California Governor Appoints Cynthia Gomez Tribal Adviser


California’s indigenous nations now have a liaison in the governor’s office.

Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. on February 7 appointed Cynthia Gomez his tribal adviser, a first in the California governor’s office.

Gomez, 54, of Sacramento, also serves as executive secretary of the Native American Heritage Commission. Her position does not require Senate confirmation; and she will be paid a salary of $140,000 a year.

Brown created the position in September 2011 to bolster communication and collaboration between state government and California’s indigenous nations.

According to the executive order creating the position, Gomez will oversee and implement effective government-to-government consultation between the governor’s administration and tribes on policies that affect California tribal communities. She will serve as a direct link between tribes and the governor; facilitate communication and consultations between the tribes, the governor’s office, state agencies and agency tribal liaisons; and review and make recommendations on state legislation and regulations affecting tribes.

According to a presentation she made in 2009 when she was an assistant secretary of California’s Environmental Protection Agency, California has the second-largest number of federally-recognized tribes, and the largest Native population, in the United States. California has 109 federally recognized tribes and 89 non-federally recognized tribes.

Gomez earned a juris doctorate degree at the University of Northern California’s Lorenzo Patiño School of Law. She has been chief justice of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians Tribal Court since 2010, and is a member of the Tribal and State Court Forum for the California Administrative Office of the Courts.

Gomez, a Democrat, was the state EPA’s assistant secretary of environmental justice and tribal governmental policy from 2008-10, chief of the Native American liaison branch of the state Department of Transportation from 1999-2008, and a housing and community development representative for the state Department of Housing and Community Development from 1989-99. She has served as chairwoman of the state Transportation Research Board’s Native American Transportation Issues Committee.

Brown signed the executive order creating the tribal adviser position on September 19 at a meeting of the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, a coalition of California Indian tribes, at the Sheraton Hotel in Sacramento. The executive order is far-reaching in its commitments.

The executive order recognizes California as home to many tribes with whom the state has an important relationship, “as set forth and affirmed in state and federal law,” and recognizes and reaffirms “the inherent right of these tribes to exercise sovereign authority over their members and territory.”

The executive order states that California and its indigenous nations are better able to adopt and implement mutually-beneficial policies when they “cooperate and engage in meaningful consultation.” The executive order commits the state “to strengthening and sustaining effective government-to-government relationships between the state and the tribes by identifying areas of mutual concern and working to develop partnerships and consensus.”

California’s indigenous people, as citizens of California and their respective sovereign nations, have a “shared interest in creating increased opportunities for all California citizens,” the executive order states.

In addition, the executive order commits the governor’s office to regular meetings with the elected officials of California’s indigenous nations to discuss state policies that may affect tribal communities. The executive order establishes a policy that every state agency and department subject to the governor’s executive control “shall encourage communication and consultation with California Indian tribes … Agencies and departments shall permit elected officials and other representatives of tribal governments to provide meaningful input into the development of legislation, regulations, rules, and policies on matters that may affect tribal communities.”

The executive order applies to all federally recognized tribes “and other California Native Americans.” That last point is important to people like the Tubatulabals of Kern Valley, who are recognized as indigenous people by the Bureau of Indian Affairs though their tribal government is not fully recognized by the U.S.

The Tubatulabal Tribe, whose leaders signed treaties with the U.S. government in the 1850s, is seeking a full government-to-government relationship with the U.S. The tribe has contracted with BIA and IHS for housing, road and water improvements on its land allotments, and is active on regional and state agencies dealing with water planning. Tubatulabal has also partnered with the Tachi Yokut Tribe to repatriate ancestors’ remains and burial items from museums.

Tubatulabal Chairwoman Donna Miranda-Begay has known Gomez since 1998, when they were state employees working to improve housing in tribal communities. They also worked together in hosting the annual California Indian Day event in Sacramento.

“She is very balanced in her view of the traditional and cultural, and of the law and policy development to improve government-to-government working relationships, and can certainly facilitate communication with effective outcomes,” Miranda-Begay said of Gomez. “Governor Brown could not have selected a more intelligent and dedicated person than Cynthia. Our Tubatulabal Tribe supports her appointment as the first California tribal adviser to the state's governor. I know that Cynthia will help with environmental justice, cultural resource protection, and addressing non-gaming related services for all California Native Americans – both federally and non-federally recognized tribes and tribal communities. We have confidence in her abilities to establish priorities and a work plan in her position with Gov. Brown.”