Wilton Rancheria Indian Tribe Restored to Federal Recognition


Sacramento, CA – Nearly 50 years after its wrongful termination by the federal government in 1959, tribal members of the Wilton Rancheria have settled a lawsuit against the federal government that restores the Tribe to federal recognition. Upon publication of the Tribe’s recognition in the Federal Register, their federal recognition status will become official.

The Settlement Agreement (the Agreement) calls for the Me-Wuk Indian Community of the Wilton Rancheria and Wilton Miwok Rancheria, the two groups of Wilton tribal members that sued the federal government for wrongful termination, to organize the tribal government as the Wilton Rancheria, the Tribe’s new formal name.

Leading the re-recognition effort was Chairman Henry Sangmaster and the Tribal Council of the Me-Wuk Indian Community of the Wilton Rancheria (the Tribal Council), which was later joined by Wilton Miwok Rancheria led by Mary Tarango and Anita Franklin. They directed the three-year effort to settle the lawsuit against the United States government to its successful conclusion and finally restore the federal recognition the Tribe has sought for nearly 50 years.

The Tribal Council includes Chairman Sangmaster, Vice Chairperson Muriel Sangmaster, Secretary Cindy Williams Jinzo, Treasurer Robin Sangmaster, and Councilmembers Millie Williams, Alfred Williams, Sandra Heffington, Sarah Willey and Mia Villanueva.

“This is a time of joy and satisfaction for our people,” stated Chairman Henry Sangmaster. “We were committed to working together to correct this injustice, and now the day we prayed for is upon us. It is an incredible feeling to know that our Tribe is now officially unified and federally recognized.”

The Wilton Rancheria was one of 42 California tribes that were wrongfully terminated in the 1950’s and 1960’s under a federal statute known as the California Rancheria Act of 1958.

These California tribes were offered termination as a means of accomplishing a federal policy of assimilating Indian people into the mainstream of American society. In exchange for termination, tribes were offered promises of vocational training, land improvements, infrastructure for their land and more; these promises were never kept by the federal government.

“Of the 42 tribes that were terminated in California, all but a few have now been re-recognized through legislation or litigation similar to ours,” added Chairman Sangmaster. “We fought long and hard together to get to where we stand today, and it has been worth it.”

The Agreement with the federal government:

* Restores the Wilton Rancheria to its status as a federally-recognized tribe that will be included on the list of recognized Indian tribes maintained by the United States government

* Affords Wilton Rancheria members the same individual rights as other Indian tribe members in the United States

After numerous failed attempts by other tribal factions, Chairman Sangmaster and the Tribal Council were elected by the majority of members in 2003 and then again in 2005 to pursue re-recognition after a failed legislative attempt in 2000. Sangmaster and the Tribal Council took a leadership role by filing a lawsuit against the United States in February 2007. That lawsuit, which was later joined by the Wilton Miwok Rancheria group, successfully led to the final Settlement Agreement.

“Chairman Sangmaster and our council deserve the credit for putting us on the right path to restoration,” Tribal Councilmember Muriel Sangmaster noted. “I have been attending meetings to restore our Tribe since I was a young woman. Thanks to Henry’s leadership and the full commitment of every member of the Wilton Rancheria Community, we have finally regained what was taken from us.”

Mrs. Sangmaster added, “This really is a testament to our unity, our focus and our dedication as a united people working hard to secure a brighter future for coming generations.”

Though the Tribe presently is represented by the Sangmaster Tribal Council and the Tarango-Franklin group, the Tribe must now elect an interim governing Council and adopt a constitution as the core foundation of the government.

The next step will be for all eligible voters of the Tribe, defined in the Agreement as “distributees of the Old Rancheria and their lineal descendants”, to elect an Interim Tribal Council. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) will oversee the election process, certify the election results, and provide training and information to the newly restored Tribe.

Following the first election, the Interim Council will then begin the process of creating a Tribal Constitution that will provide the framework for all Tribal governmental functions. The constitution will be subject to ratification by the same eligible voters of the Tribe.

Subsequent to the election of the Interim Council and adoption of the Constitution, the Tribe plans to rebuild its governmental infrastructure, land base, and economy.

“We are looking forward to working with other Tribal Nations, the State of California, and local, county and city governments to help benefit the region,” said Chairman Sangmaster. “We still have a lot of challenges ahead of us, but by working together we have shown we can accomplish great things for the benefit of our people.”

About the Wilton Rancheria

Stewards of the Sacramento Valley for more than 10,000 years, the Wilton Rancheria will be re-recognized as a federally-recognized Indian Tribe. Tribal members are the descendants of the Central Valley Me-Wuk, whose traditional territory stretched from the Sacramento Delta to the Sierra foothills. After wrongful termination of their status as a federally recognized Indian tribe in 1959, the Tribe was restored to federal recognition in 2009. For more information, please contact us at (916) 362-2100 or visit www.wiltonrancherianation.com.

Federal government agrees Wilton Rancheria’s federal recognition was wrongfully terminated in 1959

When: Monday, June 7, 2009 at 11:00 A.M.

Where: Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel

1230 J Street

Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 447-1700

What: The Me-Wuk Indian Community of the Wilton Rancheria will discuss the Settlement Agreement with the United States Government restoring the Wilton Rancheria to federal recognition and setting guidelines for the formation of an official Interim Tribal Council and drafting of a Tribal Constitution.

Who: Henry Sangmaster, Chairman, Me-Wuk Indian Community of the Wilton Rancheria

Why: The Wilton Rancheria was wrongfully terminated in 1959 by the federal government via the California Rancheria Act of 1958. The Me-Wuk Indian Community of the Wilton Rancheria filed a lawsuit in February 2007 to restore the Tribe’s federally-recognized status. The lawsuit, later joined by the Wilton Miwok Rancheria, culminated in the Settlement Agreement with the federal government combining the two tribal groups into a single federally recognized tribe, the Wilton Rancheria.

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