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Nevada County supervisors support Nisenan recognition

Rancheria makes progress at County supervisor meeting

The Nevada County Board of Supervisors has approved a resolution recognizing the Nisenan tribe’s historical, cultural and continued significance to Nevada County and the state.

Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved the resolution, which supports federal recognition of the tribe.

“If it wasn’t for corona, I would be partying,” said Shelly Covert, the executive director for the California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project and the spokesperson for the Nevada City Nisenan Rancheria.



According to a press release, supervisors received 888 letters from the community in support of the resolution.

Covert said she is grateful for the full-bodied community support, and is eager to see Grass Valley pass a similar resolution to Nevada City and Nevada County.



Covert said this resolution provides the backing she needs to approach U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, whose district includes most of Nevada County, again about the issue of federal recognition.

LaMalfa wanted to see official support for the recognition, Covert said.

“Now that we have that, I’m ready to go back and talk with Doug,” she added. “I’m really looking forward to that conversation.”

According to Covert, the resolution is one of the first steps to restoring recognition long overdue.

“If we don’t have local community support, how are we supposed to convince Congress, the House or the Senate or the president?” Covert said.

The history of the tribe’s recognition and termination is “complicated and includes unratified treaties, presidential action, congressional legislation, judicial judgments,” a release states.

Many of the original treaties established between the native population and the encroaching settlers in the 1850s were not ratified, Covert explained, which left the indigenous population in California in worse shape than tribes further east.

“They were in worse shape than other tribes in the nation,” Covert said. “In answer to that, the federal government started purchasing land near to where the treaties had been, and purchased land lots for homeless Indians.”

The Nisenan people were not homeless, Covert explained. They lived all over the area Nevada City now knows as Cement Hill and maintained an amicable relationship with the Craig family, Cement Hill homesteaders Covert identified as “Indian friendly.”

“Old man Craig went out and said ‘You can stay here,’ but asked Nisenan Chief Charlie Cully if he would move the Nisenan to the other hill because he wanted to start a winery,” Covert said.

Covert said that land became the Nevada City Rancheria after President Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order in 1913. Seventy-five acres of Cement Hill became federal trust land governed by the tribal government, then a federally recognized entity.

That recognition was rescinded in 1953, when the Nevada City Rancheria became one of the 44 rancherias “illegally” terminated by the Rancheria Termination Act. Forty-one of those rancherias have since had their recognition restored. The Nisenan Rancheria is not one of those, the release states.

Covert said the tribe is eager to acquire recognition, but if ever granted land again, would not use it to build casinos.

Covert said she has yet to see what real self-determination and governance looks like, but she hopes recognition may provide her people with a foundation to think about comprehensive economic development programs that promote clean energy.

During the supervisors meeting, Supervisor Heidi Hall said she was grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate her support for the tribe’s pursuit of federal recognition.

“The Nisenan are the original inhabitants here and an integral part of our community,” Hall said. “They lost federal recognition as a tribe through no fault of their own, and this is just one step towards supporting them regain their status. Whenever we try to right wrong actions in our history, we all benefit.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com.


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