Why Federal Recognition Is Important for Native American Tribes
Native Americans Want Their Land Back
“Thanksgiving” is a time for Americans to give thanks to the land for what it has given them. It is also the commemoration of the myth about the bonds of friendship that were created between the Pilgrims and other colonial settlements and the Native American Tribes. The hand of friendship that the European colonists extended to the Native Tribes were empty and fleeting gestures. Over the ensuingtwo centuries, the descendants of those who arrived on the Mayflower, systematically took the land away from those who had for centuriesoccupied it. This was done by deception, by persuading them to sign meaningless treaties, by stealing it from them, or through open warfare to drive them from their homes. The Tribes had no effective defense against the machinations of the colonial powerbrokers. In a short time,many ofthe Tribes were relegated to reservations where they lived courtesy of the settlers’ charityand as wards of the government.
For centuries, the colonists did what they wanted to the land. They occupied it, changed it, used it and profited from it in whatever way they wanted. It was only in the 20th century that the growing awareness about the equality of people and human rights effected a rethinking of American history. It was no longer a case of the settlers “civilizing” the original inhabitants of the land. A realization was growing about the way the Native American Tribes had been and were still being treated. Much was said about repairing the devastation of the past and improving conditions on the reservations to give those residing there a better quality of life. That discussion has been continuing for decades with flowery speeches and sympatheticexpressions of intent, but without meaningful action. But the ground realities have hardly changed. The phrase “ground realities” is appropriate because the ground (the land) that was taken from the American Indians has not been returned to them. This is a key factor in repairing the wrongs of the past.
The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe
The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since before recorded history. There is evidence that they have been there for many thousands of years. Their land was taken from them,first by the Spanish missionaries who came to what is now California and then by the American Government itself. The land was to be used for commercial agriculture and later on for manufacturing which was the preserve of the “white men.” American Indians remained on the fringes. Today, there is a growing awareness aboutthe adverse policies of the past, and much has been said about making goodon the losses suffered by the Tribes. Sadly, that has not translated into any meaningfulaction and tribes like the Muwekma are still waiting for the return of the land that is rightfully theirs.
For the Muwekma and the other Tribes, land is not just property with monetary value. It is an integral part of the fabric of their life, spiritual well-being, and culture and its loss has created a void in their way of life that cannot be filled until the land that is rightfully theirs is returned to them. Bottom line, although the Muwekma were federally recognized, and were slated for the purchase of land through Congressional Appropriation Acts, the Tribe, along with other tribes of California, still remain landless to this very day. They have no place or space for them to continue to leave their legacy to the next generations of children. Native Americans have suffered loss and deprivation for centuries and while today there is talk of reparations, and restoration of federal recognition, nothing concrete is being done.