Miles Baker: Leadership role brings LaMalfa to same discussion as local tribe |

Miles Baker: Leadership role brings LaMalfa to same discussion as local tribe


WHAT: Eighth annual Nisenan Heritage Day

WHO: Hosted by Nevada City Rancheria and CHIRP (California Heritage Indigenous Research Project)

WHEN: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11

WHERE: Sierra College Nevada County Campus, 250 Sierra College Dr., Grass Valley

INFO: free parking; all ages welcome

Doug LaMalfa is the new chair of the Indian, Insular, and Alaska Natives Affairs Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

His constituents in our county include the Nisenan Tribe, whose story remains contentious in regards to the U.S. government.

In 1964, an amendment was added to the California Rancheria Termination Act of 1958 that terminated the Nevada City Rancheria of Nisenan of Northern California. Their Tribal Federal recognition was rescinded in that termination and the last bit of their land was sold to private owners. Now the tribe is without a designated homeland. Shelly Covert, the tribal secretary of the Nisenan, shared what this is like in an interview from her office in Nevada City.

“There is a lot of frustration surrounding our situation and it goes from deeply spiritual to extremely just practical,” Covert said. “We are missing land for everyday use, teaching our youth today, and having a place to go and pray where people aren’t looking. Kind of being on public display is what a lot of the tribal members feel because we don’t have a place where we can go. Another thing is not having access to our old burning grounds (for funerals), which many of them are held privately and have been for a very long time. Our entire sacred mountain is private property, so we don’t have access and that is where we are supposed to go to get initiated into any of the spiritual realms.”

“It sounds good. It looks good on paper, maybe, but why do the tribes not get to control their own land?” — Shelly Covert, Nevada City Rancheria secretary

Covert says Congress has the ability to restore her tribe’s federal status and recognition which would lead to her tribe receiving replacement lands. In fact, the United Auburn Indian Community received lands this way. In 1994, Congress passed a bill called the Auburn Indian Restoration Act, which restored the Tribe’s federal recognition (, which in turn allowed them to acquire land in their ancestral region through the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

On July 13, LaMalfa presided over a committee hearing that attempted to interpret and discuss the Indian Reorganization Act, because a court case (Carcierri v. Salazar for you legal buffs) from 2009 is causing frustration for tribes and government officials trying to use the act.

During his closing statements in the hearing, LaMalfa expressed his desire to see work done in his committee that would do right by tribes which lack in land.

“The issue with being able to have land in trust is a very important cornerstone with the ability for tribes’ autonomy, their sovereignty, to be able to do business. And tribes, by and large, have a very special relationship with their lands, with the history there. I, in some small, way can identify that with our 85-year-old farm, five generations, you know, with how special that is to me and my family, which is just a blip in time compared to the history of many tribes and their lands when they go back to their original heritage,” LaMalfa said. “So this is something we need to get right. It is something we need not take lightly.”

LaMalfa finished his speech by saying, “And with what has happened in the past with de-recognition of tribes previously, you know, we have a past that needs to be rectified here. And that’s what this process, this committee, is for.”

The Indian Reorganization Act sets up land for tribes in trust with the federal government. Covert shared some perspective about that.

“I mean in my mind as a native person, if it’s in trust, when do you get to grow up? When do you get to access your trust? When is it actually ours? … The U.S. government enforcing the trust on the land for the Indians has never been good for the Indians. When do the Indians get to have their land? It sounds good. It looks good on paper, maybe, but why do the tribes not get to control their own land?” Covert questioned.

To learn more about the Nisenan Tribe’s historical presence in Nevada City visit their website or attend the annual Nisenan Heritage Day event, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, at Sierra College’s Nevada County campus.

Miles Baker lives in Nevada City.

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