Considering State Reparations to Tribes, Council Documents Damage History – Center for Public Integrity

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It started with a formal apology.

“California’s Native American people have suffered state-sanctioned violence, discrimination and exploitation throughout their history,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a 2019 statement. “We can’t undo the wrongs done to the people who have lived in this land we now call California since time immemorial, but we can work together to build bridges, tell the truth about our past, and heal deep wounds. can begin to heal.”

came with it administrative order To establish the California Truth and Healing Council for Native Americans “to clarify the record of troubled relations between tribes and states and to provide their historical perspective.” .

The work of the council can serve as a model for the whole country.

Similar efforts are being made internationally, including in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In the United States, the Main Her Wabanaki State Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigated harmful incidents involving Wabanaki children and India’s Child Welfare Act.There are also cases of local governments return the land to the tribe.

But the California State Council, whose work is now underway, appears to be the first in the United States to consider comprehensive compensation for the damage the state has done to indigenous communities.

The Council is made up of 12 members from federally and state recognized tribes throughout California. Members of the council were nominated by the tribes, but were ultimately appointed by the state. There are over 109 federally recognized tribes in California, and dozens more that are recognized only by the state.

By 2025, the council must submit a report to the governor’s office documenting the complete history of damage caused by the state. It also makes policy recommendations on compensation for past harm and prevention of further harm. This may include land restitution or other measures to preserve Native Californian culture.

Christina Snyder, Newsom’s secretary for tribal affairs and member of the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of the Pomo Indians, said:

While Canada, Australia and New Zealand have similar efforts internationally, the council is the first in the United States to consider comprehensive compensation for damages caused to indigenous communities by states. A similar commission, the Maine Wabanaki State Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in Maine in 2012, has specifically investigated harmful incidents involving Wabanaki children and the Indian Child Welfare Act. bottom.There are also cases of local governments return the land to the tribe.

“By giving Native peoples and tribes time to consider what they really want out of this process and what they want as a meaningful outcome, they are reflected in thoughtful, diverse, and impartial recommendations. I hope that we will be able to do that,” Snyder said. He said.

She hopes to bring private and federal partners to the table once the final report is complete to work together on solutions. She said it would fill a big gap in understanding.

More than two years after statewide congressional hearing sessions, interviews and investigations, several issues have come to light, Snyder said.

“The main theme here is the idea of ​​California Indian identity,” she said. If so, their identities are also not translated into policy changes.”

There is also a frequent need for care, housing and mental health services for the elderly, Snyder said. In many communities, however, urbanization, boarding schools and other policies that divide Indigenous families have created severe generational gaps.

The council has also heard a lot of feedback about land — Newsom’s administration has proposed policies that should be addressed.In 2022, the state began funding some tribes. co-manage part of the coast.

Now, Snyder says, “we have very little access to land titles, and no access to places of spiritual significance where people have lived since time immemorial.”

Khosula Kessler Mata, associate professor at the University of San Francisco, member of the Council on Truth and Healing, and member of the North Chumash and Yoct tribes of Yak Tichu Tichu, believes that important work is underway. . However, due to the infrequent council meetings and lack of resources, she feels less empowered as a member of the council.

Kessler Mata said, “I am concerned that the council structure tries to position us like puppets. I’m just there to help show that it’s a shame.”

Councils were established through state executive branches rather than legislatures, which required broad support and consensus to pass initiatives. That means the annual budget for the fiscal year ending 2025 is only about $450,000, about one-third of the annual budget set by Congress. California Reparations Task Force for African Americans said i need This year just for consultants to help with work. The Truth and Healing Council also has fewer state contract researchers and staff dedicated to helping complete its report compared to the Reparations Task Force, Kessler Mata said.

Kousula Kessler Mata sits on a stone bench in the park. She is wearing a light blue button-up her shirt and jeans, is looking to the side, and is holding a piece of paper with a few lines of text on it.
Kousula Kessler-Mata. (Photo credit: Kouslaa Kessler-Mata)

“Budgets are moral documents,” said Kessler Mata. “The lack of funding has serious consequences for our work. Without additional support, we will not be able to fully achieve our goals.”

Snyder said creating a council through the executive branch would mean a quicker start and flexibility in its structure, which was developed after consultation with the tribes. As a result, tribal leaders have more say in the process than they otherwise would, she said.

According to Kessler-Mata, some of the most significant healing work in this process is through partnerships between the council and the Deconizing Wealth Project, an Indigenous and black-led organization that supports restorative justice initiatives across the country. was brought.

In February, the Deconizing Wealth Project awarded grants to 13 California tribes and Indigenous organizations to support initiatives aimed at healing and changing the stories about their history. The grant will help the Tribe collect oral histories, provide travel expenses for members to go to Council on Truth and Healing meetings, and fund work to document the impacts around boarding schools. Helpful.

Carlos Rojas Alvarez, Director of Executive Affairs and Strategic Initiatives, Deconizing Wealth Project, said:

Alvarez said there was pressure on the federal commission to investigate. The Full Impact of Native American Boarding SchoolsBetween 1819 and 1969, hundreds of thousands of Native American children were separated or forcibly removed from their families and tribes to attend government-sanctioned Indian boarding schools. I was forced. Among the effects are language and cultural loss, abuse, trauma, and the permanent separation of many children from their families. Alvarez hopes that California’s efforts will help foster momentum by other states and federal governments to address the history of boarding schools and related issues.

Grants also help address the council’s major challenges. California Indians are a diverse group with different histories and needs.

“The story of one Native American in California is not the same as the story of another,” Snyder said. “Each person has a different story, perspective, and idea of ​​what it takes to be complete.”

For example, some tribes involved in this process are not federally recognized. And each tribe is a sovereign political entity. Kessler-Mata feels important because he is one of the few council members who is not a tribal leader and has not been involved in any tribal registration battles or other political issues. said. Her goal is to remain focused on what the state can do to “advance the rights of individual Indians.”

Another challenge, according to Kessler-Mata, is to accurately capture the California Indian experience. Most data on California Native Americans is for all Native Americans living in the state, regardless of whether they are members of a tribe in California.

The council’s final report won’t be completed until 2025, but Kessler Mata has early priorities. She hopes the state will begin collecting data on California Natives to measure indicators such as home ownership rates, the impact of climate change, educational outcomes and treatment in the criminal justice system. She also says the state needs to offer greater equity in funding California Indians.

“What we really need is a multi-sectoral approach for people to understand what happened and what is happening,” Kessler Mata said. “Golden State was built at someone’s expense. It concerns everyone.”

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