The Invisible Tribe Federal recognition or not, we are the Juaneno Acjachemen Nation (March 30, 2008)
Many of us living today were born into being called by our slave name Juanenos. This is the name given to us by one slave master. And like our African brothers who ended up with the slave master’s surname, my family bears that brand of carrying on his name. My surname is Bracamontes; it is traditionally of Spaniard ancestry.
Being a Juaneno Acjachemen has always been easy, at least outside of the written word. My father, Joseph Raymond Bracamontes, hunted for food until the early 1950’s. Quietly, he brought in 15 cottontail rabbits into my grandfather Anise’s home. Deer was hung on the rafters of the garage and shared with neighbors because it was too much food for one family.
The current methodology of written history has focused on the conquerors and not those of us trying to escape from the onslaught of violence that makes us seem invisible. The majority of people from native tribes did not participate in the rituals and forced socializations of slavery, but rather remained absent from seemingly obvious activities like, schooling, voting, churches, missions or registration drives used to identify their existence. But yet we are the first people who lived on the land throughout the region, as told to us by our elders. My father and prior generations of Juanenos fit this description of history.
Written history has for the most part been presented in such a way to make it seem as if the ‘vague’ presence in documents is the slaves’ shortcomings and nothing to do with the slave master. This false vision of our vagueness in the written word is Him trying to shed the guilt of a genocide with searching for family trees and ancestors that had no written record of ever living on this earth. For the majority of us, we are looking for the impossible. They have us looking for the needle in a haystack, but there is no needle. There is only a sea of hay that belongs to Him.
When the U.S. took over control of the southwest, Mexicans were guaranteed citizenship by the new conquerors. Many Native Americans in the area said they were Mexican to avoid discrimination, which included beatings and hangings. Some of our people in prior generations repelled and fought to their death not to become part of the slave population that built the San Juan Capistrano Mission, while others were captured and forced to help build it.
This is what makes us not so very conspicuous to the federal government. We are famous for our peacefulness and intellect. It is no wonder that the federal government has had a hard time finding “evidence of our continuous community or governance,” especially because the majority of our ancestors lived in the unwritten world of history. We are not infamous for waging war. We have not paid reparations for any harm and injustice done to the people of the world because of these wars. I am proud to be a Juaneno Acjachemen.
What the federal government seeks from our tribe will never be found among current written historical documents. The way American society keeps records is much different than what our ancestors believed was necessary to prove their continued existence and governance in the oral past. Today we understand how the system has worked for those when they conquered other Native nations. It was the gun, sword, or hangman’s noose that they used; the most powerful was the control of the written word. And so, they continue to use the prestigious words, semantics and jargon to make us seem invisible and ignorant.
The ugliness of proving to the new slave master whom of us is or is not more Juaneno Acjachemen has turned into a pool of contradictions and inconsistencies lacking common logic. One inconsistency that stands out in my mind is the use of blood quantum as a standard to measure our Native authenticity by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And it appears on the surface that many of us have family members that were given a “four-four” ranking, full blood status, yet these families may still not qualify because the ancestral lineage does not go back far enough. By that I mean proof in written form that dates back to an arbitrarily chosen year that the federal government deems appropriate. How can a person be given full blood status and still have family members denied full rights as members of the tribe? With or without the federal government’s acknowledgement or full membership into my own tribe, I feel that I was born a Juaneno and I will die one.
All of the so-called criteria used in the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Carl J. Artman document, Against Acknowledgement of The Juaneno Band of Mission Indians Acjachemen Nation (Petitioner #84A) (Petitioner #84B) would make it difficult to prove America’s legitimate existence ( and ). The criteria includes: a) Being identified as an Indian entity by anthropologists, historians, or other scholars on a substantially continual basis b) Living in a distinct community c) Submitting proof of political influence over its members as an autonomous entity throughout history until present d) Presenting a copy of the tribe’s governing document e) Listing all tribal members showing that they all descended from a historical Indian tribe f) Proving that its members do not belong to any other tribe g) Not be barred, by law, from a formal legal relationship with the United States
How many people would be able to prove they are ancestors of George Washington? I am sure the percentage would be low. If we used the voting patterns throughout the country’s history as proof of continued governance and its influence over the population, they would not pass because traditionally the percentages of participants lack a clear majority and would be too low to rationalize true political influence over its population. The majority never votes because they have a sense it is fixed. The reality is that it is a plutocratic government, controlled by the rich, passing laws, rules and regulations only for their benefit. This is not a democratic government we are dealing with today.
What if the federal government asked all ethnic groups to prove their lineage for identification purposes in order for them to be given citizenship? Nowadays you wouldn’t want your ancestry to be from a country that is not a favored nation, especially one that is being a scapegoat for letting too many undocumented workers cross the border into America. What if all the different ethnic groups were cut up in to the good ones, who could prove their lineage and the bad ones, who could not? This is what it amounts to for us, cutting out pieces of our own diversity among us to prove we are legitimate heirs to America’s written fairytale.
Our Elders always talked with great pride when they expressed the fact that we are a tribe called Juanenos Band of Mission Indians of the Acjachemen Nation. Being raised in the City of Los Angeles caused me to be apart from many of you for too long. But I still remember the special days I spent at my grandparent’s home in Orange County. Those days will forever carry more meaning in my life than any federal recognition could.
On one visit I asked my grandmother Clara Bracamontes what were her thoughts on machismo (machismo is the domination of women). She asked me to explain what that word meant. Clara said that in her marriage with Anise, her uncle, they were equals when it came to making decisions. They shared responsibilities in that way. These views were very different than my own mother’s Mexican heritage, which place the men above women in the traditional western patriarchal way.
My grandmother Clara turned the table on me by asking a question about marriage: “Are you ready to be faithful to just one woman?” I told her I was. And in that moment I felt more committed to my wife and spending our entire lives together than any piece of paper could make me feel. This moment with her, an oral exchange not recorded by any written government document was significant to my life. This gave awareness and meaning far beyond certificates of authenticity; it placed me in the center of my roots that make me Juaneno and misrepresented in the written word. Clara and Anise made me look at life differently and so these thoughts of theirs became mine. America didn’t have it in writing, but it is my life. It is the life of all of us, who are proud to be the people America can’t prove were and still are here before them in plain sight.
Any federal recognition of the Juaneno Tribe would be an admission of guilt and wrongdoing. The government is pretending that they paid us for the land and this recognition is something special they are doing for us. If they only give their brand of legitimacy to a few of us it doesn’t count; they need to embrace us all. But we all know that the two claims payments that totaled 800 dollars for each person for land and mineral rights in the past amounted to robbery. Those people on that much longer list and their families would be a more legitimate group, as the State of California acknowledged as the true people of the Juaneno Acjachemen Nation. However, this is the kind of robbery that this federal government uses to make it seem that what it is doing is within the legal definition of the law. This way they can profess a sense of high morality, when the opposite is so true.
This is not the end. It is but a page, a blink of an eye in all of humankind’s history. We know that written history is a tiny slice of humankind’s total history on this planet we call Earth. Even though the traditional bureaucrats will present us in a totally dishonest way, our collective Native hands will never forget our people’s oral past and who we really are.
Peace, Robert Bracamontes Yu-va'-tal 'A'lla-mal (Black Crow) My “Native Hands” Will forever be a Voting member of the Acjachemen Nation, Juaneno Tribe