Winnemem Definition of a California Indian

When working on issues affecting California Indian Tribal Governments[1], the State of California should act consistently, respectfully and sensitively.  When there are regulatory, statutory and/or procedural impediments limiting the State’s ability to work effectively and consistently with Tribal Governments, the State will make every effort to eliminate such impediments.

The State establishes and adheres to government-to-government relationships when interacting with Tribal Governments.

The State:

  • Acknowledges these tribes as unique and separate governments within California and the United States.
  • Ensures that its programs and activities avoid or minimize adverse impacts to cultural and other resources.
  • Recognizes and respects important declared and/or enumerated California Indian Tribal Government rights, sites, traditions and practices.
  • Consults with Tribal Governments prior to making decisions, taking actions or implementing programs that may affect their communities.

The above language (part of that being introduced through the Native American Advisory Council to CalTrans and that utilized by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research in response to the passage of Senate Bill 18 regarding traditional sacred cultural places has been endorsed by the Winnemem Wintu Tribe.

The Winnemem Wintu also submit that when looking at the State of California and the historic traditional tribes, there must to be a comprehensive examination of the idea of “tribe” and what constitutes a “tribe” as they exist in California today.  We submit that, due to the unique nature of California’s history with its traditional historic people, many traditional tribes have been ignored and discounted when government agencies and departments establish their procedures and policies, which affect the rights of these traditional tribal governments

What then is a “tribe”?  Regardless of the many ever-changing federal definitions of a tribe that includes:

1) the Indian Health Service definition for health services; and the more popular used,

2) only those listed on the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) federal register list of tribes as established by treaty, executive order, legislation or BIA fiduciary trust responsibility land created tribes of homeless Indian lands (i.e. rancheria lands for homeless Indians) or approval under part 83 of CRF 25.

A “California Tribe” can be defined as a known large group of American Indian people who share the same ancestors, language, practice the same religion, carry on the same traditions and customs of the group uphold the group’s laws and live in the traditional territory of their ancestors in the state of California.

Tribes of California for the most part have “slipped through the bureaucratic cracks.”  Tribes of California, historic tribes, maintain several elements in common that are accepted in defining a “tribe”:

  • speak common language (many of which are still spoken to varying degrees)
  • practice a common religion or life-way that keeps the tribe together to maintain their spiritual, emotional, and  medical relationship with their traditional lands
  • live on their traditional land base and have land areas of tribal concern and control
  • maintain knowledge of and use of sacred sites, ceremonial places, burial grounds
  • maintain cultural landmarks and locations used for hunting, fishing, gathering that are known as a particular tribes areas and are not bothered by neighboring tribes
  • has or had allotment lands whether held in trust or fee
  • has knowledge of and use of historic village sites, their names and histories
  • has a government that is either traditional in make-up or follows the IRA type government as introduced in the 1920’s by the BIA
  • has a continued presence in their communities, and a relationship, as a tribe with federal and state agencies who now hold control over traditional territories (USFS, NPS, BLM, BOR, CDF etc.)
  • the tribal group is related and cross-related in the group of usually 25 or more adults

The Winnemem look at these items as a baseline for the California state governments to work from when addressing the needs of California’s Indian people.  Yes, there are rancherias and reservation in California and their territories are well defined in their tribal documents and by the BIA.  Every California Indian paid for those rancherias and reservation in the California Claims settlement.  Yet today less than a third of California Indians are able to benefit from what they paid for.  Many did not accept the California Claims Judgment payments, many still are waiting for a correction to the mistakes of the government in ignoring the historic tribes.

We ask that California lead the way for the inclusion of the tribes who have been unacknowledged or ignored yet still inhabit California territories as mapped out by early ethnographers.  California should assist with restoration of our tribal rights, but if not then at least by establishing a current listing of California historic tribes and including these historic California tribes as eligible for grants, bonds, and assistance that now is only available to the “BIA recognized” listed tribes.


[1] California Indian Tribal Governments are federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes.  Non-federally recognized tribes are defined by the State of California, Native American Heritage Commission.