The single treaty that the Lake County Indians might have used as their best legal weapon, to keep their rights and their land, was the Treaty of 1851, which Redick McKee, the Congressional representative, made with the Lake CountyPomo. Sadly, the Pomo Treaty was one of those never ratified. The California Legislature, unlawfully, allowed the sale of Indian lands to private white owners, blithely ignoring a long-standing law that required ‘such action may only be taken by Congress’.

How could this happen? How did they get away with a blatant disregard for the laws of the United States? They got away with it because of the opposition to the treaties by powerful men. These were the same men that could influence future voting on favored bills and partly control the destinies of other men seeking power.

The old saying, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, never was more apt. On top of this powerful opposition, the Natives had the cards stacked against them from the start. They had no good legal help. Most of the early Aborigines could neither read nor understand the treaties. Most damaging to their cause, they lacked any knowledge of a timely appeal to the non-ratification.

The destruction of the treaties intent was further guaranteed. The men and their lawyers, who sought the Indian lands for themselves, used legal definitions for whether a parcel of land belonged to the Natives. One glaring example of the chicanery and outright lies was a 1947 case.

A Final Judgment in a Federal District Court ruled (referring to Elem ownership of Rattlesnake Island the Sulfur Bank Rancheria): ‘…The parcels described have never been occupied, used, cultivated, improved, enjoyed or possessed by Indians of the Pomo Tribe, or by any Indians whatsoever. No Indian tribe has ever cleared built fences, barns, lodges, houses, ceremonial halls, or other improvements on that land, nor have any part been used as a burying place for their dead,’

This legal ruling was a blatant, cold-blooded lie.

There is an old truism. Say something often enough, no matter how false, and with enough conviction and many people will accept it as true. Witness Adolf Hitler’s many statements before the Second World War and the speeches of other demagogues. The Elem fulfilled every part of the legal definition for ownership. Their ancestors lived on that island for 12,000 years; five times recorded history. They held their ceremonies, they buried their dead on Rattlesnake island.

Even to this day, the Pomo have a legal claim (or adequate compensation) for that land. Federal Law supports their claim. ‘No land belonging to the Native American may be sold without Congressional approval’; That proof of ownership has been accomplished by other tribes without any formal treaty. For example, in 1976, the Narragansett Tribe in Rhode Island, proved their ownership against the Southern Rhode Island Land Development Corp. That tribe claimed ‘ancestral dominion over the land’.

Common Law ownership has five requirements;

a) exclusive use and occupancy

b) a definable area of land

c) occupied for a ‘long’ time,

d) a right to the land that is greater and superior to any other claim-holder of property and

e) a better and superior exclusive occupancy than that of any other claimant to the land.

The Elem tribe qualifies on all five points. The courts have defined these five requirements in three Federal Cases for Ownership:

1941: (U.S. v Santa Fe, 314 U.S. 339, 1941);

1963: (Okla. Sac and Fox Tribe v. U.S., 315 Fed. 2Nd 896, 1963); and

1975: (U.S. V San Idefonso, 513 Fed.2nd, 1983, Circuit Ct. 1975).


Next Week: Traveling West

Lake County History. $32. (includes. Tax & Shipping)

Pal Publishing, PO Box 6, Upper Lake, Ca 95485

For more of Gene’s books see Website: genepaleno.com

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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