THEY MUST COME TOGETHER AS ONE TRIBE TO BE SUCCESSFUL. Their segregation into three groups has hurt their cause.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs calls its March 15 rejection of a federal recognition for the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians a “Final Determination.”
The 147-page document painstakingly undermines the Juaneños’ contentions that they are descendants a pre-Mission tribe, have lived under their own governance and continually been recognized as a tribe, pointing out that nearly half of the 200 living Indians around the Mission in 1862 were wiped out by smallpox. Then, the federal government says, the tribe sort of drifted away.
“There is no evidence that the petitioner’s SJC Indian ancestors were distinct within this community after 1862, or were part of an Indian entity that evolved from the SJC Indian tribe in 1834; rather, they appear to be Indian individuals who became absorbed into the general, ethnically-mixed population of Old Mexican/Californio families, as well as with non-SJC Indians who moved to the town prior to 1900.”
To be federally recognized a group must “comprise a distinct community and have existed as a community from historical times,” must have “political influence” over its members; must have membership criteria, must have membership that consists of individuals who descend from a historical Indian tribe and who are not enrolled in any other tribe.
The feds say the Juaneños failed to demonstrate they’ve been recognized as a distinct community, that the tribe has continued from a historical tribe, have maintained political influence over members and that its members descended from Native Americans in the tribe.
But the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, which claims 1,940 members, said the rejection is anything but the last word, anything but final. The tribe has until mid-June to appeal the 147-page decision to a special panel in Washington D.C.
“We have to appeal . That’s just part of the process,” Juaneño Chairman Anthony Rivera, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Brigham Young University and a Masters Degree from Harvard University. “It’s a long process. We have to go through the appeal process. We have to demonstrate they are wrong.”
It’s just part of the battle. The Juaneños have battled for federal recognition for decades. At times, they’ve battled the city. Through it all, they’ve even battled with each other. The Juaneños first started their quest for recognition in the 1940s, when Clarence Lobo worked to formalize an exchange between the Juaneños and Washington D.C. A federal process for recognizing tribes was ultimately set up, and the Juanenos, also known as the Acjachemen, applied for recognition in 1982.
Federal recognition, awarded to 564 tribes so far, gives a tribe sovereignty and the right of self-determination. A federally recognized tribe can establish legal requirements for membership, enforce civil and criminal laws, tax, license and regulate activities and zone tribal lands. Their limits are the same as those applied to states: they can’t coin money or declare war, among other things. In California, federally recognized tribes were able to strike agreements with the state to operate casinos.
That threat, or fear, has been at the root of much of the dissension in Capistrano, outside of the tribe. In in 1997, the Juaneños split a second time—into three main groups—when former leader David Belardes negotiated an agreement with a Nevada corporation that could have brought a casino to Capistrano—if the Juaneños had received recognition then. The City Council quickly called a special meeting to calm an outrage public and vowed to fight any attempt at a casino in town.
Amidst the battle, then-City Manager George Scarborough received a rifle bullet in the mail with a threatening note, a pattern repeated a dozen times among OC city officials and real-estate developers involved in projects where or near Native American bones or artifacts had been found.
The casino card was played by JSerra High School supporters in 2004, who worked to curry support from residents for their athletic complex at Camino Capistrano and Junipero Serra Road by saying Juaneños still wanted a casino there. By that point, Belardes was working for the school as a consultant, because the athletic fields are located over a Native American burial ground.