California tribal leaders honor 100 years of Indian American citizenship at state Capitol

Tribal leaders gathered Saturday afternoon at the World Peace Rose Garden at the California state Capitol to commemorate the centennial of the Indian Citizens Act of 1924, and to celebrate the achievements of Native American military veterans.

Frank Ramirez, national director of governmental affairs at the National American Indian Veterans Inc., hosted the event with tribal leaders and veterans from across California and the U.S. The event began with a ceremonial Eagle Staff march led by veterans from the Tule River tribe in Central California.

“Native people, American Indians, Alaska Natives, have been here hundreds of thousands of years,” Ramirez said in his opening remarks, to an audience of about 40 people. “So we’ve been around a while. But we were never officially recognized as citizens of this country. It’s shocking that we were here first, and we were never citizens until 100 years ago.”

Victorio Shaw, a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe who serves as chief judge of the Shingle Springs Tribal Court, delivered a keynote address before attendees released peace doves into the sky, and Ramirez unveiled a commemorative plaque on one of the benches in the rose garden.

“While it is nice to have monuments and dedications like the one we have on the bench,” Shaw said, “the greatest monuments we have, as Native people, are the ones that truly reflect the sacrifices and hardships endured by our ancestors.”

Those monuments “are not benches but those of you who sit upon them, the Native elders and youth here today. Your faces are our true moments.” Shaw recalled the “invasion, war, disease and genocide” that wiped out millions of Natives during the Manifest Destiny of the West by white settlers.

“The Indian problem was simply that we existed,” Shaw said. The solution was “assimilation.”

What the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 gave Native Americans was “the ability to walk in both worlds.” Shaw also said that the act gave the United States “a great gift.”

“You can now count every Indian as an American,” he said. “We still have much to teach you about this land and our Mother Earth, which we were entrusted with so many centuries ago.”

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, and representatives for Attorney General Rob Bonta also attended.

“We cannot erase our state’s and nation’s dark history,” said Isaac Bojorquez, from the Office of Native American Affairs at the Attorney General’s office, speaking for Bonta. “But we can recognize it, apologize for it, and vow to make these historic wrongs right.” Bojoquez is also chairman of the KaKoon Ta Ruk Band of Ohlone-Costanoan Indians in Big Sur.

Around noon Saturday, Shaw, Ramirez, Bojorquez and other elders and community members released 32 peace doves among the bright roses, while rose garden co-founders T.J. David and Sylvia Villalobos looked on.

“This garden is for you,” Villalobos told the crowd.

“And in this garden, the only language spoken is love. And ... we need to have Native American people acknowledged in this garden.”