Chairwoman Lynn “Nay” Valbuena, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

Lynn Valbuena: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

Dennis Zotigh

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Lynn “Nay” Valbuena. I am chairwoman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. My nickname is based on the shortened version of my full name—Lynn Rae.

Where is the San Manuel Band located?

The reservation is located near the cities of San Bernardino and Highland in Southern California, approximately 70 miles east of Los Angeles along Interstate 10.

Where was your community originally from?

The aboriginal lands of the Serrano people occupy a vast region of Southern California extending from what is now Los Angeles to virtually all of present-day San Bernardino County. Our clan of the Serrano, the Yuhaviatam, originates around the mountain lakes of the San Bernardino Mountains.

What is a significant point in history from your people that you would like to share?

In 1866, the Yuhaviatam were victimized by a series of militia raids that drove our people from the mountains, effectively ending a traditional, migratory way of life that had endured for generations. Through the courageous actions of our clan leader, Santos Manuel or Paakuma’ Tawinat, our people survived this period, eventually settling on land that became the Santos Manuel Indian Reservation, named in his honor.

How is your tribal government set up?

The San Manuel Indian Reservation, like other tribal lands in the United States, is a sovereign territory with our own system of government. Tribal government consists of two governing bodies: a General Council comprised of adult members 21 years and older, and a seven-member Business Committee elected by the General Council. The Business Committee has a chairman, vice-chairman, secretary, treasurer, and three at-large members. As elected officials, the Business Committee is responsible for enforcing by-laws, establishing policies, protecting business interests, and preserving the sovereignty of the tribe.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

Elders have a special place as community and cultural leaders for the tribe. They are recognized and often lead the beginning of events and observances. The entry to the General Council chambers is lined with pictures of certain elders of the tribe in recognition of their importance to our community.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

The tribe elects members of its Business Committee every two years.

How often do the members meet?

The Business Committee meets on a regular weekly schedule, while the General Council holds a regular monthly meeting. We also accommodate Special General Council meetings as needed.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead?

I have a passion to serve San Manuel and the broader Native community; it’s what I do to help people in any way that I can. This began at a young age with my service as the tribe’s housing commission and broadened to a public service career as secretary and then assistant executive director of what was then the San Bernardino Indian Center.

Understanding the basic needs on the San Manuel reservation enabled me to apply myself through the Indian Center to advocate for a better quality of life for the broader Native community. I have been able to draw upon my public affairs and communications skills, which I developed over a 16-year career with the City of San Bernardino Police Department, in elected positions as chairwoman, vice chairwoman, and as a member of the Business Committee. The ability to clearly and confidently communicate to others is something that I have carried into tribal service from my professional experience.

To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.

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