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Wilton Miwok Rancheria tribe outlines future goals

The Wilton Miwok Rancheria tribe gathered on June 13 as a federally recognized sovereign nation for the first time in 50 years. By Fran Soto, Special to the Citizen

The Wilton Miwok Rancheria tribe gathered on June 13 as a federally recognized sovereign nation for the first time in 50 years.

A U.S. District Court of Northern California decision on June 8 restored the tribe’s sovereignty, which was illegally terminated in 1958 under the California Rancheria Act.

The tribe owns land a few miles southeast of Elk Grove.

A large crowd showed up at the meeting inside the Pavilion at the Elk Grove Regional Park to hear a presentation by legal counsel on settlement details, as well as a presentation on the tribe’s plans for self-sufficiency.

After just a short time, however, attorneys called a closed session.

Due to the short meeting, Wilton Miwok Rancheria Tribal Council co-chairs Mary Tarango and Anita Andrews Franklin spoke later in a phone interview about the tribe’s history and their goals for the future.

Tarango said that promises were made to the Miwok people, but they were broken.

“We were told if we relinquish all our rights things would be bestowed to us including water rights, roads and indoor facilities. These are things that would bring us into the 21st century,” she said.

When asked about the possibility of a casino in the future, Tarango left the question of a gaming operation open, but she emphasized many steps would need to be taken first because of the tribe’s new status.

“We are leaving our options open, but right now our purpose is educating the public to understand our position as a sovereign nation,” Tarango said. “But we cannot lose sight of what is beneficial for the tribe.”

Franklin said the tribe is bound by a confidentiality clause and cannot release all the details concerning the path to self-sufficiency.

She stressed, however, that self-sufficiency is a major goal.

“We would like to have economical development, and we would like to have funds,” Franklin said. “We don’t want to have to depend on the federal government. We would like to be self-sufficient, but it is up to tribal members as to what type of economical development they would like to pursue.”

Tarango sees many options in bringing self-sufficiency to the members.

“Non-gaming tribes are entitled to a portion of gaming revenues, and some non-gaming tribes are doing fine,” she said. “My dream is a medical facility that will serve everyone and an education center for the youth. As a recognized tribe, those dreams are there.”

The tribe will be working in the future on electing an official tribal council.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs must first verify membership before even an interim tribal council can be elected. A constitution must then be written.

As the tribe looks forward, it is not without some differences of opinion among the 13 families who are authorized to distribute Wilton Rancheria trust land.

The suit to reinstate tribal sovereignty was filed by the Wilton Miwok Rancheria group, which represents 12 families, and the Me-Wuk Indian Community of the Wilton Rancheria representing the Sangmaster family.

Franklin said that a member of the Sangmaster family sat on the tribal council but quit after a dispute over tribal enrollment.

“We have this faction, but we’re here for the people and here to get this tribe restored,” Franklin said. “Now that’s what we’ve done.”

Tarango reiterated Franklin’s sentiments that the betterment of the tribe is the main focus in spite of disagreements with the Sangmaster family.

“We continue to include them, but they have their own issues that they are trying to set forward,” Tarango said. “They came to the table last August, but then things started to change. We are hopeful they will come back, be open-minded and listen to what the BIA is telling us. Our intent has always been to be inclusive.”

As the newly recognized tribe faces the challenges ahead, their reinstatement has a personal side to the individual members.

Darlene Brown, a member of the Wilton Miwok Rancheria tribe, sees the settlement as a restoration of rights terminated by the government.

“People don’t understand the laws and how they affected the Indians. They wanted us to meld into the pot, but we didn’t meld into American society,” Brown said. “They took everything from us but couldn’t take our spirit - and that’s what kept us Indians.”

Brown cites examples such as denying religious freedom until 1978 and being confined to reservations during the 1940s and 1950s. “The federal government now recognizes us as Indians,” Brown said. “They gave us back our rights.”