Emergencies highlight critical tribal role

Smoke from the Mendocino Complex fire creates a "blood moon." (Photo: Padelphoto, via Shutterstock)

With the Mendocino Complex fire burning through three counties in Northern California, the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake Tribe could only watch and pray as flames consumed massive amounts of our homelands, forcing the closing of our small casino and all governmental buildings as well as the evacuation of Tribal members and our neighbors.

While it is fortunate the fire has not caused more significant damage to the local community, this emergency has affirmed and emphasized a core tenant of the Habematolel’s belief in strong partnerships between tribal, state and local governments as being critical to a peaceful and mutually beneficial co-existence.

Tribal and county leadership recognized the importance of forging a relationship early on, and we value the ability to continually build upon it.

Although Native American governments were silenced for over a century by failed federal policies of forced assimilation and the destruction of a traditional tax base, modern policies have allowed for the reorganization of our governments and tribal economic development.

This has, in many cases, allowed tribes like mine to reassert their important roles in local, regional, state and national economies and governments.

Tribes like mine exist in some of the poorest communities in the nation. Our tribe understands, indeed embraces, the fact that the health of our members, businesses and homelands are inextricably intertwined with the health of our local community. We feel blessed that tribal and county leadership recognized the importance of forging a relationship early on, and we value the ability to continually build upon it.

As with all sovereigns,tribes strive to address the needs of its citizens through services like health care, education, and public safety services. These programs come at an expense and, without a traditional tax base, tribes traditionally have struggled to generate revenues required to support them.

Historically, gaming was the first major tribal economic development opportunity in the modern era.

Gaming, however, is typically only a successful revenue generator when tribal lands are near a population center. Now — for remotely located tribes like the Habematolel — the internet and e-commerce has finally allowed us to access and participate in the 21st century economy.

In general, the revenue generated from tribal businesses supports not only tribes, but also the tribe’s neighboring communities. For rural tribes, our businesses provide crucial jobs and revenue for the whole region.

For example, the Habematolel Tribe has offered significant financial support to Upper Lake’s Fire Departments and the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, who have been crucial to battling the Mendocino Complex fire and protecting the Habematolel people and our neighbors.

The tribe’s participation in the wider economy has necessarily increased the importance of regulatory coordination between states and tribes.

California has demonstrated a strong commitment to protecting and respecting tribal sovereignty and has coordinated with tribes to ensure our economies are able to flourish. Gov. Brown and many elected officials have continuously supported us, and have worked with tribes to ensure state legislation provides necessary protections for sovereign rights.

Gov. Brown was instrumental in fast-tracking negotiations for Habematolel’s gaming compact in 2011 when a previous compact had been denied by the federal government. Just last week, Gov. Brown also approved several additional tribal-state gaming compacts.

In another recent example, when Assemblymember Monique Limon learned the legislation she had proposed in Assembly Bill 3207 could potentially have a devastating impact on many tribal businesses, she agreed to include clarifying language to respect tribal sovereignty and avoid unintended consequences.

We believe Assemblymember Limon’s wise approach of consulting with tribes is an example of a bright future for state-tribal relations that will be of immense benefits to the state and to tribes.

Tribes are resilient and strive to overcome the ills of adversity of their histories. Tribes and states must learn from the wrongs of the past and recognizewe are simply stronger when we work together.

Ed’s Note: Sherry Treppa is Chairperson for the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake, a federally recognized Indian Nation located in Upper Lake, California.


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