Angelina Arroyo, vice-chairperson of the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake Tribe. Photo courtesy Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake

Angelina Arroyo: Habematolel Pomo stay strong in face of adversity

The Rebirth of the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake

By Angelina Arroyo
Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake

Human beings are social creatures. We rely upon those around us for our strength, our knowledge, and our sense of belonging, and to take that away is to deprive us of a reason for being. It should come as no surprise to those familiar with Native American history that our social bonds as the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake have been tested over time like no other, but the power of our unity has shown often-unthinkable resilience.

The traditions we share, the stories we tell, the very health of our people, all these are powerful elements that have kept our people together over time. Most of all, the very land we call home has been challenged, fought over, stolen and repatriated enough times to test even the strongest. It’s a testament to our dedication to this land that we can stand upon it, together, today.

We value our land so deeply because we know what it’s like to lose it. It’s an unfortunate fact that we as Upper Lake Pomos, along with most of our fellow Native American tribes nationwide, are no strangers to the wanton removal from lands our ancestors inhabited for countless centuries before us. The Indian Relocation Program of the mid-20th Century, allegedly a plan to help Native people integrate into society, resulted in further dissolution of our tribal bonds through forced relocation.

The official policy of the United States from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s was a deeply misguided one that amounted to a modern revival of the oppression faced by our people during the era of Manifest Destiny. Having already moved countless numbers of Native Americans off hallowed land, the belief in the halls of postwar power was now for our people to “become Americans” as they defined the term. This meant “assimilation” that took the form of ending recognition for traditional culture, and a forced lifestyle change made without regard for free expression.

Formal statements issued by Congress during this time effectively terminated tribes that had existed since long before the Mayflower arrived in 1620. Couched in the language of “fair application of the law,” these new policies effectively made old tribal bonds illegal in practice, and the continued free exercise of our religion (in essence, our entire way of life) was under assault.

For the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake, proactively responding to such existential challenges was nothing new. Our very founding in 1878 came from the self-determination of extant tribes facing antagonism and threats from all sides. Land was purchased in Upper Lake with the aim of ensuring that we would never lack for the necessary space to exist freely. Unfortunately, that was far from the end of the story.

Holding on to this land proved another powerful challenge. The midcentury relocation movement empowered authorities to break up the land which had been set aside for Pomo living, leaving the continued existence of the tribe up in the air while a costly and time-consuming lawsuit acted as a last line of defense.

After seven long years, the case was won in 1983 and the long process of reuniting the tribe was underway. It was not until 1998 that a tribal council was assembled, with a new organizational constitution established six years later. Finally, the foundation was safely in place for a modern tribe, ready to face a new set of challenges in bringing our culture into the 21st Century.

Today, our tribe is stronger for having weathered such adversity. Through unshakable unity and shared determination, we’ve built our tribe back up into the social sanctum it was in years past. With our hard-earned independence, we’ve been able to strengthen the human bonds that enrich our lives through our work in local endeavors.

Our renewed strength has resulted in improved conditions within and outside of our community. Thanks to economic development, we’ve been able to act as a support system for our neediest members, ensuring care for our Pomo family. Additionally, we’ve been able to spearhead initiatives to improve the lives of our close neighbors as well, making Upper Lake Pomo not only a fount of strength for the Pomo people, but the Upper Lake and Lake County region as a whole.

Facing antagonism has been a matter of course for Native American people across the country for centuries, but laying down in the face of adversity has never been an option. The history of the Habematolel is similar to what many tribes have faced. We hope to serve as an inspiration to our people far and wide, a living example that Native American culture can remain true to its roots even as we navigate an increasingly complex world.

Angelina Arroyo is Vice-Chairperson of the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake Tribe and can be reached at

Join the Conversation