Federal Recognition: An Effort to Erase “Unrecognized Tribes”

What is “federal recognition”? How does it erase tribes, like the Winnemem?
Watch this short excerpt to learn more about this discriminatory policy.

Why Has the Government Erased Our Tribe?

Until 1985, the Winnemem Wintu were recognized as a tribe. We received federal health, housing and education benefits. Then without warning and with no stated reason, the benefits stopped. The Department of Interior decided we are not a tribe, we are not Indians.

We have been working to regain our rights, which will help us have a stronger voice in opposing the dam. But all we get is the bureaucratic runawround.

It’s hard to understand since the 1941 law authorizing the dam included a promise to replace the 4,480 acres we lost. That promise was never fulfilled.

Only our family burials were moved to escape the flooding and consolidated in a new “Indian Cemetery” near the dam. Now the U.S. has told us even this cemetery is no longer ours.

The burial place for generations of Winnemem, including our grandparents and parents, has been transferred to the Bureau of Land Management, which doesn’t allow burials on its lands.

It is apparent the federal government is afraid we can stop raising the dam. So they have further disenfranchised us and taken away our rights.

Why We Should Be Recognized

It is the opinion of the Winnemem Wintu that we are and have been recognized by the federal government since the signing of the 1851 Treaty at Reading’s Ranch.  This treaty, not ratified, ceded a vast amount of tribal territory to the United States in exchange for a 25 square mile “reservation on the Sacramento River.  However, as it was not ratified, this reservation was not provided and our land was sold and taken by force by the white settlers and miners.

In 1937, following a period in which the Winnemem received “allotment lands” in trust by the government, the Bureau of Reclamation decided they needed these allotment lands to flood with the waters of the proposed Shasta Dam.  The government undertook a half-hearted effort to obtain the signatures of the allottees, but due to deaths and the inability of the government to find these people and their heirs, the rules were changed so that the government could just take the land.  The Central Valley Project-Indian Land acquisition act was amended to state that in exchange for the lands flooded the government would, provide like lands to live on and monies to rebuild tribal infrastructure.  This act remains to be completed, as we have not received any of these promises either.

So when asked if we are a “petitioner” in the federal acknowledgement process, we say NO.  We are recognized and the government, if it would clear its own clerical error and complete the CVP-ILA, we would have our trust land, money in federal trust and would be listed as a de facto tribe.