Pomo Splinter Group Seeks Tribal Status

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Eighteen people who define themselves as “half blood Indians” sued the United States for refusing to recognize them as a separate tribe from the Pinoleville Pomo Nation.
     The 18 plaintiffs, with 11 last names, say they meet all the criteria under the Indian Reorganization Act to organize their own tribal government: They are at least half-blood Indians who live on a reservation, the Pinoleville Rancheria, which was established for them and their ancestors.
     Though they submitted proof of their eligibility to the Department of the Interior, the government refused to recognize them because it considers them a splinter group of the Pinoleville Pomo Nation, who also live on the reservation, according to the Aug. 4 federal complaint.
     The government cited a 1995 letter from the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to attorney Nancy Ranch, who represented members of the Captain Grande Band of Mission Indians. But lead plaintiff Andrew Allen et al. claim that using criteria outside the Indian Reorganization Act violates the law and a 2015 settlement agreement in the Ninth Circuit, Donald Allen et al v. United States, which allowed them to petition the government for an election to vote on a constitution.
     Denying their right to organize a separate tribal government will prevent them from contracting with federal agencies to build better housing and provide better health care for their members, and destroy “any prospects for the economic, cultural, and political advancement of the Indians,” the complaint states.
     The Department of the Interior did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment Friday.
     The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that the government acted arbitrarily and capriciously by using criteria outside the IRA to deny them tribal status, and want the government ordered to recognize them as a tribe and call for an election to organize a tribal government.
     They are represented by Lester Marston of Ukiah, who did not immediately return emailed requests for comment.
     The Pomo People are an indigenous Northern California tribe whose historic territory stretched from the Pacific Ocean to Clear Lake and from Cleone to Duncan’s Point.
     They traditionally lived in small bands linked by marriage, and ate acorns, salmon, wild greens, mushrooms, and berries. They were also master basket weavers, a tradition that is still valued today, and practiced a shamanistic religion.
     In the 1800s, there were roughly 10,000-18,000 Pomo among 70 bands. Those numbers declined due to infectious diseases such as smallpox, contracted from white settlers. Though their population plummeted to 1,200 in 1910, they have recovered to around 10,308, according to the 2010 census.
     The Pinoleville Pomo are a federally recognized tribe in Mendocino County. Their primary reservation is the 99-acre Pinoleville Rancheria, with a 6.7-acre parcel of land in Lake County. In 2015 the tribe announced plans to open a 2.5-acre greenhouse on their land for medical marijuana cultivation, and to use profits to finance programs for child care, the elderly, and education.

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