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Wilton Rancheria regains recognition as federally recognized Indian tribe

Following a generation of struggle to overturn an illegal government decision, the Wilton Miwok Rancheria celebrated the restoration of its status as a federally recognized Indian tribe after a June 8 decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. By Staff Reports, Indian Country Today

WILTON, Calif. – Following a generation of struggle to overturn an illegal government decision, the Wilton Miwok Rancheria celebrated the restoration of its status as a federally recognized Indian tribe after a June 8 decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Approximately 600 people belong to the tribe, many of whom live in Wilton, near Elk Grove. The court ruling ends a legal odyssey that began in 1958 when the Rancheria Act stripped numerous tribes of their federally recognized status, among them the Wilton Miwok Rancheria. Policy created through the act was declared a failure in 1970, and most tribes were re-instated as federally recognized. However, the Wilton Miwok Rancheria was left out.

“This is a historic day for all of the members of the Wilton Rancheria,” said Mary Tarango, co-chairperson of the interim tribal council established in 1999. “Today marks the end of a long struggle for justice, and the beginning of an exciting new opportunity to bring unity and prosperity to our people.”

Tarango, along with Tribal Co-Chairperson Anita Franklin, led the years-long effort to restore the tribe’s status. They were acknowledged as co-chairs through a mediation agreement in 1999, which meant they were designated as leaders of an interim tribal council that worked directly with the BIA. Elected by a majority of tribal members, Tarango and Franklin met repeatedly with BIA officials in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento, pursuing the legal action that prevailed.

The Department of the Interior “... agrees that the tribe was not lawfully terminated, and the Rancheria’s assets were not distributed, in accordance with. ...” the Rancheria Act. The terms of the settlement provide that “... the members of the tribe shall have the individual and collective status and rights that they formerly had as members of a federally recognized Indian tribe.”

Franklin said the decision starts a new chapter for the tribe. In one way, the work has just begun. With federal recognition comes the responsibility of ensuring that all members will fully benefit from the tribe’s restored status. That means organizing records, writing a constitution and ensuring the tribal government can quickly and effectively represent each member.

“We’re well aware that we have to hit the ground running to put federal recognition of our tribe to work for each and every Wilton Miwok Rancheria member,” Franklin said.

The ancestors and some surviving members of the Wilton Rancheria lived for many years on their land bordering the Cosumnes River until 1958. The tribal members are descendants of the Plains Miwok who lived and prospered in the Sacramento Valley since time immemorial.