Saturday, June 23 , 2018, 9:29 pm | Overcast 64º


County Supervisor Peter Adam Suggests Elimination of Tribal Sovereignty

During a Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam made inflammatory comments regarding Native American tribes, questioning the need for tribal sovereignty and suggesting that state and federal governments should “revisit the Reservation system.”

The comments occurred during a hearing to consider recommendations for  the board’s 2015 Legislative Platform and, ironically, a little over a month after the county board recognized November as Native American Heritage Month and honored Vincent Armenta, the tribal chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

“I think we should maybe be asking to revisit the whole Reservation system,” Adam said. “I think it’s inadvisable to have sovereign in-holdings in the middle of our nation.”

Similar rhetoric has circulated among tribal opponents in the Santa Ynez Valley, but Chairman Armenta was especially disappointed to hear such comments come from an elected official in Santa Barbara County.

“This type of ignorant comment shows what our tribe is up against when we try to work with the County of Santa Barbara, and it shows why these officials refuse to recognize our tribe as a government,” said Chairman Armenta. “I’m very disappointed not only in Supervisor Adam’s remarks, but by the silence of the majority of this board when these outrageous statements were made.”

Neither chairwoman Janet Wolf nor Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the district that contains the Chumash Reservation, voiced an objection to the offensive remarks.

The only official on the five-member board who rushed to the defense of Native Americans and their sovereignty was First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, saying he was “appalled” by Adam’s comments.

“The notion put forth by Supervisor Adam to re-examine the existence of reservations or sovereignty for Native Americans in this country is shocking and appalling to me,” Carbajal said. “I think (sovereignty) goes toward our acknowledgement of the unfortunate policies our country had for many years toward Native Americans and the atrocities that have been committed.”

Tribal governments have existed in the United States long before European contact, governing themselves through tribal laws, cultural traditions and religious customs. Today, there are 566 federally recognized tribes in the U.S., including the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

“In the United States, Native American tribes have always been sovereign,” said Sam Cohen, legal specialist for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. “After the U.S. was organized, the young United States gradually expanded and subdued the tribal governments by force and, ultimately, the tribal governments were reduced to domestic dependent nations – still retaining their sovereignty, but conquered by the United States government.

In 1934, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act and attached a model constitution and bylaws that are still followed by tribes today.

Self-government is essential for tribal communities to protect their unique cultures and identities. And, in turn, tribal cultures and traditions provide a foundation upon which tribal communities are governed.

“Tribal sovereignty is vital to the very existence of Native American tribes,” Armenta said. “It allows tribes to govern themselves and help protect the health, safety and welfare of their membership within the tribal boundaries. For an elected official to suggest the elimination of tribal sovereignty is beyond appalling. It’s a serious threat to Native Americans across the United States.”

— Mike Traphagen is a public relations specialist for the Chumash Casino Resort.


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