That is not to say there was lack of interest. To the contrary, records indicate that local Indian people were intensely interested in the Graton Rancheria. For example, a tribal leader, Joseph M. Pete, wrote a letter dated March 14, 1921, on behalf of himself and “several others who would appreciate a place they could call home,” to the Superintendent of Indian Affairs to inquire about the purchase of the Rancheria. The BIA was slow to respond and when it finally did respond, the Superintendent stated in his letter dated June 13, 1922, that the acreage purchased was too small to accommodate all interested persons. This lack of responsiveness by the BIA to inquiries from interested tribal members, the absence of financial assistance, the inadequate size and inhospitable terrain of the Rancheria, its lack of water, and its rural, isolated location far from their jobs as laborers, discouraged many members of our Tribe from permanently relocating and settling on the Rancheria.
Nevertheless, a BIA census of the Sebastopol Indians, enumerated by Superintendent W.W. McConihe with the assistance of local Indians, dated June 20, 1923, counted seventy-five (75) individuals of Marshall, Bodega, and Sebastopol descent, thus demonstrating their congregation in the vicinity of the Graton Rancheria. For those who managed to build homes on or near the Graton Rancheria, tent platforms comprised the usual mode of construction, although such floor structures were not suitable for permanent homes. Tribal member Frank Truvido began residency in a platform tent, but unlike most residents, Mr. Truvido was eventually able to build a cabin on the Graton Rancheria for his family. Another home was built by Andrew Sears, who willed it to Frank Truvido, whose descendants, including the mother of the current tribal Vice-Chair, Lorelle Ross, continue to reside in the house on a portion of the former Rancheria lands.
Through the purchase of the Graton Rancheria, placed into federal trust, the government consolidated these neighboring and traditionally interactive groups into one recognized entity referred to as Graton Rancheria.
2. Federal recognition of our tribe was not dependent on whether Indians, including tribal members, physically resided on the Rancheria.
The group opposed to our Tribe’s project argues that there is no “evidence” that our tribe existed. In support of this untenable claim, the group selectively cites documents which indicate that no Indians permanently resided on the Rancheria until 1936 and that only a few established permanent homes on the Rancheria after that date. Federal law, however, has never had an “on-reservation residency requirement” in order for ours or any other tribe to be federally recognized, nor is there any such requirement in order to be deemed an Indian tribe. Our sovereignty and those of other Indian tribes is not derived from the existence of a tribal land base.
The fact remains that under Congressional mandate, the BIA purchased land for Indians in California, including Indians of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo descent, which had remained on their traditional homelands after their displacement by non-Indians. While the location of the Rancheria was far from ideal and, as explained above, was difficult on many levels for our ancestors to move and reside there, the Graton Rancheria nevertheless became an important cultural and social focal point for the Indians who could come, live in a tent, and visit with the other Indians while working in the area. Further, BIA census data clearly indicate that a sizable number of our ancestors (up to 75 individuals) resided in or around the Rancheria and its vicinity, as early as 1923. Finally, BIA records confirm that three to four individual Indians and their families did move to and reside on the Rancheria, and eventually received portions of the Rancheria lands when trust title was removed as part of the termination process in the early 1960s.
3. In California, the pattern and process by which tribes or bands of Indian groups became federally recognized is unique and distinguishable from that of tribes outside of California.
In many ways, traditional assumptions about what tribes should look like or how they are formed cannot be rigidly applied in the California context. The devastation and destruction of our Native populations occurred more suddenly and was beyond the scale experienced by Indians and tribes in other states. From the 1770s to the early 1900s, it is conservatively estimated that the California Indian population declined by 95 percent: from 300,000 to 15,000. Approximately 100 Indian tribes in California were completely extinguished.
The genocide that occurred was, in part, the result of the federal government’s failure to ratify the treaties negotiated and signed in 1851. These treaties would have set aside lands constituting less than one-tenth of California for the protection of California Indians and their tribes confronted with a rapid influx of Euro-American settlers seeking gold, land, and other resources. The Senate’s failure to ratify these treaties meant that, unlike tribes in many other parts of the country who negotiated treaties with the federal government shortly after contact as homogenous, single ethnic tribes, and who were afforded at least some federal protections on the lands set aside for them under those treaties, California tribes did not establish official relations with the federal government until after they had been rendered landless and forced into hiding as a means of survival.
As discussed earlier, in the early 1900s, Congress eventually authorized the purchase of lands, often small reservations called “rancherias,” throughout the state for “homeless” and “landless” Indians and elected to recognize a single “tribal entity” with political and legal status. It has long been federal policy to inter-mix groups of Indians which at one point were separate tribes or bands. Thus, “tribes” in California are sometimes comprised of a composite, as opposed to homogenous, group of individual Indians belonging to different bands, clan groups, or tribes brought together–voluntarily, by circumstances, or by force --- to have their members collectively exercise tribal sovereignty.
The absolute power of Congress over Indian affairs (i.e. Congress’ “plenary power”) provides Congress with the authority to combine as many tribes as it chooses and to recognize such tribes’ collective or individual sovereignty as Congress chooses. Because the federal government failed to exercise its trust responsibility and protect California tribes from rapid, non-Native settlement, conventional or popular notions of what constitutes an Indian tribe do not necessarily apply to California Indians and tribes. The fact that tribes in California such as the Graton Rancheria were not homogenous treaty tribes do not make them any less legitimate. The critical fact is that the federal government purchased land and created a Rancheria for the collective benefit of the Indians of Graton Rancheria, thereby acknowledging our existence as an Indian tribe entitled to formal legal and political recognition.
B. The termination legislation that ended the government-to-government relationship between the Graton Rancheria and the United States in 1958 terminated neither the existence of our Tribe nor our inherent sovereignty.
Through the California Rancheria Act of 1958 (“Rancheria Act”), Congress terminated the federal trust status of the Graton Rancheria. The Rancheria Act was part of a larger, entirely misdirected federal policy in the 1950s and early 1960s to try and forcibly assimilate Indians and terminate the legal status of their tribes. Contrary to the assertion by the group opposed to our proposed project, as discussed in more detail below, the federal government’s implementation of the Rancheria Act was not only deceitful and unethical, it was illegal. In addition to enacting a series of termination acts, the federal government also instituted a policy of “voluntarily” relocating reservation Indians to urban areas in an effort to assimilate them further into the political and economic mainstream. Certainly, nothing about either the “termination acts” themselves or their effect in Indian Country was benign.
Correspondence, Joseph M. Pete to Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Washington, D.C., March 14, 1921, National Archives, San Bruno, RG 75, BIA, Sacramento Area Office, Tribal Group Files, 1915-1972, Box 19, File 060 Graton (Sebastopol) 1920-1961, Folder 2 of 2; F.C. Hauke, Chief Clerk, to Joseph M. Pete, March 30, 1921; Joseph M. Pete to Walter W. McConihe, Superintendent of Round Valley Agency, June 11, 1922; Walter W. McConihe to Joseph M. Pete, June 13, 1922; Joe Pete to Walter W. McConihe, July 11, 1922.
Census, June 30, 1923, Census of the Sebastopol Indians of the Round Valley Agency, California by W.W. McConihe, Supt., National Archives, San Bruno, RG 75, Round Valley Agency Tribal Census, 060 Graton (Sebastopol), Tribal Group Files 1915-1972, Box 145, Folder 1923.
Correspondence, Harold J. Broadhead, Realty Assistant, to Leonard M. Hill, Henry Harris, Jr., and Rita Singer, March 22, 1954, National Archives, San Bruno, RG 75, BIA, Sacramento Area Office, Tribal Group Files, Box 19, 060 Graton (Sebastopol), Folder 60.