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Muwekma denied immediate recognition

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SAN JOSE, Calif. - The BIA has issued a proposed finding denying immediate federal recognition to the 400-member Ohlone-Costanoan Muwekma tribe.

Assistant Secretary of the Interior Neal McCaleb said July 30 the tribe did not meet three of the seven criteria mandatory for federal recognition and were automatically disqualified for federal recognition on this basis.

The Muwekma tribe filed a suit last year against the BIA trying to force the agency to speed up the recognition process. In January, a federal court ruled that the BIA would have to make a finding by July 30.

"No documents were identified that would have satisfied three of the seven criteria needed to obtain federal recognition," said Nedra Darling, a BIA spokeswoman.

Of the seven stated criteria for recognition the Muwekma failed to meet the following.

First, some public record of the tribe's continuous existence, through research records, newspaper articles or some other type of publication.

The bureau claims there was no public record of the tribe from 1927 through 1985, the year the present version of the tribe formed. This point is interesting when juxtaposed with the fact the tribe met criteria proving descendancy from early 20th-century tribal members.

Second, the tribe must have proof of a continuous social community. BIA sources say tribal members are far flung and failed to meet the standards of a continuous community.

This criteria relates to the third failed criteria for the tribe, that it failed to show leaders who exerted political influence over the tribe, and that the tribe specifically failed to list any political or social leaders between 1927 and 1985.

The tribe did meet four other guidelines for federal recognition.

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The first is that they submitted a governing document. They also have no members who are part of another federally recognized tribe and have not been terminated by a congressional act.

Perhaps most interesting is the aforementioned criteria that tribal members were able to establish bloodlines to tribal members who lived on tribal lands during the years 1905 to1910. All Muwekma tribal members were able to meet this criteria.

"On October 30, 2000, the Bureau of Indian Affairs concluded that all of the Muwekma Tribal Members descend from an identified member of the community, or a close relation of a member, of the Verona Band, which was previously recognized by the federal government," states a press release on the Muwekma Web site.

Muwekma Chairwoman Rosemary Cambra said she cannot issue an official statement at this time. She said that she has just received a 200-page summary document from the BIA explaining the reasons for the finding and feels that it would be best to respond after a careful read.

"We will definitely respond to this report in the timeframe allowed by the BIA and are waiting to any evidence opposing us as a previously federally recognized tribe," Cambra said.

The historical Muwekma tribe is of note since they are the original inhabitants of what is now the city of San Francisco. The tribe's history is a common one in California. After contact with the Spanish in the 1770s the tribe began to suffer a decline that was sped up when the United States annexed California in the mid-19th century. The Muwekma were forced onto a rancheria about 20 miles east of San Francisco near Pleasanton.

The rancheria eventually was sold off and came under the ownership of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, who allowed over 100 tribal members to remain on their land, some of them doing domestic work for Mrs. Hearst.

After the rancheria was dissolved and tribal members were forced to move away for economic reasons, the present-day Muwekma tribe claims many members kept up tribal traditions including the language, which they say was still spoken by some elders as late as the 1930s.

Furthermore the tribe cites the work of cultural anthropologist J.P. Harrington and said that grandchildren of subjects used in his 1930s linguistic study of the Ohlone comprise the tribal elders of the present-day Muwekma tribe.

Also cited are historical documents showing that the tribe, then known as the Verona Band of Alameda County was recognized between 1914 and 1927, an admission made by the BIA Branch of Acknowledgment and Research.

Though this is certainly a setback for the tribe, both tribal and BIA sources say there is still a chance the Muwekma could receive federal recognition. A public comment period has now been put into effect and the tribe has until Oct. 29 to come up with a response. A final determination will then be made on March 11 of next year.