Soapbox

How Congress can correct a historical injustice to Ruffey Rancheria

Legislation is pending in Congress that will help the Ruffey Rancheria, a terminated Native American tribe in northern California. As tribal chairman, I want to explain the historical injustice that we have faced.

 
Opinion

In 1907, the Department of the Interior purchased land for a group of 57 landless Indians who were living near the town of Etna in Siskiyou County. The tribe became known as Ruffey Rancheria after its namesake tribal elder, Old Man Ruffey, and maintained a relationship with the federal government that lasted for more than a half-century.

In the 1950s, Congress pursued policies intended to end the legal existence of California’s Indian tribes. Ruffey Rancheria was one of more than 40 Indian rancherias that suffered this fate when in 1961, its 441-acre reservation was distributed to just four members who supported termination and ignored others, violating their due process rights to be consulted regarding termination.

Based on these and other unfair practices, members of many terminated California Indian tribes sued the federal government in 1983 and ultimately prevailed in a class-action lawsuit. Ruffey Rancheria was among a few tribes not eligible for the class action due to legal technicalities. It is one of the last that has not been restored to federally recognized status.

Because Congress terminated the tribe, only Congress can reinstate it.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, who is Ruffey Rancheria’s congressional representative and the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs, has sponsored legislation to right this wrong.

Since the introduction of HR 3535 last July, we have received constructive feedback on ways to improve the legislation and have worked closely with the Department of the Interior and other tribes. Together, we have sought to address all legitimate concerns and created a process for the Secretary of the Interior to oversee and certify the tribe’s enrollment process. Our tribal council has not formally addressed gaming.

Potential reinstatement as a federally recognized tribe is a momentous occasion for our community. It is not a political issue. It is a question of justice. My great-grandfather was one of the original 57 landless Indians. A direct descendant of Old Man Ruffey sits on our tribal council. We have never gone away; you can still find our former reservation by searching for “Ruffey Indian Reservation” on Google maps.

Ruffey Rancheria seeks to be a good partner with the federal government, state of California, Siskiyou County and other California tribes. We are proud to have received the endorsement of the Siskiyou Board of Supervisors. We sincerely hope that representatives on both sides of the aisle will support HR 3535.

Tahj Gomes is chairman of Ruffey Rancheria. He can be contacted at tahjgomes@ruffeyrancheria.org.

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