Protection Denied to Un-Recognized Tribes
Thanks to everyone who has taken time to support the Winnemem in their quest to hold their Puberty Ceremony with the respect and dignity they deserve. Puberty Ceremony will go forward, but sadly the Tribe will conduct the ceremony subject to the same voluntary closure they had in 2006 that allowed for the harassment you can view on the video of the 2006 ceremony.
This undignified outcome comes down to the fact that the Winnemem Wintu Tribe is not federally recognized. Were they a recognized tribe they would have been afforded protections under the 2008 Farm Bill. Please join the Tribe’s fight for Federal Recognition. Sign up for the Winnemem Action Listserv.
More on Federal Recognition
With the stroke of a pen, back in the 1980s, our Federal Government created two classes of American Indians. Based on limited criteria the Government decided which Tribes’ existence they would acknowledge and which they would not. Those not on the list are left without access to the services, benefits, and protections allocated to their recognized brethren.
Here in California, particularly in the far northern reaches of the State many traditional tribes, like the Winnemem, were left off of the list. It has been more than twenty years since federal recognition was established and in all of those years not a single Presidential administration has figured out how to right this incredibly unjust wrong.
California, and ironically, many federal agencies including the US Forest Service have developed means to work around federal recognition. The California Native American Heritage Commission holds an official state list of California Tribes used by local governments to determine which Tribes they must consult before undertaking projects in ancestral tribal territory. Many agencies, state and federal, have memorandum of understanding with Tribes, both recognized and unrecognized. In fact, the Winnemem have MOUs with many agencies including CALtrans and the US Forest Service.
Further demonstrating California’s knowledge and acceptance that the Winnemem exist, the California State Legislature passed a join resolution authored by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, AJR 39, memorializing congress to recognize the Tribe.
All of this and the Federal Government continues to pretend that the Winnemem and many other traditional Tribes do not exist. Instead, if these Tribes wish to pursue recognized status they are directed to the Federal Acknowledgement Process. The process puts the burden of proof on the Tribes, can cost thousands of dollars, and can take dozens of years, and many applications become stuck in the process because of incomplete information.
A tribe might also sue for recognition. Of course, most un-recognized tribes lack the financial resources to undertake a lengthy court battle.
Finally, a tribe may be recognized through Congressional action. This assumes that there is a congressman willing to author the bill with the political clout to get the bill amended into a larger bill that is likely to pass and be signed by the President. For the Winnemem this leaves them with little hope as their Congressman, Wally Herger, is not willing to carry the bill and there is a strong culture in Congress of not interfering in someone else’s district.