UKIAH, Calif. (CN) – A group of Pomo Indians is seeking federal recognition as a tribe, as its mother tribe fights a Northern California sheriff over a proposed pot farm.
Former members of Northern California’s Pinoleville Pomo Tribe, who still live on the Pinoleville reservation, are moving forward with a seven-year-old effort to gain recognition as a tribe.
The Pinoleville reservation in Mendocino County is 99 acres and has about 70 members, according to publicly available documents. The tribe has a separate parcel of just under 7 acres in Lake County, east of Mendocino. Both reservations are north of Ukiah.
The group seeking recognition as the Ukiah Valley Pomo Indian Tribe includes somewhere between 11 and 43 people, according to court documents filed in 2011 and 2012.
In October 2011, 11 members sued the Secretary of the Interior in Federal Court, saying they had a written Constitution and asking the Bureau of Indian Affairs to call an election to organize a tribal government.
They had delivered a petition for this to the BIA in May 2009, but the bureau let the review period lapse. Letters between the BIA and the group followed, with BIA saying the group did not qualify to hold a tribal election because it was not a federally recognized tribe. The group contended that as half-blood Indians living on a reservation they qualified for an election under federal law.
In May 2012 the court rejected the lawsuit, saying the group had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies. It did not rule on the question of whether they qualified to organize a tribal government.
The group is continuing its efforts outside of court. The BIA recently completed a public comment period and will take at least six more months to decide.
Representatives of the Pinoleville Pomo Tribe and the BIA did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Pinoleville Pomo Tribe has created some turmoil with its plan to set up a medical marijuana business. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said the tribe must abide by local limits of 25 plants, which must not be visible from a public road. Allman said both plots the tribe wants to cultivate are visible from Highway 101.
The Ukiah Daily Journal covered the issue this summer in a six-part series. The tribe told the newspaper that as a sovereign nation it has the right to exceed local limits of 25 plants per parcel. Sheriff Allman disagreed, effectively promising to bust the farm.
“It is the intent of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office to fairly and equally enforce the law throughout Mendocino County. If a violation of state or local law is observed in Mendocino County, the appropriate law enforcement action will be taken,” Allman told the Daily Journal in June.
A similar, much larger pot operation run by some members of the Pit River tribe was raided in Modoc County two weeks ago.
The Pinoleville tribe of Pomo Indians, like virtually all tribes, has a rather tangled history with Anglo governments.
After being pushed out of the Ukiah Valley by settlers, the tribe was granted a small reservation, but it was “terminated” in the 1950s.
The termination policy was meant to force Indians to integrate with Anglo society. It was widely viewed as a failure, essentially as just another Anglo land grab. The termination policy itself was terminated in the 1980s and some tribes got back some of their land, including the Pomo-Pinoville reservation.
As was the case for many California tribes, the microclimates in mountain valleys allowed them to prosper without moving much before the Anglos arrived. A single oak tree could provide all the acorns a family needed for a year, along with fishing, hunting and gathering. Because the bands could be sedentary, each large valley developed a dialect of the mother language, and the dialects diverged over the centuries until they became mutually unintelligible. The Pomo had at least seven mutually unintelligible dialects at Anglo contact, according to anthropologists.
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