Muwekma Ohlone Tribal Chairwoman Charlene Nijmeh met with San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan yesterday to discuss a City Council resolution being advanced by Councilman Peter Ortiz and Councilwoman Dev Davis that would endorse the Tribe’s 40-year struggle to affirm its federal status. There is a great deal of support for the Tribe in the Bay Area community, and the Tribe expects the Resolution to pass with a substantial majority of votes on the City Council.
By all accounts, Mayor Mahan was polite and respectful to the Chairwoman during the meeting, but it seemed as though there was more that he needed to learn about the Tribe. Chairwoman Nijmeh explained that the Mayor thinks the Tribe should be recognized, but that he has a policy disagreement with gaming.
The City Council resolution calls on the Secretary of the Interior and the Congress to act to affirm the Tribe. The Tribe was previously federally recognized, was never terminated by an act of Congress, and all of its members are direct descendants of members of that previously recognized Tribe. Last year, a Stanford University genomic study conclusively linked the Tribe’s ten core lineages to a 2,500-year-old burial site in Sunol, CA.
Evidence is so decisively in the Tribe’s favor of an affirmation of its federal status, that a federal judge in the Northern District of California found that the Tribe has retained its sovereign immunity despite not being on the Bureau of Indian Affairs list of officially recognized Tribes.
“My meeting with the Mayor went great. He told me that he thought the Tribe should be recognized, but told me he has a concern with gaming,” she explains to The Muwekma Times. “I’m hopeful that he will end up supporting the resolution, but I think it will pass with or without his support because we have very strong allies on the City Council.”
The Chairwoman was disappointed that the Mayor conflated the issue of Indian gaming with the issue of federal recognition, which is about acknowledging the Tribe’s continued existence.
“Politicians often confuse the issue of our existence with the issue of gaming,” Chairwoman Nijmeh laments. “That’s a totally different issue. Restoring our federal recognition has nothing to do with gaming, but it seems like that’s the first thing that comes to every politicians mind when we walk in the door.”
The Muwekma Ohlone Tribal Council has no plans to pursue a gaming project. The Tribe had a gaming investor in the past, which had funded federal recognition efforts under the previous administration. Typically poor and marginalized Tribes are forced to find a gaming partner to fund the expensive and onerous federal recognition process.
When Nijmeh became Chairwoman she severed ties between that gaming developer and the Tribe. The Tribe is fundraising to support the federal recognition campaign because it doesn’t want to become contractually bound or indebted to a gaming financier.
Nijmeh is a successful tech entrepreneur in the recycling space. Her companies divert more than 50 million pounds of used textiles from landfills ever year.