Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Robinson Rancheria Disenrollments: Purges in Indian Country

Will Parrish writes about disenrollment at Robinson Rancheria and other northern California tribes at COUNTERPUNCH. For as far back as Clayton Duncan can trace, the maternal side of his family has belonged to the land in and around Robinson Rancheria: a federal Indian reservation near the sleepy Lake County, Northern California, town of Nice, a 107 acre parcel that resulted from the 1978 federal court case United States Government vs. Mabel Duncan (Clayton’s grandmother). For thousands of years, the family was part of a thriving complex of cultures that white anthropologists dubbed “Eastern Pomo.” In the past 160 years or more, they have been key figures in keeping alive what remains of those cultures.

Duncan’s great grandfather, Solomon Moore, grew up in the Eastern Pomo village of Shigom, on the east side of Clear Lake. Clayton’s grandmother, Lucy Moore, hailed from the village of Danoha, situated along an eastern affluent of lower Scott Creek, near where Highway 29 curls around Clear Lake on its way to “Kelsyville,” so named for a notorious mid-19th century butcherer, enslaver, and rapist of Indians.

The Danoha village of Lucy Moore prefigured the location of the old Robinson Rancheria, where Duncan and his siblings grew up. It was also roughly the site of one of the most grisly episodes of genocidal violence that white invaders wrought on Northern California’s native populations during the Gold Rush era: the 1850 Bloody Island Massacre.

These are the barest details of that gruesome episode: A US Cavalry regiment under Lt. Nathaniel Lyon shot and butchered as many as 400 Pomo people in a retaliatory rampage after a group of Native people rose up and killed their brutal enslavers, ranchers Charles Stone and Andrew Kelsey. It was an incident in which the victims at Bloody Island had no involvement. The vast majority of those whose lives the US Army laid down were women and children.

Lucy Moore was present at Bloody Island on that day. She eluded a gruesome and utterly senseless death by hiding underwater, breathing for many hours through a tule reed. She was six years old at the time. Clayton Duncan has lived his whole life acutely aware that his very existence is a miracle.

One of the greatest measures of redemption for the Eastern Pomo and the Duncan family was the David vs. Goliath battle with the US government that Mabel Duncan carried out in the 1970s in an effort to restore federal recognition of the Robinson Rancheria. Congress had “terminated” the rez in 1956, as part of a legislative push to dismantle the reservation system as a whole, which was curtailed only after the American Indian Movement arose in the ’70s. Mabel Duncan was more than 70 years old at the time a federal judge ruled in her favor, creating a new sanctuary for her people.

Clayton Duncan became the Robinson Rancheria’s inaugural vice chairperson, helping the people who moved their secure homes, sanitation, and housing. He has worked in countless ways to preserve and extend his people’s cultural traditions and values on the rez ever since.

As UC Santa Barbara sociologist George Lipsitz has written, however, “In its terminal stages, genocide can look like suicide.” Nowadays, the main barriers to justice that people like Clayton Duncan face frequently come from within their own ranks. The official power structure on innumerable Indian reservations are made up of self-interested carpetbaggers. As many observers and supporters of traditional native people’s values have pointed out, these are often the people who have most adapted themselves to the materialistic values of the dominant society, and who are best equipped to manipulate the reservation system’s dysfunctional power relations for their own personal gain.

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