The Agua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians
has been rebuffed in its quest to gain federal recognition, representing another setback in a long a history of mistreatment by the United States.
The Cupeño Indians were "evicted from their indigenous lands" and forced to live with another tribe more than a century ago, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
observed in a decision on Wednesday. The 40-mile march was carried out under armed watch in 1903
, and with no particular regard with how the new arrivals might be treated, Judge Richard A. Paez noted.
The Cupeño Indians, Paez wrote in the 31-page decision
, were "relocated, by the federal government, to reside next to another indigenous group despite potential conflict between the two."
Despite the genocidal treatment, the Cupeño Indians
survived for more than a hundred years on their new home among the Pala Luiseño Indians in southern California. But the situation began to change more recently, when a new type of conflict
arose between the two groups.
In 1903, the Cupeño Indians were forced to leave their homelands in southern California. A former governor of the state, who held title to a property known as Warner's Ranch, evicted the tribe from the land. Photo: The Huntington Library
Although the Cupeño Indians had always maintained their separate identity and practiced their own governing traditions on the they shared with the Pala Luiseño Indians, they became the target of disenrollment proceedings. Over the last several years, the Pala Band of Mission Indians
ended up kicking out more than 160 people from the tribe, including the relatives
of a late former chairman
who opposed the removals.
The BIA, acting in an oversight role, had warned Pala leaders not to go forward with the disenrollments. But the tribe ignored the advice and even went so far as to change its official name on the U.S. government's list of federally recognized entities.
The tribe's unique history
had long been reflected in how it appeared on the BIA's annually-published list: as the "Pala Band of Luiseño Mission Indians of the Pala Reservation, California."
With the Cupeño descendants largely out of the picture, though, there was no need to remind everyone of the distinct communities on the reservation. Starting in 2016, as the last of the anti-disenrollment lawsuits was defeated in the federal courts, the tribe became simply known as the "Pala Band of Mission Indians."
Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals - Agua Caliente Tribe of Cupeno Indians v. Sweeney - December 19, 2018
Amid the conflict, the Cupeño Indians asked the BIA to be added to the same list. At least three other Indian nations in California successfully petitioned the BIA to do the same, including one as recently as 2012
But while though the BIA was intimately involved in the disenrollment dispute
that preceded the request, officials in Washington, D.C., felt little sympathy toward the descendants of the people who were forced to walk that Trail of Tears
back in 1903.
They refused to add tribe to the list, arguing that the bad blood with the Luiseño wasn't enough to acknowledge the separate status of the Cupeño.
In the final full year of the Obama administration, the BIA wrote that “the people now seeking federal recognition as the Agua Caliente Tribe of the Cupeño Indians of the Pala Reservation are, or were until recently, members of the Pala Band of Mission Indians, a federally recognized tribe.”
So instead of adding the tribe to the list in a manner similar to the Ione Band of Miwok Indians in 1994
, the Lower Lake Rancheria in 2000
, and the Tejon Indian Tribe in 2012
the BIA told the Cupeño Indians to seek recognition through the federal acknowledgement process
, a process that can take years, if not decades, to complete.
"The practicalities are that, effectively, the Cupeño Tribe will then be considered terminated,"
attorney Andrew Twietmeyer
told a panel of three judges on the 9th Circuit during oral arguments in a lawsuit field by the descendants
The tribe filed the lawsuit
in hopes of getting the courts to order the BIA to "correct" the list of federally recognized entities.
But even though the 9th Circuit refused to agree with that request, Judge Paez was somewhat sympathetic to the Cupeño descendants' cause.
"The record in this case depicts some of the difficult historic relations between the United States and Indian tribes," he wrote before mentioning the eviction of the Cupeño and their relocation to the present-day Pala Reservation
9th Circuit Court of Appeals: Agua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians v. Sweeney - December 19, 2018
So while the Cupeño survived near genocide and forced removal, they might not be able to overcome disenrollment, or the federal bureaucracy.
"This is our Second Trail of Tears," the Pala Watch website
The BIA at one point played a role in reviewing and making recommendations regarding the tribe's rolls. In one instance, the agency ensured that Margarita
, who was a revered elder on the reservation, continued to be listed as "full-blooded" Pala.
The situation changed with the adoption of a new Pala constitution in 1997 and a membership ordinance in 2009 that removed federal oversight. Britten's blood quantum was subsequently reduced by the tribe and her descendants were disenrolled for not meeting the the 1/16 blood quantum standard.
But Britten's descendants weren't able to turn to the BIA as a result of the change in tribal law. The 9th Circuit in July 2016 upheld the BIA's decision to take a "hands-off" approach towards enrollment matters within the tribe. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up the case
in February 2017, some 116 years after the same court allowed the Cupeño people to be removed
from their homelands.
In an earlier disenrollment case, the 9th Circuit also refused to intervene
when Pala officials were sued in their individual capacities for removing people from the rolls. The real target, the court concluded, was the tribe, whose sovereign ability to decide who belongs and who doesn't remains outside the control of the federal judiciary.
“The most basic responsibility of tribal leaders is to provide a variety of social, governmental, administrative, educational, health and welfare services for tribal members," Chairman Robert Smith states
on the Pala Band website. "Over the years Native Americans have made progress in these areas, but there is much more to be done. We need to continue to dedicate ourselves to improving the quality of life of all of our members.”
Robert Smith serves as chairman of the Pala Band of Mission Indians. Photo: California Native American Day
Robert Smith, President of the Southern California Tribal Chairs Association and Chairman of the Pala Band of Mission...Posted by California Native American Day - State Capitol on Friday, August 22, 2014
The historical mistreatment of Native Americans in California has been labeled a "genocide"
by Gov. Gavin Newsom
(D). In June, he ordered the creation of a Truth and Healing Council
to collect the histories of the original peoples in the state.
“California must reckon with our dark history,” said Newsom, one of whose predecessors in office was the owner of a
property known as Warner's Ranch
. The Cupeño Indians lived there until the former governor evicted them.
“California Native American peoples suffered violence, discrimination and exploitation sanctioned by state government throughout its history," Newsom said. "We can never undo the wrongs inflicted on the peoples who have lived on this land that we now call California since time immemorial, but we can work together to build bridges, tell the truth about our past and begin to heal deep wounds.”
Student, Native American Longhouse Eena Haws, Oregon State University #StopDisenrollmentPosted by Stop Disenrollment on Saturday, February 9, 2019
California is home to more than 100 tribes, the largest number in the lower 48. While most are acknowledged by the federal government, many are not recognized
due to a history of negative state and federal policies, which included the forced
relocation of tribal
communities to religious missions
, a number of massacres
of tribal peoples
, the failure of the U.S. Senate to ratify treaties negotiated
in the late 1800s and the termination
of the status of dozens of tribes
in the 1950s and 1960s.
The terrible record has made it nearly impossible for tribes in California to gain recognition through the BIA's federal acknowledgment process due to the way the evidence is reviewed. Five groups from the state have been denied since 1978 while only one has successfully petitioned for status, according to the agency
. A sixth group is "in-process"
while a seventh has been told to submit additional information
or face a denial of its petition.
Turtle Talk has posted briefs from the Cupeño Indians federal recognition case, Agua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians v. Sweeney [Black]
9th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision
Agua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians v. Sweeney
(August 7, 2019)
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