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You Can’t Rewrite History

Of Reservations and Native American Sovereignty


When I learned that 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam recently advocated to obliterate tribal sovereignty, I experienced a wide range of emotions, including anger, sadness, disappointment, and disgust.

Shock, however, was not one of those emotions. There have been far too many 3-2 votes against the tribe by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to be shocked at anything they do. The trio who consistently votes against anything tribal related is composed of Supervisors Doreen Farr, Janet Wolf and Peter Adam.

I have often said that I believe one of the core issues with the three supervisors is their complete lack of understanding of tribal sovereignty and their refusal to recognize our tribe as a government. Supervisor Adam’s words confirm my belief.

His exact words during the January 13, 2015, Board of Supervisors meeting were: “I think we should be asking to revisit the whole reservation system. I think it’s inadvisable to have sovereign in holdings in the middle of our nation.”

To say that Supervisor Adam is woefully misinformed would be an understatement. His comments demonstrate a lack of sensitivity and ignorance of Native Americans past and present. His words also reveal that he is in dire need of a history lesson.

Native Americans are members of the original indigenous tribes of the United States and were considered sovereign nations from their first interaction with European settlers. Sovereignty predated the formation of the United States.

Tribal governments have unique legal and political relationships with the federal government as provided by the Constitution of the United States. The relationship between federally recognized tribes and the United States is one between sovereigns — between a government and a government.

For Supervisor Adam to suggest that the “whole reservation system” should be revisited is laughable. Does he think that the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has the authority to revoke the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830? This act marked the systemization of a U.S. federal government policy of forcibly removing Native populations away from European-populated areas.

Even more preposterous is Supervisor Adam’s assumption that Native American tribes liked having their land taken away from them and liked being relegated to a small plot of land. Perhaps if the Board of Supervisors could wave a magic wand and “revisit the whole reservation system,” the Chumash people could reclaim the 200-mile stretch of California coastline from Malibu to Paso Robles rather than being relegated to 99 acres in a creek bed.

Furthermore, Supervisor Adam’s comments about it being inadvisable to have sovereignty at all clearly comes from a place of ignorance. It also comes from a place of danger. It is a warning sign that human rights are in danger when an elected official in Santa Barbara County calls for taking away the inherent rights of Native American tribes.

Another history lesson for Supervisor Adam: Tribal sovereignty was not given to Native American tribes, so it cannot be taken away. Tribal governments possess sovereignty from time immemorial.

We are always asked why our tribe seems to constantly be in a battle with the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. Now you know. Between Supervisor Farr’s nonstop opposition of our tribe and her continuous threats of litigation, Supervisor Wolf’s blind following of anything Supervisor Farr demands of her, and Supervisor Adam’s demonstration of disdain for tribal rights, it’s no wonder that our tribe has the deck stacked against us when it comes to the county.

Unfortunately, Supervisor Adam’s words aren’t just the words of a powerless individual. They are the words of an elected Santa Barbara County official who should know better.

Vincent Armenta is the Tribal Chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.



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