It's Our Land --Salinan Indians left out in the cold again.
Thursday, July 29, 1999
The only means of escape for many California Indians was disguise; they masqueraded as Mexican nationals. While this tactic saved their lives, it left my ancestors without land, federal funding or any other privileges as an Indian tribe or as American citizens. While the rest of California prospered, they were impoverished, and most were barred from homesteading.
Today, it seems that we will once again be left out in the cold as Fort Hunter Liggett is parceled out. This is the site of Mission San Antonio de Padua, whose lands were bequeathed to the Salinan--also known as Jolon or San Antonio Mission Indians--by the Spanish government after secularization in the 1830s. One rancho, the Milpitas, was originally patented to my ancestor, Ignacio Pastor.
During World War II, the land at Hunter Liggett became a training camp for soldiers bound for Europe and the Pacific. Long after the need for multiple training facilities passed, the Army held fast to its base. The Salinans huddled at the edges, still longing for our ancient homeland to be returned. By this time, the Bureau of Indian Affairs [BIA] agents had declared the Salinan tribe "extinct." Few of my relatives cared to come out and risk expulsion to an arid Mojave reservation or see their children ripped away to BIA boarding schools.
In the 1920s, the U.S. started the California Indian Judgment Fund, which was meant to compensate landless natives for the broken treaties. The California Indians were not asked for their opinion; nevertheless, many Salinans signed up for the fund, figuring something was better than nothing.
In 1972, we received $668 each for 8 million acres promised in 18 treaties signed in 1850, yet the land was valued at $150 million in 1850 reckoning. That money won''t even purchase one-quarter acre in the San Antonio Valley today!
We modern natives find ourselves in a classic Catch-22 situation. If our ancestors had not disguised themselves as Mexicans, virtually none of us would be alive today. Yet, because they saved themselves and their families, we are considered "non-natives."
Federal law states that Indian tribes have first right of refusal of surplus land in their homeland. We Salinans can''t use that law; we''re not officially "Indians."
So we''re left out in the cold again, pressing our noses up to the glass as local and state agencies and private land developers vie for our land.
With that land we could make ourselves self-sufficient. Without land, we are doomed to the second-class existence we have always had. I would gladly give my $668 back to the government to reclaim the land that is mine by legal and moral right.
The biggest irony is that many of those who yell the loudest about Indians becoming self-reliant are the descendants of homesteaders whose prosperity came from land granted free of charge.
We are willing to work hard to improve the land and provide jobs and dignity for our people. But we need the land we were promised by the Spanish, Mexican and American governments. It comes down to this basic question: Can the United States, the world''s moral leader, be trusted to keep its promises to its own people? The Salinans would very much like to know; we''re tired of being left out in the cold.
Debra Krol is a freelance writer living in Arizona, a member of the Native American Journalist''s Association, and an enrolled member of the Salinan Nation.