OUR FIGHT FOR JUSTICE
The Gabrielino/Tongva Nation has been recognized by the State of California, the California General Assembly, and the City of Los Angeles. It is long past time for us to be formally recognized by the Federal government of the United States.
Despite the Federal Government’s long treatment of the Gabrielino/Tongva as a Tribe under Federal jurisdiction through the Mission Indian Agency, the Federal Government has missed numerous opportunities to grant Federal Recognition to the Gabrielino/Tongva.
WHY SOVEREIGNTY MATTERS
A federally recognized Tribe is a sovereign nation, with control over its own laws and resources, and a special legal and political relationship with the United States government.
Once federally recognized, tribal nations have a government-to-government relationship with the United States, have inherent rights of self-government, and are eligible to receive certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of their legal relationship with the United States.
Bureau of Indian Affairs programs support and assist federally recognized tribes in the development of tribal governments, strong economies, and quality programs.The scope of Indian Affairs programs is extensive and includes a range of services comparable to the programs of state and local government, including education, job training programs, social services, law enforcement, courts, real estate services, agriculture and range management, and resource protection. Without federal recognition, the Gabrielino/Tongva Nation can access none of these benefits.
Without Federal recognition, we cannot claim and repatriate our ancestors’ remains. We cannot participate in scholarships for Native Americans. We cannot practice our religious traditions with full freedoms. We are not allowed to sell our traditional crafts and wares as Native Americans without facing the same $250,000 fine and 5 years imprisonment as any others that appropriate Native Culture for monetary gain. And we are generally not allowed to seek health care at the Indian Clinics. Fundamentally, we have no right or ability to realize economic self-determination.
We intend to purchase commercial property, which the Department of the Interior can take into trust under its standard protocols, providing us with our own Reservation where we can grow and thrive.
Our people know well what it means to be overlooked and underserved. Upon realizing federal recognition, we intend to become productive contributors in Los Angeles, stewards of the environment, and champions of those who, like us, have struggled against oppression. Federal recognition will correct an historic injustice, give us the opportunity to honor our ancestors, and preserve our history and culture for generations to come.
WHY CONGRESS MUST ACT
Congress has always needed to act when recognizing California’s Mission Bands of Indians.
All Federally acknowledged California “Mission Indian” tribes have been recognized through Congress, the Mission Indian Relief Act of 1891 or Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, or an executive order.
No California “Mission Indian” tribe has ever been recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs through the Federal acknowledgement process (25 CFR Part 83). Two that tried were rejected: the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, and the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe.
There is a reason that is the case: The Federal acknowledgement process (25 CFR Part 83) requires a Tribe to provide evidence of its existence as an historical tribe during the 18th and 19th centuries, and the surviving Mission Era-sources simply cannot provide such evidence. Many of the historical records for the Mission Era have either been lost altogether, or obscure details of tribal community and political life.
Only one California tribe has ever been federally recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs through the Federal acknowledgement process (25 CFR Part 83), and it was not a “Mission Tribe.” It was the Death Valley Timbisha Shoshone tribe.
WE ARE TONGVA
The Gabrielino/Tongva never received a reservation in our Los Angeles County homelands, where the population was booming and land prices remained high. As our tribal leaders, both past and present, have often said, there was simply no way 1950s Los Angeles was going to allow land to be given to "a bunch of Indians."
Yet, we are still here, as we have been since the beginning. We are part of this land. We will remain. We will endure. And we will achieve recognition and fulfill our destiny. Because we are Tongva.
Historically, Indian tribes in California were Federally recognized in three different ways: Treaty, Executive Order, and Congressional legislation. Congressional legislation is how nearly all California Mission Indian tribes have received Federal acknowledgement.
Most gained it through the Congressional Act of January 12, 1891 (26 Stat. 711), known as the Mission Indian Relief Act. This Act created the Mission Indian Agency which held trust responsibilities over “Mission Indians.”
The law was quite simple: Congress directed the Mission Indian Agency to purchase reservations for all Mission Indian villages or bands. It applied to all the bands or villages associated with Spanish Missions in California, and sought out those groups living on the same land parcels.
The Mission Indian Agency only ever acquired reservation lands outside of Los Angeles County, specifically San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside, and San Diego Counties. Not only did the Mission Indian Agency not acquire reservation lands in Los Angeles County, but there is also no known record of it attempting to acquire reservation lands in Los Angeles County.
Congress gradually added to the number of Mission Indian reservations through specific appropriations and through the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. This process slowed to a crawl by the 1950s, when Congress began to contemplate legislation to terminate the Mission Indian tribes with reservations in Southern California. By this time, Congress had enacted legislation to terminate non-Mission Indians in California before the policy was abandoned nationally at the end of the 1960s.
But throughout, the Federal policy was consistent. Federal recognition simply followed the acquisition of reservation land in trust. Ultimately, the last Mission Indian tribe to receive Federal recognition this way was Jamul in 1978. It was only after this trust acquisition that BIA policy shifted to the Federal petition process. The option of land-to-trust recognition has since been closed to unrecognized tribes.
As caretakers of our ancestral lands, we have the responsibility to preserve and protect as much of our history as we can.
As Cultural Resource Monitors, we have to protect, preserve, and collect any artifacts or ancestral remains. As ambassadors for our tribe, cultural resource monitors are sometimes the only contact the surrounding communities have with Natives. As a representative of the Tribe, we have to be professional, and respectful of the community we are working with.
As a Cultural Resource Monitor, I have experienced the good and the bad of people along the way. I have worked with several different archaeological firms and many different construction companies over the years. I have had the pleasure of working with some of the most compassionate wonderful people who genuinely care about what we are trying to protect and preserve. I have made some lasting relationships in this community, from time to time I see a crew from a previous job on the next job. It’s always nice to see a friendly familiar face or a crew I know to be mindful of.
The job of a Native monitor is seemingly simple to a passerby, but in fact, it is quite the opposite. It may look like we are just standing there, but we are looking at every bucket and shovel full of dirt for any changes in soil makeup. We are looking for the smallest of clues anything that looks out of place. I can’t count how many odd rocks I’ve picked up over the years, some have turned out to be artifacts. I’ve been asked countless times how did you see that in there, I simply just look for what doesn’t belong. The oddly formed clump of dirt that usually has a bone hiding in it. Picking up the thing that looks like a stick or root but turns out to be a bone.
Not only are you trying to watch the material you are also being mindful of your surroundings, site safety, the machinery moving around you, most of which can kill you, and making sure to make eye contact with every operator that passes you by. We are also looking out for the crews’ safety as well, I’ve had to stop a dozer operator before he put a steel pipe through his back window behind his head. He thanked me later that day stating he could have been killed had I not stopped him. I’ve had to jump into a trench to help dig by hand because the trench wall had collapsed on a man pinning his lower body against a pipe.
On the other hand, I have had to also work with the worst of the worst. It’s frustrating, to say the least when you see your archaeologist sitting in their car while you are standing trench side doing your best to see as much as you can before it’s potentially lost. I’ve realized that few people care about our ancestors as much as we do.
The worst is people in upper management who would rather you not find anything at all and if you do they try to hide it and sweep the matter under the rug. As a monitor, I have had to deal with operators who tried to run me down with their machines after voicing their opinions on not wanting us on site. I have had the head of the environmental and cultural department harass me on almost a daily basis telling me “Why are you here you don’t need to be here.” Every time it was because he didn’t want me to find anything in a known sensitive area. I remember one such day being asked to not monitor near the border of the AMA (additional monitor area) and the very next day human remains were found. Sadly the way we found the remains is because they fell off the back of the dump truck after it was loaded from the border area.
I have received racist comments and physical displays of resentment to the point where I had to have an individual removed from the job site. The man who put him up to the act was allowed to stay because he was more valuable to the crew. Later I was approached by the foreman and was simply told most of his crew were felons and to watch my back. At this point, I now had to keep an eye at all times where this individual was in his machine and try to do my job as safely as possible while at times having to keep my distance from the work area. I wish I had a nickel for every time I was asked if I found any chicken bones today. The individual refers to our ancestral remains as chicken bones. I have returned to the job site the next day or after lunch and someone has left their actual chicken bones from their lunch in the trench.
The horrible stories I’ve heard from crews on other job sites saying crews found artifacts while excavating and with no monitors being there the crews simply took the items home as souvenirs. Those items are now lost, we will never learn anything or be able to pass the knowledge to our children. I spend a great deal of my time trying to educate crews on why we are on site, who we are, and the importance of preserving our past.
Too many times I’ve been told by crews, superintendents, or local government officials that there is nothing here. One day a city official came to me and asked “Why are you here there is nothing here the area has been excavated in the past multiple times”. I replied just ten feet from where we were standing yes the area had been excavated multiple times but there was a small section between pipes that must have been missed because I found various burnt animal bones that dated back 200 years. The remains of a possible temporary campsite, the rest being lost to earlier unmonitored excavations. Needless to say, the city official changed his attitude, started asking more questions about the area, and became more respectful about what we were there for.
Unfortunately, this is not always the outcome, Native monitors are seen as unnecessary and in the way. I’ve been told that Native monitoring is a waste of resources and the reason for higher construction costs. Being a non-federally recognized tribe we are at a disadvantage, we are at the mercy of local governments and rely on other organizations to fight on our behalf. The local governments and contractors know that there is not much we can do if they are non-compliant. More times than not a bigger local agency has had to step in on our behalf to stop the injustice, or they are just fed up with the non-compliance.
It’s frustrating being non-federally recognized in the instance that if our ancestral remains are found by local government agencies we have to have a federally recognized tribe claim our ancestors for us. Simply preposterous is the notion that we cannot take possession of our ancestors. Federal recognition would solve several issues, we would be able to claim our ancestors on our behalf, our ancestral lands would be protected, and we would have our voice heard.
I’ve had far too many conversations with family and friends stating if only we were federally recognized things would be different, this problem with this agency would never have happened, and they wouldn’t be able to mistreat us this way. Being non-federally recognized puts us in a position of constant encroachment from Federally recognized Tribes on the borders of our ancestral land. Over the years they have found loopholes that allow them to exploit the system.
Under the guise of AB52, they come into our ancestral land working culture resource monitoring jobs allowing them to establish an existence in our area. The allowance of this practice is reckless and destructive of our history. Cultural affiliation is another loophole that has been exploited over time. “Just because you get invited to a party at your friend’s house doesn’t mean you live there when the party is over.”
It makes no sense to have to ask permission from a Federally Recognized Tribe to do anything regarding our ancestors and our ancestral land. We are caretakers of our land and our ancestors know what’s best for us.