C.Restoration of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria re-established our trust relationship with the federal government and reaffirmed the sovereignty of the Graton Rancheria.
In 1979, Indian residents from various California rancherias joined in a class action lawsuit to restore the reservation status of their land, asserting that their trust relationship had been illegally terminated under the California Rancheria Act. The plaintiffs sought, among other things, judicial recognition that “[t]he Secretary of the Interior was under a duty to ‘unterminate’ each of the subject rancherias, and … to hold the same in trust for the benefit of the Indians of the original Rancheria.” The case was settled through stipulated judgments between the members of the class and the United States and then between the members of the class and the applicable counties. The first stipulation, which was between the members of the class and the United States, provided that the:
Secretary of the Interior shall recognize the Indian Tribes, Bands, Communities or groups of the seventeen rancherias listed in paragraph 1 as Indians entities with the same status as they possessed prior to distribution of the assets of these Rancherias under the California Rancheria Act, and said Tribes, Bands, Communities and groups shall be included on the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Federal Register list of recognized tribal entities pursuant to 25 CFR, Section 83.6(b). Said Tribes, Bands, Communities or groups … shall be deemed entitled to any of the benefits or services provided or performed by the United States for Indian Tribes, Bands, Communities or groups because of their status as Indian Tribes, Bands, Communities or groups.
In this way, seventeen rancherias terminated pursuant to administrative action under the California Rancheria Act were restored to federal recognition by virtue of the settlement of the litigation. Another ten rancherias subsequently were restored pursuant to settlements in other similar federal court litigation. Although the circumstances regarding the termination of the Graton Rancheria were identical to the termination of other California rancherias, members of the Tribe did not participate in the federal court litigation and therefore did not benefit from the restoration accomplished through the settlements of the federal court litigation. Obviously, this left the Tribe in an inequitable position relative to other California tribes which had been terminated under the California Rancheria Act and restored pursuant to settlements of the federal court litigation.
In 1992, Congress established the Advisory Council on California Indian Policy to prepare a report regarding, among other things, remedial measures to address the special status problems of the California tribes which remained terminated. In its 1997 Report to Congress, the Advisory Council determined that “the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria … meet the current criteria for restoration and should be immediately restored.” In 1999, Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey introduced legislationto restore federal recognition to the Tribe. The following statement was included in the House Resources Committee Report issued in June 2000:
[Tribal members] have maintained their identities as California Indians from birth as shown by their having roll numbers on the 1933 Census Roll of the Indians of California, the 1955 California Combined Roll, and the 1972 California Indian Judgment Rolls. Members born after the last roll numbers were issued in 1969 have provided birth certificates and/or baptismal certificates connecting them with roll number bearers and have been included on the Graton tribal roll.
The Federated Coast Miwok and Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria is [sic] recognized socially and politically as an Indian group by outside Indian and non-Indian groups, scholars, organizations, and federal, state, and local agencies/governments. The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria have endured through time as a distinctive tribal group.
In his prepared statement delivered at the House Resources Committee hearing on the bill, the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs stated that the Administration supported the Graton Restoration Act:
I am pleased to report that after careful review of the information submitted by the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria (the successor name), the documentation shows that the group is significantly tied with the terminated tribe known as the Graton Rancheria. Therefore, we support their restoration of tribal status.
In December 2000, Congress implemented the Advisory Council’s recommendation and enacted the Graton Restoration Act, which restored the Tribe to federal recognition. “When a tribe is restored to federal recognition, Congress generally reinstates all the rights and privileges that the tribe or its members enjoy under federal law.” In 2000, Congress enacted the Graton Restoration Act under Public Law 106-568. The Act states, in part:
[A]ll rights and privileges of the Tribe and its members under any Federal treaty, Executive order, agreement, or statute, or under any other authority which were diminished or lost under the Act of August 18, 1958 [ ] are hereby restored . . .
The Congressional restoration of the Tribe’s trust relationship and status with the federal government concludes the end of the termination era and marks the start of a new phase of the Tribe’s relationship with the United States.
- Demonstration of uninterrupted existence as a historic political entity is an incorrect standard to apply in assessing the merits of or legal basis for the Tribe’s restoration and that of any other Indian tribe in California that was terminated and later restored.
Uninterrupted existence as a historic political entity is one of the legal standards which federal courts and the BIA apply to newly recognized tribes or those tribes seeking federal recognition through the processes set forth under 25 Code of Federal Regulations Part 83. This standard may reflect the historical realities of many tribes outside of California such as the Navajo or Sioux Nations and is therefore arguably a reasonable benchmark to apply to currently unrecognized Indian tribes seeking recognition through the federal acknowledgment process (“FAP”) administered by BIA’s Office of Federal Acknowledgment. Such a requirement, is not, however, a realistic standard for California tribes because of California’s unique and tragic history toward its Native population. As California tribes were split apart, survival, not governance, became the primary goal of the Coast Miwok, the Southern Pomo, and others – from the Mission Period to well after the creation of the Rancheria system.
Congress was and is well aware of these circumstances. In fact, federal law expressly prohibits Indian tribes who are unrecognized but were terminated in the past through Congressional legislation from going through the FAP regulatory process. Part 83 at Section 83.4(e) clearly states that “groups which are, or the members of which are, subject to congressional legislation terminating or forbidding the Federal relationship may not be acknowledged under this part.” 25 C.F.R. Sec. 83.4(e). In other words, tribes terminated by an act of Congress, such as the Graton Rancheria, cannot become restored via administrative recognition through the BIA. Instead, the only viable way to restore a Congressionally-terminated tribe’s former trust relationship with the federal government is back through Congress itself. Because the Tribe was terminated by Congress through the California Rancheria Act, the “federal recognition criteria” under Part 83 simply do not apply to the Tribe. Therefore, opponents of the Tribe’s casino project are wrong to argue that Congress erred in restoring the Tribe based on documents that suggest the Tribe did not continuously maintain governing structures throughout its history.
- Even if the Tribe did not have a modern governing structure at the time of the original Graton Rancheria, continuity of internal and traditional leadership has existed throughout our history.
Certain individuals have been continuously recognized in ethno-historical sources as important leaders in the Tribe’s past (e.g., Juana Bautista Elserio, Jose Calistro, brothers William Smith and Tom Smith, and Joseph Pete). Their descendants have remained active in leadership today in both community and tribal organizations. For instance, our Tribe’s current Chairman, Greg Sarris, is the great grandson of Tom Smith. Another of our current Tribal Council members, Gene Buvelot, is the great grandson of William Smith. Further, the Tribe’s current Vice-Chair, Lorelle Ross, is the granddaughter of Frank Truvido, who is one of the original residents of the Graton Rancheria, and whose daughter (Lorelle’s mother) continues to live on the last remaining acre of the former Graton Rancheria in Indian ownership to this day. Thus, while the Tribe might not have had formal political entities governing the Graton Rancheria, it has maintained internal governance through traditional leadership and with those who permanently resided on the Graton Rancheria.
3. We have always maintained our inherent sovereignty as an Indian tribe.
The inherent sovereignty of our Tribe did not survive simply because of the historical accident that we were one of the “lucky” tribes for which the United States purchased land before the funding for landless tribes ran out. Nor did our sovereignty survive solely because more than a few of our families moved onto a randomly selected plot of land, or because we decided to establish a committee. Our sovereignty survived because our ancestors survived. Sovereignty is within us as people. If a people survive, then so does their sovereignty.
Fortunately, both law and basic principles of justice supported our successful fight in regaining our right to exercise our sovereignty. For more than 500 years it has been a well-settled principle of western law that the sovereignty of indigenous people survives as long as they survive. As Chief Justice Marshall wrote in the U. S. Supreme Court decision, Worcester v. Georgia, “The Indian nations had always been considered as distinct, independent, political communities retaining their original natural rights, as the undisputed possessors of the soil, from time immemorial . . .” Sovereignty does not die until we do. At the same time, sovereignty can remain dormant. It can be driven into hiding. It can be ignored by more powerful sovereigns. But as long as the Native people who possess it continue to exist, it continues to exist within them.
From the beginning of our relationship with the federal government, Congress acted affirmatively to recognize our sovereignty when it authorized the purchase of lands near the town of Graton for landless Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo Indians. Despite the formal termination of our legal relationship with the United States, our sovereignty was not diminished. Finally, in restoring our status as a federally recognized tribe, Congress again acknowledged this sovereignty within us, formalized through the government and constituents of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.
Hardwick v. United States, No. C-79-1710 SW (N.D. Cal. filed 1979).
Id.; Complaint at 27.
Hardwick v. United States, Civil No. C-79-1710-SW (N.D. Cal. 1983) (unpublished); Stipulation for Entry of Judgment filed August 2, 1983, Section 4 (emphasis added).
Pub. L. No. 162-416 (October 14, 1992), as amended by Pub. L. No. 104-109 (February 12, 1996).
The Advisory Council on California Indian Policy Report on Termination.
H.R. Rep. No. 106-677, Additional Views.
Oversight Hearing Before Committee on Resources, House of Representatives, Serial No. 106-95, May 16, 2000, at 107.
Cohen’s Handbook on Federal Indian Law, supra, at Sec. 3.02[c] (emphasis added).
25 U.S.C. Sec. 1404(b)
Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. (6 Pet.) 515, 559 (1832).