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California's Bustamante honors tribal sovereignty

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LOS ANGELES - On the eve of the Democratic National Convention Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante presided over a ceremony honoring tribal sovereignty at the historic Union Station in Los Angeles. The event was dubbed the "Celebration of Tribal Sovereignty."

Bustamante handed out framed certificates to various tribal officials congratulating them on gaining full tribal sovereignty and the right to sign gaming compacts.

The certificates represented congratulations on passage of Proposition 1A in March that gave tribes the right to conduct gaming on tribal lands. The certificate enumerated historical and political features of American Indian tribal sovereignty.

"This event is significant, because for the first time in 150 years a constitutional officer from the state of California has officially recognized the relationship between state and tribal governments," said Michael Lombardi, a tribal gaming consultant.

All 107 federally recognized tribes in California were invited to the event and only 10 sent representatives. Yet the event was considered a success by those who attended because of the historical significance of the gesture.

Several tribal members from various American Indian tribes and members of the Native American Caucus were present. Tribal officials had deemed the event a "small private affair." Indian Country Today was one of the few news organizations there.

Bustamante chose to honor tribes instead of attending a Union Pacific reception.

Morongo Band of Mission Indians Chairwoman Mary Martin Andreas, who addressed the convention later in the week, gave Bustamante a bundle of 59 arrows in appreciation for his support during the Proposition 1A campaign. The 59 arrows represented each California tribe which signed the gaming compact with the state of California.

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"These arrows are symbolic of both unity and direction. Together they form a strong bond," Andreas said.

She said Bustamante was singled out for his long-term commitment to establishing tribal sovereignty, first as a California assemblyman, where he eventually served as speaker, then as lieutenant governor.

In February Bustamante was host to a summit in Sacramento, the California state capital, attempting to open a dialogue between federal, state and tribal governmental entities. He voiced his support for tribes to achieve full sovereignty.

Following the ceremony Bustamante was host for a dinner in the dining room of a restored rail car.

"It's really a great justification that Indians can now stand with the lieutenant governor on a train, considering the westward moving railroad meant so much for our destruction," said one attendee who wished to remain anonymous, watching as Bustamante posed with tribal representatives on the platform of the caboose.

"Times have really changed. Do you think the railroad will give us some land back now?"

In an interview, Bustamante said he felt this event was a necessary show to honor the progress made by American Indians in California over the last decade. He noted that tribal governments are more likely to be charitable with their profits and have used their earnings wisely to create "real economic development."

He spoke of "incredible changes" he had seen in Indian country since gaming has become an economic factor.

"If people could have seen tribal lands prior to gaming even the most hardened minds would be softened. I am honored to be part of such a tremendous occasion and I am very proud of the gains made by Indian country."