multicultural policy is a complete disaster

--we are not going to repeat that failed policy in the USA


1 person likes this
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 3, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Sharon continues to spew her venom and the editors continue to remove criticism of her comments. Editor-what does the fact that churchill is a native-american have to do with anything? In fact what does her rant against native-american have to do with the subject of this thread. shame on you for allowing sharon to introduce race into the thread.


1 person likes this
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2011 at 6:04 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Are you willing to have your land title subordinated to an Indian claim? This is a racist action pure and simple. Sometimes Sharon gets it right.


1 person likes this
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 4, 2011 at 6:53 am

Walter should read sharons post before complimenting her. Of course, fellow travelers tend to blindly support one another. What if the native, american claim had merit?


2 people like this
Posted by jim
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2011 at 3:00 pm

never heard that before, that explains why one per centers support each other. they are ''fellow travelers''. on the same boat --- privileged america.


1 person likes this
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Sharon shares my opinion that there is no such thing as race, and that laws that render special treatment to any particular "race" or religion or family are nul and void. The only real race, now, is the race to be different and to thus receive special privilege.


1 person likes this
Posted by Proudnativewoman
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2011 at 4:20 pm

So if I read your comments correctly...it is perfectly fine and a part of the status quo to oppress and disenfranchise a people if their population is only "one percent" of the whole? You may have forgotten that Native peoples were here before there was an "America". Native Americans have fought bravely in every war we have been envolved in, including my great uncles who because they were light & found an understanding registering agent were able to fight for America in WWI in 1917. They thought it important to defend not only their own people but most likely your ancestors as well. I pray the Ohlone gain their recognition. The entire Bay area and well beyond, rests on what was at one time Native land...Stanford is a great example, built on top of Native remains and especially those of the Ohlone. I hope they will continue their fight for what is right for their people.


1 person likes this
Posted by Proudnativewoman
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2011 at 4:33 pm

The Ohlone and other Native tribes are not asking for special treatment. They are asking to be a recognized tribe...which they are...by the BIA so that they may be able to better care for their people. This government made Treaties with Native tribes in exchange for their lands, which WAS their was of sustaining their people, they were not GIVEN any special treatment, they entered into a deal, if you will, to insure their people would be taken care of since they would no longer have their land to live off of for their food, clothing, and medicines.


1 person likes this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 4, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Please don't be distracted by Sharon & Walter from the point of this article & what these natives are trying to accomplish. Sharon & Walter aren't lawmakers, so their opinions aren't relevant here. Ward Churchill is irrelevant as well to what this band of Ohlone are trying to accomplish. Pretending Ward Churchill has relevance here just because he's Native American & has gotten into trouble is like me trying to pretend that Winston Churchill's troubles have relevance in my life ambitions because we're both white.


1 person likes this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 4, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Sorry, I meant to say that the Ward Churchill red herring is irrelevant due in part to controversy re his ethnicity, & Sharon's assumption that he is accepted at Native American is representative of her shortsighted, poorly constructed opinion. I made my clumsy analogy re Winston & Ward & Winston's whiteness in part because Winston's mother was rumored to have Native American heritage. Sorry - convoluted!


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 4, 2011 at 6:43 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2011 at 7:29 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]



Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2011 at 8:19 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by HawkeyePierce
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 4, 2011 at 8:21 pm

How easily threatened Walter is! It's pretty funny, how he extrapolates.

Now, back to the subject of the article: I'd love to read updates as they arise and also interviews with Muwekma leaders and others in the know. I'll withhold my panic and fear of a tribal takeover of the peninsula until then.


1 person likes this
Posted by paloaltotreewatch
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Dec 4, 2011 at 9:38 pm

The judges decision turned on a technicality that the error committed by a state official in 1927 - is null and void due to statute of limitations. It is a crock argument. There are plenty of crimes - 1st degree murder for instance which has no statute of limitations.

The Ohlone have a right to a place to call their own - regardless of what and how they want to do with - including casinos- Thats called self-determination.

Their title to the land was stolen systematically by the state and federal government - and these governments turned their back as they were hunted down and discriminated against. There is plenty of state and federal land which can be used as compensation.

Look what is just happening now to the native Indians around the Alamo. They are getting title to land.

And don't forget something. There were many bigotted and racist laws on the books in California in the early 20th century. The same bigots and racists somehow forgot to support the Ohlone indians application for status. There needs to compensation this travesty.

So no know one is talking about giving up their title to support Ohlone self-determination. And those who trot out that argument use it as a smokescreen to the fact that they don't support self-determination of people long discriminated against. That is a class-less argument.


Like this comment
Posted by ali
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2011 at 10:28 pm

I'm glad to know about this and I hope their appeal is heard with sympathetic ears.

On another note, I want to point out to Sharon that her most recent comment presents disease as a neutral force--something natural and not perpetrated by people (at least that's how I'm reading it), when in fact it was seriously contemplated (if not outright used) as a biological weapon in the French and Indian war (Web Link). While I'll grant that maybe some people didn't intentionally infect Native Americans, I just don't see the introduction of disease as excusable or inevitable.


Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2011 at 10:55 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by cool
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 5, 2011 at 2:55 am

East Palo Alto was a burail ground for the ohlone. many bodies turn up there!


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 5, 2011 at 10:34 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Sharon, looks like you and I are out of here. See you in the other paper.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 7, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Obviously these people are after something more than just bragging rights. They are after the economic benefits like casinos and tobacco stores. What have they done to deserve privileges not available to the common folk?


Like this comment
Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 7, 2011 at 2:15 pm

svatoid is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 8, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Anyone who demands any special privilege because of his or her skin color or any other characteristic except his/her own demonstrated performance is wrong. By accident of birth I am white, but I had nothing to do with that and so I have no right to demand any special treatment because of my skin color and I do not! I have in the past and will in the future reject any employment offer where my "race" is a component. I reject any such consideration for others, too.


Like this comment
Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 9, 2011 at 6:04 am

svatoid is a registered user.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Are you even familiar with what the case is about? It is not about special privileges. But, any attempts to address wrongs based on race are considered a demand for special privileges. Do you even understand, Walter, why we needed affirmative action programs?


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

I understand the reason given for affirmative action programs and totally reject them. The solution for discrimination is more discrimination? Not on your tintype. The solution for discrimination is NO MORE DISCRIMINATION!!!


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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