|Posted by Ya-Nah on May 31, 2014 at 6:00 PM|
May 30th, 2014
Re: Native American Religious Freedom and the Cemetery of Buena Vista Rancheria
Dear Governor Brown and Representatives,
Greetings and salutations, thank you for your time. Buena Vista Rancheria is a small parcel of land that has always been preserved by Miwok of Buena Vista Rancheria. It is now considered to be within the county of Amador, near the city of Ione, California, and it has never been accepted into trust with the United States of America. It is a very important place since it serves as a ceremonial gathering place, and burial ground for our people. Although California has approved a gaming compact for a casino to be developed at our sacred site, we do not wish for a casino to be built at the burial ground since it would be disrespectful to the ancestors and it is possible that much older ceremonial sites and burials exist in the whole area.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Amador county assessors office have listed “Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians” as the land owner of the rancheria. When Grandma June called their office directly in 2011, Arnold Samuel was already in a conference call and we left a message. Finally, on May 8th, 2014, he phoned back. I have contacted Indian Dispute Resolution Services to arrange a meeting but Arnold Samuel has not yet agreed to attend. Rhonda Pope was very irate last time that she contacted Grandma June and it was very unpleasant.
Grandma June passed away in February this year and has not been interred. It was always her wish to be buried at Buena Vista in a plot that her grandfather, John Oliver, had assigned to her. Her mother, Ethel Oliver Ortega Bill, was the last generation from our family to be born in Amador county in 1909, and buried in the Buena Vista cemetery in 1956. Her name is the first that appears on a list of people interred in the cemetery in a recent ethnography made for the “Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians” in 2006 by Pacific Legacy, Inc.. No burial has been permitted there since the land was deeded to the “Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians,” in 1997.
In the last five years, my grandma and great aunt sought federal recognition to represent their tribe. Although the attorney for the “Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians” argues that American Indian tribes can be recognized by federal courts, the 9th circuit court of appeals ruled to prevent lawful reorganization of the people of Buena Vista Rancheria in January this year, in Friends of Amador et. al. Versus Secretary of the Department of the Interior et. al.. One of the judges in the 9th circuit court suggested that an act of congress might be a more appropriate solution to nullify plans for casino development at Buena Vista Rancheria.
Planned casino construction at Buena Vista Rancheria would desecrate a significant cultural site, and our burial ceremonies. In fact, since the Rancheria land is not and has never been in trust with the United States, I don't know if the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act can adequately protect our cemetery. That is because “Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians” is both, interested in casino construction at the address of our cemetery, and qualified to dismiss concerns about cultural significance because of it's federally recognized status. Most of the direct lineal descendants of people interred in the cemetery were not listed with the Heritage Commission during the planning stages of the proposed casino, and now that Beatrice Crabtree is listed, we are asking for consideration for the protection and continuance of the Buena Vista burial tradition for very personal reasons.
Great Auntie Bea, is also thinking about when she will “meet her demise,” and when that happens she would like to be buried near her mother at Buena Vista. She is 83 years old, and her grandfather, John Oliver, also assigned a burial plot to her. For our family, it has always been expected that the cemetery would continue to be expanded as necessary for as long as there are Miwok people. We both feel very strongly that the burial tradition of our people should not be suppressed or intimidated by the”Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians.” If we are intimidated and ignored by a landowner then how do we exercise our religious freedom to practice the last right that we have in this world.
Though the United States may not have intended for this situation to occur, it is a result of U.S. Indian policy and private land ownership in California. Since my great aunt is not enrolled with “Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians” or any other tribe, and she is a resident of Sacramento county and a citizen of California, we seek your consideration in this matter. Legislation to protect American Indian Religious Freedoms, should protect all future traditional use of our burial grounds at Buena Vista Rancheria and if it does not, the act should be amended to do so.
Great Auntie Bea is living and able to speak for herself. She needs her own wheelchair and more importantly, help with her own funeral arrangements since the tradition of her Miwok ancestors is still threatened by planned casino development and a California gaming compact, approved in 1999 and amended in 2004. The amended gaming compact for the Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians will expire in 2025. A documentary of recent events from the perspective of two elders of the Oliver family, will be forthcoming in 2014. Please look for more information on our website, where you can also donate to help Great Auntie Bea to get her own wheelchair, MiwokOfBuenaVistaRancheria.webs.com.
Ya-nah Geary Mandujano
Beatrice Mae Crabtree
Cc: National Indian Gaming Commission
Glenn Villa Jr.
Native American Heritage Commission
Environmental Protection Agency