BY JESUS TARANGO SPECIAL TO THE SACRAMENTO BEE
California Governor Gavin Newsom says we need more acknowledgment of the state’s genocide of native people at the 52nd Annual Native American Day at the Capitol on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. BY LEZLIE STERLING
In July, a statue of Christopher Columbus was removed from the California State Capitol, part of a nationwide trend as Americans fed up with systemic racism and historical injustice have targeted symbols of bigotry, hate and discrimination against people of color.
Now, the time has come to erect new monuments that celebrate long-overlooked Americans and their contributions to our nation.
The Miwok people are among those who deserve recognition.
By the time white settlers began to swarm the Sacramento Valley and Sierra foothills in the 1840s in search of gold, my ancestors had been living peacefully here for thousands of years. Over the following decades, they were nearly wiped out through genocide and disease. Their land was stolen, treaties were broken and they were pushed, like tribes across the country, into cities for assimilation into Western culture.
Our ancestors were party to the Treaty at the Fork of the Cosumnes in 1851, which ceded nearly 300,000 acres of land on the border of Sacramento and Amador Counties for the establishment of a reservation to be legally protected in perpetuity. Unfortunately, recognizing that the treaty land was rich with gold, the United States Congress never ratified the treaty and tribes were left without any legal protections from the federal government.
My tribe, Wilton Rancheria of Sacramento County, was formally established in 1928 as a tract to support “vagrant” Indians. Our Miwok and Nisenan ancestors built a thriving community of close-knit families that sustained our people. However, following the passage of the federal Rancheria Acts in 1959, Wilton Rancheria’s federal recognition was terminated and we lost all access to federal programs, funding and resources.
It took 50 years of struggle to regain federal tribal status but, thanks to the dedication of our elders, Wilton Rancheria was once again recognized as a tribe in 2009. Two years later, in 2011, we adopted a modern constitution, but even then, we remained landless.
It was not until last year that a federal judge in Washington, D.C., finally dismissed the remaining claims contesting the federal government’s action to place Wilton Rancheria’s tribal land in Elk Grove into federal trust. Finally, our people have been given an opportunity to become economically self-sufficient and provide for our community through educational, healthcare and housing programs, employment opportunities and local investment.
Our story is similar to that of Miwok Tribes across the region, from Sonoma to Yosemite to Auburn. However, some of these Tribes remain unrecognized and without access to critical resources.
It is time to erect symbols and statues that represent the people who call this state their ancestral homeland. Bill Porteous, an Amador County sculptor, has created a bronze sculpture of William “Bill” Jefferies Franklin, a Native American leader who dedicated his life to reviving traditional Miwok/Nisenan songs and dances. Franklin also fought to establish the Indian Burial Protection Rights in California as a member of the Native American Heritage Commission. And, he led the way in building two of California’s Roundhouses, where Indian people come to celebrate their traditions and culture.
Gov. Newsom showed he understands the importance of honoring Native American heritage in California when he issued a formal apology last year for their treatment, saying that we must “build bridges, tell the truth about our past and begin to heal deep wounds.” “Native American Day” in California is celebrated on Sept. 27.
There are many tribal leaders who, like Franklin, helped preserve and advance Native American culture in California. In the spirit of healing, it is time to make room at the Capitol, and elsewhere, to recognize their contributions.
Jesus Tarango is Chairman of Wilton Rancheria in Elk Grove.