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Tubatulabals work on land improvements

Tribe signs agreement with IHS for water well, wastewater upgrades

KERNVILLE, Calif. - The California office of the IHS will invest $92,150 in water well and wastewater improvements on two Tubatulabal land allotments in Kern Valley.

The Tubatulabal Tribal Council worked out agreements with the IHS after a series of discussions and site visits.

In agreements related to the improvements, the IHS agreed to provide engineering services and assistance with contract administration, construction inspection and materials purchase. The IHS will also assist Tubatulabals of Kern Valley with project administration costs.

Twenty-one homes will benefit from the new water wells and on-site wastewater disposal systems. Work is expected to be completed by Sept. 30, according to the project summary written by the IHS.

While the Tubatulabals are not formally recognized by the United States, the agreements point to the unique relationship between Tubatulabal leadership and the U.S. government.

Two Tubatulabal leaders signed four of 18 treaties that were made with California Indians in 1852. The treaties were never ratified, but land allotments were set aside for Tubatulabal families in 1893. Those allotments are known as Girardo, Miranda, Old Bill Chico and White Blanket, according to Tribal Council member Samantha C. Riding-Red-Horse.

Today, the Tubatulabals have about 200 registered members, but believe up to 200 more are living elsewhere.

Both agreements for allotment improvements are titled ''Memorandum of Agreement among Indian Health Service and ... Tubatulabals Tribe.'' The IHS is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Tubatulabal Chairman Donna Begay said the agreements ''strengthen'' the Tubatulabals' efforts to establish a government-to-government relationship with the United States, because in the agreements ''we are recognized as a tribal entity.''

In July, the Tule River Tribal Council passed a resolution supporting the Tubatulabals' efforts to obtain federal recognition and donated $5,000 to the Tubatulabals to assist with tribal operations. The support came after a July 17 presentation by Begay.

The Kern Valley Indian Community - which consists primarily of Kawaiisu and Paiute-Shoshone in the valley - is also seeking federal recognition; it has about 600 registered members. KVIC received a gift of funding from the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Manistee, Mich., to be used in its effort to obtain recognition. The amount of the gift was not disclosed.

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The Tubatulabals and KVIC operate language schools and cultural programs in the area; the Bishop Paiute Tribe provides funding for a tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families office in the area.

Improving the quality of life on the allotments has been a long-time priority for the Tubatulabals. For some reason, permanent structures are not allowed to be built on undivided allotted land, so residents live in temporary structures or in mobile homes. Water is provided by springs. There is no electricity or landline telephone service.

A tour of Dorothy Lee's allotment on Paiute Mountain, illustrated in a PowerPoint presentation to the Tule River Tribal Council, showed the type of living conditions the Tubatulabals want to improve.

Lee's water is stored in a small plastic open tub fed by a hose from a natural spring about one-eighth of a mile north of her living area. Trespassers have shot at the windows of her small trailer home and bears have knocked out her windows. A small wood house in which her son lives has been invaded by rodents.

The Tubatulabal tribal office has also been working with the BIA, Southern California Edison and the state Department of Fish and Game on getting electricity for the White Blanket allotment.

''Since the nesting period for the native birds is just about over, I think work can now begin for installation of utilities post,'' Begay said in an e-mail.

Federal recognition would empower the Tubatulabals in ways other than an ability to establish a strong tribal economy and improve living conditions. The Tubatulabals are working with the Tachi Yokut in nearby Kings County for the return of Tubatulabal remains that are in the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont.

''These remains were found just north of Kernville in the last 1960s, with Native American artifacts,'' Begay wrote in an e-mail. ''This location was an old Tubatulabal village area.

''Under the U.S. Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, federally recognized tribes can seek the return of human remains, artifacts and other cultural items. However, it is not clear how non-federally recognized tribes can participate in this federal policy. As a result, we decided to work with [Tachi Yokut], a federally recognized tribe, in obtaining these remains.''

Begay said she hoped to visit the museum soon.

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at