Treaties, Ceded Lands, and Recognition

Duane Champagne

In many treaties with Indians, the United States asked the treaty tribes to acknowledge the boundaries of the land the Indian nations claimed. After certifying their own land, the Indians would say what lands they did not claim. The land not claimed by treating tribes was called ceded land.

Often Indians who lived on ceded lands were not consulted nor gave their consent to the treaty making process. All 18 federally negotiated treaties in California were not approved by the Senate, and all 18 included large sections of ceded lands.

For example, the Chumash villages were located on ceded lands, as well as the land for present-day Los Angeles County. The Treaty of Fort Tejon, negotiated on June 10, 1851, recorded ceded land for much of Chumash country and the villages in the Los Angeles county area, and other areas. The Indian nations in the ceded lands are not recognized, except for the Santa Ynez village, now the Santa Ynez Reservation. Some villages were formed into reservations during the Indian Mission Act of 1890, but others were not. Most clearly the Chumash villages and the villages of Los Angeles County have been overlooked, even though most of these villages were associated with Indian Missions.

The Indian Court of Claims heard the case for ceded lands in California, but while the Court allowed individual California Indians to petition for compensation, the court decision did not allow Indians to file as villages or coalitions villages, which was the traditional political structure of much of California. The Indian Court of Claims was a termination action. While tribes were allowed to file for compensation of land, the federal government did not want to recognize more Indian tribes. Rather the Indian Court of Claims was designed to settle all outstanding land claims to Indians, before terminating government-to-government relations with Indian nations.

While the Indian Court of Claims accepted applications for payment from Indians from non-recognized tribes, it deliberately did not recognize any new Indian tribes, since its purpose was to expedite the removal of the government from the Indian business altogether. Consequently, many Indians were compensated as individuals, and their tribal affiliations were recorded, but the payment to Indians in compensation of lands lost did not constitute recognition of tribal status. The federal government adopted this position without any investigation into the tribal life of Indians seeking payment for ceded lands, which in California payment was made in the 1970s.

The federal government took possession of the ceded lands in California without acknowledgement or consent from the Indian nations traditionally living on those lands. Many of the villages and Indian kinship groups can be documented and traced through the Indian Mission records, and later U.S. censuses and other documentation.

Most Indian village groups were large extended family-kinship groups, and survived through the dislocations of the post 1850 period as extended families, often keeping ties with one another. The unrecognized Indians should be recognized at the time of the treaty, as well as during the times of payment for lands ceded.

After 1970, U.S. federal policy reassumed trust responsibility for tribal groups on a treaty basis. Indian nations living on ceded land should be recognized as de facto parties to the treaty. Land compensation and recognition as tribal nations are part of trust responsibility. The post 1970 self-determination policy should recognize all deserving Indian nations, and provide support for their future economic, political, social, and cultural development.

Indian nations who lost land in treaties without their consent, should be accorded the right to federally recognized Indian nation status. The points of payment in compensation for ceded lands should also be considered a point of federal recognition as an Indian nation. When the errors of the treaty and Indian Claims Commission, and past termination policies are recognized, then the government should assume trust responsibility with Indian nations whose livelihood, territory, and well-being has been adversely affected.

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