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A Step in the Right Direction

Empty promises. Those are the two words that sum up much of what the relationship between the United States and Indigenous nations has been for the last couple centuries.

“We were promised a lot of things if my grandparents signed some papers, so they signed but the government never followed through on their promises.”

That statement was made by Richard Johnson, the tribal chairman of the Nisenan Tribe of the Nevada City Rancheria in regards to what California’s government promised his grandparents in 1958. 1958 marks the year that California terminated all Indian reservations in the state. Because of this, they promised Johnson’s grandparents that the tribe would always have historical recognition and the “benefits” that come with the recognition. However, the paper they signed had nothing to support it and all the promises and hopes of recognition fell through. The Nisenan tribe was small, yes, but that does not warrant an excuse to be erased from history. Especially now that there are still 80 certified members of the tribe to this day. They do not live on the reservation since it was obviously removed for other purposes, but they are still there, fighting their own fight.

Richard Johnson accepting the endorsement of the Nevada County Historical Society

However, now they have had something go their way finally. Instead of their tribe, a different tribe, the Tsi-Akim Maidu tribe had the endorsement of the Nevada County Historical Society. The problem with this was that their tribe had no actual historical backing. Much research was done and it was decided that this tribe was manufactured therefore unfairly taking the endorsement that belongs to the Nisenan tribe. So now, after these 50+ years with unfulfilled promises of recognition, the Nisenan tribe is finally getting the endorsement. This is only the first step though. The tribe has stately recognition, but not federal and because of that no funds are provided for the tribe which stunts many of the activities they need to thrive as a tribe. But, this is a step in the right direction. As Johnson says, they are “years and years” away from fully cementing historical claims for the tribe, but the good thing is that they are now “well on there way.”

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