Ro Khanna caught on tape mansplaining colonialism to Tribe’s chairwoman

(January 30, 2023)  —  On January 10th, in a closed-door meeting, Rep. Ro Khanna was caught on tape mansplaining colonialism to Charlene Nijmeh, the Chairwoman of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, and in condescending tones disparaging her experience of colonialism as less significant than his own.

Khanna even threatened, “do you want something or nothing,” in an apparent attempt to extort the Tribe of much of its sovereignty.

And it was all caught on tape by some of the most senior political operatives in the Congress — some of whom believe that the recording could sink Khanna’s presidential ambitions in the context of a Democratic Party presidential primary.

It’s just now coming to light and the conversation is sparking outrage among tribal leaders and indigenous activists across the country — who are offended that five congressmen would speak so disrespectfully to an indigenous woman — let alone one who is the leader of a sovereign nation.

AUDIO: Tense meeting between the Bay Area Delegation and Muwekma Ohlone Chairwoman Charlene Nijmeh

Chairwoman Charlene Nijmeh was in Washington last month to advance legislation to reaffirm the Tribe’s federal status.  When she arrived in Rep. Anna Eshoo’s office, five members of Congress attempted to bully the Chairwoman into signing away the rights and freedoms of the Tribe’s children. 

The event even prompted the Tribal Council to pass a formal Censure Resolution of Eshoo, for making extortionate demands during the conversation — including the cession of a vast swath of the Tribe’s jurisdiction over its own commerce.

Khanna has been asked for an apology by the Chairwoman. That apology has not been forthcoming.

“How dare Ro Khanna liken his privileged American dream existence to the struggles and hardship of the Muwekma Ohlone people.  It demonstrates a vast depth of ignorance of whose lands he is on and the history of the place that he feels entitled to represent,” explains Paul Soto, a San Jose activist who has been a leading figure in the city’s burgeoning historic preservation movement.  “His family came to this country and took advantage of every opportunity afforded to him on the dispossession of indigenous assets.”

Paul Soto is leading the revival of San Jose’s Chicano movement.  He has called on City officials to create a historic preservation district to protect some of the Latino community’s most storied cultural assets.

The aboriginal territory of the Muwekma Ohlone people has been ground zero of California’s Indian genocide ever since gold was discovered here in 1849 and Gov. Peter Burnett, from the state’s then-Capitol of Sane Jose, issued state-sponsored bounties on Indian scalps.

“Ro Khanna doesn’t have a clue about colonialism, and he should apologize for his insulting attitude and undignified posture with the Chairwoman,” Soto adds.  “How dare he speak to an indigenous woman in such an ignorant way.”

Khanna grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and attended the University of Chicago and Yale Law School — before joining O’Melveny & Myers, representing technology companies on intellectual property issues.

Rep. Khanna could not be reached for comment.

In the same conversation, Rep. Eric Swalwell characterized the Chairwoman’s behavior as “shooting arrows.”  Swalwell has yet to apologize for that characterization.

Supporters of the Tribe are encouraging Khanna and Swalwell to partake in cultural sensitivity training courses.

Rep. Eric Swalwell has also been asked to apologize for words he used in a closed-door meeting in Rep. Anna Eshoo’s Capitol Hill office.


A federal district court judge in the Northern District of California recently found that the Tribe retains its sovereign immunity despite not being on the Bureau of Indian Affairs circa-1978 list of recognized Tribes.

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