Lofgren’s opposition to Muwekma sovereignty is out of step with local Democrats

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the chair of the California congressional delegation, is brazenly refusing to adopt a policy position that has been endorsed by the Bay Area’s most powerful Democratic Party Committees — and the dispute has many activists inside the party wondering whether she should retire.

The San Francisco Democratic Party, the Santa Clara County Democratic Party, the Contra Costa County Democratic Party, and the Santa Cruz County Democratic Party have all passed formal resolutions in support of SJR-13, a State bill requesting the federal government restore the Tribe’s federal recognition.

Not only did Lofgren refuse to recognize the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe while the Democrats had control of the chamber, she has refused to even meet with Tribal leaders — and she has refused to do so for several years.

Making matters much worse — in recent weeks she has been collaborating privately with Shira Stein, a junior reporter at The San Francisco Chronicle — to undermine the Tribe’s tour of Congress, which is scheduled from January 3rd through January 12th, with a ‘fake news’ hit-piece intended to smear the Tribe, which has been increasingly critical of the congresswoman in recent weeks.

Stein contacted dozens of acquaintances and colleagues of the Tribal leadership, harassing them with accusatory questions in hostile tones while repeating false accusations that were articulated to Stein privately by Lofgren.

Stein confirmed to the Tribe’s communications director, Jonathan Lockwood, that Lofgren communicated her official position on Muwekma recognition to Stein during an “off-the-record” conversation (which Lofgren has refused to share with the general public).  When asked by Lockwood what Lofgren said her position was, the reporter then refused to share it, explaining she didn’t want to betray her confidence — while preparing a hit piece against the Tribe on precisely that issue.

Shira Stein, of the San Francisco Chronicle, is being criticized for her uncivil and unprofessional reporting tactics.   Her publisher has been asked to investigate her behavior and her relationship with Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s office. 

“Shira’s behavior is offensive, defamatory, politically motivated, both slanderous and libelous, and degrades the integrity of the journalism profession. That she has the gaul to malign indigenous activists and liberation movements in such a profoundly ignorant way — while refusing to meet with Tribal leadership or the subjects of her hit piece — is grounds for immediate termination,” explains Lockwood.

Stein insisted that she had to publish the article prior to the congressional tour — presumably at Lofgren’s behest.

The San Francisco Chronicle has been asked to fully investigate Stein, her relationship with Lofgren, and her relationship with Lofgren’s staffer, and to preserve those investigative records and conclusions for any future litigation on the matter.  Just last week, the New York Post published an article detailing payments that were being made to an ABC reporter by politicians seeking to deploy hit-pieces on their political opponents.

Rep. Lofgren has refused to meet Muwekma Ohlone Chairwoman Charlene Nijmeh for years, despite knowing the Tribe well and working closely with Nijmeh’s mother while she was Chairwoman.

Charlene Nijmeh, the Chairwoman of the Tribe, will be in Washington for much of January, to advance legislation to reaffirm the Tribe’s federal recognition status — a decades long struggle that is pressing this session: months ago, a federal district court judge in the Northern District of California found that the Tribe retains its sovereign immunity, despite its absence on the Bureau of Indian Affairs‘ administrative list of Tribes, which was first drafted by the BIA in 1978 and wrongly excluded the Muwekma.  The Department of the Interior has declined to take corrective administrative action, despite having already done so for similarly situated Tribes.

Tribal leaders had hoped that having the first Indigenous leader heading the Department of Interior, Secretary Deb Haaland, would lead to a serious discussion about the flawed federal recognition process and the marginalization and disenfranchisement of urban tribes like Muwekma.
But the Department, under Haaland and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland still refuse to correct the department’s administrative mistakes, choosing instead to refer the Tribe to the Congress to secure the restoration of their federal recognition.

Lofgren has not responded to requests to meet with the Chairwoman while she is in Washington.

Lofgren’s cold shoulder wasn’t always this cold. Tribal leaders can’t understand what is motivating Lofgren’s sudden opposition to restoring the Tribe’s sovereignty — after decades of support, even demanding on the floor of the House that the Congress act in 2001:

“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.”

Rep. Ro Khanna has been a stalwart supporter of the Tribe’s recognition. Similarly, the Tribe has been advancing his name as a potential successor to United States Senator Diane Feinstein.

One would think that having local party officials so supportive of tribal recognition, would prompt the Congresswoman to correct the historic injustice years ago — especially considering how influential the Bay Area delegation has been in recent years.

Rep. Anna Eshoo has agreed to carry the legislation, and Rep. Eric Swalwell and Rep. Ro Khanna have joined as co-sponsors, while Rep. Jimmy Panetta has also indicated he will vote in support of the congressional affirmation — which makes the absence of Lofgren’s support all the more baffling.

Lofgren, who is an attorney, wrote in a 2002 letter of support that, “Having reviewed the Tribe’s petition, it appears to me that the Tribe meets all of the criteria set by the Court as well as the BIA’s acknowledgement criteria.”

Democratic Party committee members from across the region have been calling on Lofgren to explain herself.


A teach-in with Charlene Nijmeh, the Chairwoman of the Muwekma Ohlone Indian Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area, and other guests from the Tribe at Kairos house on Apr. 12. Nijmeh and other members of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe have been building a grassroots movement.


Members of the Justice for Muwekma Stanford Chapter. The group aims to act as a link between the Stanford community and the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe.  Their activism has had catalytic impacts in recent months. 




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