This Thanksgiving, the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe is asking the local Bay Area congressional delegation to finally reaffirm their never-terminated status as a federally recognized Tribe. The Tribe was illegally removed from a key list several decades ago, but was never terminated by Congress (which is the only ‘lawful’ way to terminate a Tribe… a practice that stems from an era when the extermination of indigenous people was a policy objective).
Landless, and suffering from the disastrous impacts of California’s long history of State-sponsored policies of violence — now a relentless gentrification threatens to badly decimate the Tribe, which suffers disproportionately from homelessness and residential displacement.
This year, Rep. Zoe Lofgren — who political operatives describe as being critical to move legislation on this matter — just may finally agree to co-sponsoring legislation that would reaffirm the Tribe’s status and direct the Bureau of Indian Affairs to add the Muwekma Ohlone to the Bureau’s list of 574 federally recognized Tribes.
California already is home to 110 federally recognized Tribes.
From her days on Board of County Supervisors, Lofgren has a longstanding familiarity with the Tribe, which battled over rights to burial grounds that were being dug up by anthropologists without the Tribe’s permission. It’s unclear why Lofgren hasn’t been sooner to introduce legislation on the matter.
More than 20 years ago, in 2002, Lofgren proudly demanded justice for the Muwekma people on the floor of the House of Representatives:
“I proudly support the long struggle of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe as they continue to seek justice and to finally, and without further delay, achieve their goal of their reaffirmation of their tribal status by the federal government. This process has dragged on long enough. I hope that the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Interior will do the right thing and act positively to grant the Muwekma Ohlone tribe their rights as a Federally Recognized Indian Tribe. … To do anything else is to deny this tribe justice. They have waited patiently and should not have to wait any longer.”
But now Lofgren seems to be having a change of heart.
In recent weeks, Rep. Anna Eshoo — perhaps the most respected member of the Bay Area delegation — offered to carry legislation for the Tribe, signing on to federal recognition legislation as its primary sponsor. Just days later, Rep. Eric Swalwell and Rep. Ro Khanna joined her as co-sponsors.
“The younger social justice portion of the electorate is starting to assert its demands for justice,” explains one activist with Justice for Muwekma, a student organizing group with chapters at Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and San Jose State. “We are not going to tolerate the foot dragging on the most basic justice issues, like the federal recognition of Tribes.”
“If America wasn’t so hell-bent on geocoding Indians out of existence, they would simply say that they agree with the DNA evidence, the huge body of anthropological evidence, and the nearly 600 Muwekma people all with their own family histories, photos, and keepsakes,” the activist explains. “There’s no dispute over who these people are.”
Many of the student activists don’t understand what Lofgren could be thinking.
Lofgren was born in San Mateo, California, the daughter of a school cafeteria employee and a beer truck driver. Her grandfather was Swedish. Lofgren attended Gunn High School (1966) in Palo Alto, and while in high school, Lofgren was a member of the Junior State of America, a student-run political debate, activism, and student governance organization. She earned her B.A. degree in political science from Stanford University in 1970 and her Juris Doctor degree from Santa Clara University School of Law in 1975.
All the while on Muwekma land, and benefiting mightily from being on Muwekma land.
After graduating from Stanford, Lofgren worked as a House Judiciary Committee staffer for Congressman Don Edwards when the committee prepared articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon.
In 1978, Lofgren married John Marshall Collins. Returning to San Jose, she worked in Don Edwards’s district office while earning her J.D. degree. After two years as partner at a San Jose immigration law firm, she was elected to the board of San Jose City College.
In 1981, she was elected to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, representing downtown San Jose and nearby communities, where she served for 13 years.