1. Termination of the Tribe’s government-to-government relationship with the United States, or its legal status, did not terminate the Tribe.
“Termination legislation did not terminate the existence of the affected tribes, only the government to government relationship with the terminated tribe.” The fact that the Rancheria Act was applied to Graton Rancheria to terminate its federally recognized status presupposes the existence of an Indian tribe. The main thrust and purpose of the termination acts, including the California Rancheria Act, was to terminate the federal trust relationship between an Indian tribe and the federal government. The lack of a physical presence by a large number of tribal members on the Tribe’s original Rancheria and the subsequent termination of our Tribe’s federal status did not mean that we did not continue to exist as an Indian tribe.
2. The Graton Rancheria was unlawfully terminated.
In the 1970s, the federal government under President Nixon officially repudiated the termination policy and halted ongoing attempts to continue this process. Soon thereafter, terminated California tribes filed a series of lawsuits challenging the legality of the terminations. The United States, after vigorously litigating these cases, ultimately admitted that the terminations were illegal in every single case that was filed on behalf of terminated California tribes.
What this litigation ultimately revealed was that the terminations of the Graton and other rancherias were unlawful and violated the rights of the tribes and their members. The so-called “consent” of the few tribal members who were consulted was obtained through outright fraud and misrepresentation, and was part of an explicit governmental conspiracy to defraud tribal members. Once the promises were made and consent secured, usually no attempt at all was made to carry out any of the provisions of the Rancheria Act. In fact, the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not even bother to promulgate regulations covering implementation of the Rancheria Act.
In addition, the federal government failed to obtain the actual consent of the tribes themselves, and did not even attempt to do so. In the case of our Tribe, BIA officials obtained the signatures of three members in August, at a time when most of our members were away working to harvest apples and pears in the orchards. Three signatures fell far short of requisite consent of a majority of our members as our tribal membership consists of the designees--Indians of Tomales, Bodega, Marshall, and Sebastopol—for whom the Graton Rancheria was established. Given that 75 of such Indians were counted in 1923, and their numbers increased in subsequent censuses, it is obvious that the BIA acted illegally in failing to obtain the consent of the majority of our members. Further, the few tribal members who consented did so in consideration of the promise by BIA officials to provide certain limited improvements to the land. They also acted out of frustration with the absence of law enforcement protection on the Rancheria. The County Sheriff was refusing to enter onto and exercise jurisdiction over the Graton Rancheria in recognition of its reservation status and the BIA lacked the resources to fill the void.
Finally, neither the tribes nor most of their members received any compensation for the land and rights that were effectively stolen from them. Any of these acts of malfeasance by federal officials, who had a trust obligation to protect the rights of tribes and their members, would have been sufficient justification to overturn this purported termination. Ultimately, the United States had no defense but to rely on its ability to outspend tribes that had no resources and litigate these court cases for many years. Eventually, Congress stepped in and restored the rights of several terminated California tribes, including our Tribe, without requiring re-litigation of claims and facts that had already been successfully litigated.
3. The Tribe endured during the termination era, despite many losses.
The immediate effect of termination of the Graton Rancheria was the loss of the Tribe’s collective land base, which had been held in protective federal trust status. The lack of a central physical loci after the Graton Rancheria was “distributed” in fee simple status to a few individual tribal members, made it difficult for the Tribe to maintain a physical continuity. Much of the trust land that passed in fee title to the individual tribal members was eventually sold through foreclosure proceedings or otherwise. By 1966, the United States had terminated the federal trust relationship and distributed the Graton Rancheria lands, thereby leaving the Tribe landless.
In 1959, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs approved a plan for the distribution of the Graton Rancheria. The Plan of Distribution provided that:
After the assets of the Graton Rancheria have been distributed pursuant to this plan and Public Law 85-671 [the California Rancheria Act], the Indians who receive any part of such assets and the dependent members of their immediate families shall not be entitled to any of the services performed by the United States because of their status as Indians. All statutes of the United States which affect Indians because of their status as Indians shall not apply to them and the laws of the several states shall apply to them in the same manner as they apply to other citizens or persons within their jurisdiction.
The group of local residents opposed to the Tribe’s proposed project attempt to portray the Rancheria Act and its effects in a benevolent manner, making much of the fact that individual tribal members “approved” the partition and distribution of the Rancheria in fee title. However, as the Plan of Distribution cited above makes clear, termination of the trust relationship between the Tribe and the federal government also meant termination at an individual level of the federal trust duty to provide social or educational services to Indians of terminated tribes. This potential loss in services was likely lost on tribal members since, at the time, they received few if any services as Indians, given the historic underfunding of California Indians and tribes in comparison to Indians elsewhere in the United States. The inequitable funding of California Indians is evidenced by the fact that, while the federal government purchased land for the Tribe, it did not fund housing and related services that would have enabled more tribal members to move on to the Graton Rancheria. Nor did the federal government provide law enforcement or other services to the Rancheria. Because of this historic lack of federal funding for tribes and Indians in California, individual Indians being offered free land had little incentive at the time to reject the government’s offer.
At some level, the Termination Acts almost fulfilled their purpose – the activities of terminated tribes during the termination era went largely unrecorded and undocumented. Terminated tribes in California remained for the most part, “invisible” to the mainstream as individual tribal members struggled to make a living and to maintain some sense of unity, culture, and place. Many tribal members became displaced after tribal lands were lost and individual members relocated to other parts of the state or country. Although we managed to retain our Coast Miwok and Pomo tribal languages, many other tribal languages were lost during this era. A generation of our elders was forced into Indian boarding schools far from their homelands and their families. To portray the impact of the federal termination acts and policies on California Indians and tribes, including Graton Rancheria, as anything less than illegal and tragic, is dishonest, or at best, ignorant.
Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law, supra, at Sec. 3.02[b].
See, e.g.,Duncan v. Andrus, 517 F. Supp. 1 ( N.D. Calif. 1977); Smith v. United States, 515 F. Supp. 56 (N.D. Calif. 1978); Upper Lake Pomo Association v. Andrus, No. C-75-0181-SW (N.D. Calif. 1979); Table Bluff Band v. Watt, 532 F. Supp. 255 (N.D. Calif. 1981); Hardwick v. United States, No. C-79-1710-SW (N.D. Calif. 1983); Big Sandy Band v. Watt, No. C-80-3787-MHP (N.D. Calif. 1984); Table Mountain v. Watt, No. C-80-3783-MHP (N.D. Calif. 1983); and Table Bluff Band v. Lujan, No. C-75-2525 RHS (FJW) (N.D. Calif. 1991).
Plan for Distribution of the Assets of the Graton Rancheria effective September 17, 1959 (emphasis added).
See, e.g., The Advisory Council on California Indian Policy Report on Trust and Natural Resources.