The San Francisco Bay Area's Muwekma Ohlone Indians are one step closer to victory in their long running battle to gain Federal Recognition of the Tribe's members and history.
United States Court Judge Ricardo Urbina has given the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) until July 28th, 2000, to set a schedule to complete their review of the tribe's request for federal recognition.
One must remember that the Muwekma Ohlone were recognized until 1927. A BIA agent L.A. Dorrington illegally removed the Muwekma Ohlone from the federal register in 1927. Earlier, L.A. Dorrington in a memorandum to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs dated June 23, 1927 mentions and identifies the Verona Band as "these Indians were formerly those that resided in close proximity of the Mission San Jose".
This specific reference and other pertinent references would seal the ill fated decision made by L.A. Dorrington in 1927. It would restore the legal right of the Muwekma Ohlone as a federally recognized tribe of California and one having patrimonial jurisdiction of San Francisco and the Bay Area in the year 2000, rightfully so.
Judge Ricardo Urbina's 22 page ruling, based on written arguments without a hearing was filed on June 30th and made public on July 7th , 2000. It has taken the Mukema Ohlone over 3 decades and millions of dollars to prove to the U.S. government that the Muwekma Ohlone were indeed the inhabitants of San Francisco and the Bay Area. There is no doubt that the Native Americans were here for thousands of years. It is a shame that in this day and age over 30 Native American tribes in California, still have to produced a paper trail to prove that they are inhabitants of California so that they may enjoy the rights and privileges bestowed on those as federally recognized tribes.
Ron Eden, a BIA Director of the Office of Tribal Services while testifying at the H.R. 2144, Congressman's George Miller's bill revealed that in 1906, the BIA found 18 treaties "locked in a vault in the archives" in California. These treaties made between the California tribes and the United States, were never ratified. They have NOT been ratified today in the year 2000. So much for so called justice!
It is a known judicial fact that when the BIA and the U.S. government acknowledges a tribe, the BIA does not have the authority to terminate or illegally remove any tribe. The fate of the Muwekma Ohlone could have been easily resolved once facts were produced way back in the 1980's. The BIA well known for its abuses and haphazard methods within the Department of Interior, has shifted the burden of proving continued tribal existence to the tribe instead of carrying it themselves.
The Supreme Court ruled that the burden falls on the BIA to prove voluntarily abandoned tribal relations. This decision has plagued many tribes as the BIA is known for its red tape and very slow process of adjudication of tribal cases.
The BIA reviews genealogical, historical and legal records of tribes seeking recognition. Tribes must document they are distinct and represent a continuing government back through history. But the process is widely criticized as tribes typically wait up to 25 years for a decision. Even the BIA acknowledges a quicker system could be implemented.
The Muwekma case will likely impact the current debate in Congress on whether to remove recognition responsibilities from the BIA, which has a backlog of over 200 cases.
Once Federally Recognized the Muwekma Ohlone can legally vie for economic stability on their own ancestral lands. They can exercise their patrimonial jurisdiction. The Muwekma Ohlone have been on the fore front of developing partnerships on the local, national and international level. With no help from the U.S. government, pooling assets from the tribal members and some entities who share the goals and vision of the Muwekma Ohlone the tribe has marched progressively forward.
The Muwekma Ohlone web site which one can visit at http://www.muwekma.org affords one the opportunity to sign one's name and support the vision of the Muwekma Ohlone. This site informs one of the history and the on going struggle to be federally recognized so that patrimonial jurisdiction and the rights that come with it can be fully exercised.
We are fully aware of the many base closures in the Bay Area. The Muwekma Ohlone exercised their "right of first refusal" as part of the Base Closure Act, to all these bases and could have rightly had jurisdiction if the Muwekma Ohlone were federally recognized already. Right now the jurisdiction rights at Presidio of San Francisco, Alameda Naval Station, Oakland Army Base, Mare Island, Moffet Field, Hunters Point Naval Station, and so on will have to be adjudicated once the Muwekma Ohlone are put back on the Federal Register. This right also permits the Muwekma Ohlone to stake claim to Alcatraz Island, Buena Vista Island - Treasure Island, thousands of acres of land declared access by the Federal government all over the extended Bay Area.
As of May 24, 1996 the Muwekma Ohlone received a "Previous Recognition" determination from the BIA, this was largely through the hard work of the Muwekma Ohlone team who proved to the BIA that there were documents that affirmed their being recognized by the Federal government, previously. March 26, 1998 the Muwekma Ohlone were put on "Ready Status". It is just a matter of time when the Muwekma Ohlone will make history and change the devious methods of the Bureau of Indian Affairs once and for all. It has been a long time coming since 1927. Judge Ricardo Urbina has done humankind proud!