California’s tribal leaders represent other recognized governments–our own separate and sovereign governments that protect our people, our history, and our ability to achieve economic self-sufficiency.
We encourage our new governor and legislators to better understand us, and look forward to helping them prioritize policies that can protect and enhance our lives.
With those goals in mind, I offer some history of the Tribe I have the honor of leading, the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake in Lake County.
Our ancestors have lived and governed themselves in the area called California since 6,000 B.C. Early contact with the Russians and Spanish was brutal. The great influx of people created by the American annexation of California and the gold rush brought conflict and disease which in one generation destroyed 95 percent of our population.
Flawed federal policies, some of which lasted until the 1970s, subjected our people to enslavement, abuse, slaughter followed by boarding schools and cultural destruction.
Our tribe’s most grim memory is an aggressive 1850 military operation known as the “Bloody Island Massacre” in which the U.S. Cavalry nearly slaughtered our entire population. Elders, women and children were murdered.
A 6-year old named Ni’ka, also known as Lucy Moore, survived because her mother hid her underwater breathing through a tule reed.
Despite efforts to destroy us, we have persevered. In the past 20 years, the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake have begun to reestablish our government and, with it, our dignity, culture and identity.
As the chairwoman for the past decade, I’m proud to be helping lead this effort, and look forward to helping California’s other leaders understand our history and vision for the Pomo people, as well as our role in state, regional, and local economies.
California has made tremendous strides toward establishing laws and regulations that contemplate not only what is best for the state government, but also what tribes and tribal governments desire for their own people.
For example, activities undertaken by California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife to manage wildlife and natural habitats could impact tribal lands and interests. Because of that, the department has set a precedent of government-to-government consultation, employing a tribal liaison who engages with tribes and advises the department on policy matters that impact tribes.
Past efforts represent an important step in the right direction. But to ensure that California law truly respects tribes’ place in the state, all proposed policies need to explicitly recognize tribal sovereignty and require coordination with tribal governments.
Like the State of California, tribal governments exercise their sovereign authority to create laws that lay the foundation for good governance and proper regulation.
Because of the harsh control exerted by the federal government for hundreds of years, our tribe was left with no traditional tax base, such as property, sales, or incomes taxes.
That’s why, as a sovereign government, we have passed laws that allow the development of economic enterprises that provide jobs for the tribal members and the community, and provide basic needs for our members, including health care services and education. Tribal governments are a leading force in economic development in rural areas of California.
Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom has indicated that Gov. Jerry Brown’s policy of consulting and coordinating with tribal governments will continue to progress.
The Legislature has two tribal members, San Diego Democrat Assemblyman Todd Gloria of the Tlingit Haida Indian Tribe from Alaska and Democrat Assemblyman James Ramos, former chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and the first California Native American legislator.
As elected leaders engage in critically important conversations about issues involving the environment and for consumers, they must also remember the importance of recognizing tribal sovereignty.
Policies must reflect reality. Our governments co-exist in the same way federal and state governments co-exist, and the efficacy of one often depends on the efficacy of the other. Decisions at the state, regional, and local level cannot be made in a vacuum.
We know our tribe’s health, welfare, and future is intertwined with the success of our state and local community. That’s why tribal governments endeavor to be good stewards of our lands and vital contributors to our local economies.
As California embarks on a new legislative session, we urge the state government and its leaders to continue working with tribes for the benefit of all Californians.
Sherry Treppa is chairwoman of Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake in Lake County, [email protected] She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.