East County News Service
June 20, 2019 (Sacramento) -- Governor Gavin Newsom has issued an apology through executive order on behalf of California to Native American people for the many instances of violence, mistreatment and neglect inflicted upon California Native Americans throughout the state’s history.
“It’s called a genocide, that’s what it was, a genocide,” Newsom told tribal leaders at the California Indian Heritage Center in Sacramento, citing the $1.3 million in state funding authorized in the 1850s to subsidize militia campaigns against Native Americans. “No other way to describe it, and that’s the way it needs to be described in the history books.”
The Governor also announced the creation of a Truth and Healing Council to provide an avenue for California Native Americans to clarify the record – and provide their historical perspective – on the troubled relationship between tribes and the state.
This is the first time a state has taken dual action to correct both the historical record and acknowledge wrongdoing through executive order mandate and a tribally-led, consultation-informed council. Other governors have, however, acknowledge historic wrongs perpetrated against Native Americans.
California has the largest proportion of American Indians in the United States. About 723,000 residents identified as American Indian during the 2010 census. San Diego has 19 tribes on 18 reservations, the most of any county in America.
“California must reckon with our dark history,” a press statement issued by Newsom says. “California Native American peoples suffered violence, discrimination and exploitation sanctioned by state government throughout its history. We can never undo the wrongs inflicted on the peoples who have lived on this land that we now call California since time immemorial, but we can work together to build bridges, tell the truth about our past and begin to heal deep wounds.”
Assemblymember James Ramos, the first California Indian elected to the state Legislature, applauded the executive order apologizing for cruel treatment of Native Americans. “This action will go a long way to start the healing process between the state and Native American communities throughout California,” he said. “This historic acknowledgment by the Governor marks the beginning of a new relationship between the state and the more than 700,000 Native Americans who make the State of California their home.”
In the early decades of California’s statehood, the relationship between the state and California Native Americans was fraught with violence, exploitation, dispossession and the attempted destruction of tribal communities. In 1850, California passed a law called the “Act for the Government and Protection of Indians,” which facilitated removing California Native Americans from their traditional lands, separating children and adults from their families, languages and culture, and creating a system of indentured servitude as punishment for minor crimes such as loitering.
Between 1850 and 1859, governors of California called for private and militia campaigns against Native peoples in the state. In his 1851 State of the State Address, California’s first Governor declared “[t]hat a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct must be expected.” Subsequently, the state authorized $1.29 million in 1850’s dollars to subsidize these militia campaigns.
Indian children, including those in San Diego County, were forced into Indian schools as recently as the early 20th century, where they were forced to abandon tribal culture, dress and traditions.
Despite these wrongs, California Native Americans resisted, survived and carried on cultural and linguistic traditions defying all odds.
Now, at the direction of Governor Newsom and working in collaboration with California tribes, the new Truth and Healing Council will be led and convened by the Governor’s Tribal Advisor and will include representatives or delegates from California Native American tribes, relevant state and local agencies and other relevant non-governmental stakeholders. The Council will report draft findings to the Governor’s Tribal Advisor on an annual basis beginning January 1, 2020 and produce a final written report of findings regarding the historical relationship between the state and Native Americans on or before January 1, 2025.
Jamul Indian Village Chairwoman Erica Pinto (left) told the Governor, “It’s healing to hear your words, but actions will speak for themselves and I do look forward to hearing more and seeing more of you,” Reuters reports.
Daniel Salgado of the Cahuilla Band of Indians told the L.A. Times he appreciated Governor Newsom’s actions, adding that “In any kind of relationship, there’s recognition of a wrongdoing, an apology and a healing starts to take place.”
A copy of the Governor’s executive order can be found here.