Congress and the fraudulent implementation of the Rancheria Act by federal agents was ultimately deemed unlawful by the courts. Since 1983, thirty of the thirty-eight California tribes that were terminated under the policy have been restored to federal recognition through litigation and legislation. In 2000, following a lengthy process, the Tribe became the most recent of these tribes to have its federally recognized status restored through enactment of the Graton Rancheria Restoration Act (“Restoration Act”).
The word “restore” means “to bring back to or put back into a former or original state.”Viewed in context, the formal restoration of the Tribe’s legal status is part of a continuum in the longstanding government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Tribe. Exercising its plenary powers over Indian affairs, Congress has legitimately and, in light of the unique and tragic history of California Indians, fairly and equitably restored the Tribe’s federally recognized status.
- The Tribe Was Legitimately Restored by Congress Through Passage of the Graton Rancheria Restoration Act.
The term ‘Indian tribe’ has distinct and different meanings for native people and for federal law. For many native people, existence as a nation or tribe turns on our shared languages, rituals, narratives, kinship or clan ties, and a shared relationship to specific land. . . In contrast to tribal understandings, federal law ordinarily uses the term ‘Indian tribe’ to designate a group of native people with whom the federal government has established some kind of political relationship or ‘recognition.
The Tribe, in one manner or another, has always existed as a cultural and historical entity. Additionally, the Tribe exists as a legal entity recognized under federal law. In short, we are and have always been a “tribe” – whether viewed as such through the eyes of our people or through the eyes of Congress under federal law, the only two sources that can legitimize our existence.
Under federal law, “federal acknowledgment or recognition of an Indian group’s legal status as a tribe is a formal political act confirming the tribe’s existence as a distinct political society, and institutionalizing the government-to-government relationship between the tribe and the federal government.” Congress has plenary power to establish and maintain political relations with Indian tribes. Such Congressional powers stem from the Indian commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution also grants the executive branch of the government the authority to take administrative actions consistent with federal recognition. Under Congress’ plenary powers, Congress can not only recognize a tribe, it can also terminate a tribe’s legal relationship with the United States, as evidenced by Congressional legislation in the 1950s and early 1960s which attempted to terminate the federal government’s relationship with approximately 110 tribes across the country, including the Graton Rancheria. Finally, Congress also has the power to restore terminated tribes to their prior status, which Congress chose to exercise with respect to the Graton Rancheria in 2000.
See Merriam Webster Dictionary, online edition, available at http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/restore.
Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law at Section 3.02 (2005 Edition).
Id. at Sec. 3.02.
Id. at Sec. 3.02.