When my grandfather, Anise Bracamontes, passed away, I always felt his presence. My pinky finger would fold down as
if it was broken, just like his was for years. The rest of my fingers would follow and start falling as if they were going to
close. I thought about his wishes, his hopes and dreams. One he shared with me, one I am sure many Elders shared
with their families before they died, was tribal unity. It was not federal recognition they saw as the most important goal,
it was what recent immigrants have accomplished with millions marching in the streets: unity inspired by oppression
and neglect. The years of back-breaking labor has created billions of dollars of profit, but it is not recognized by those
who buy and control legislators’ votes. The possibly passing of laws to criminalize undocumented workers is what
brought them together. For us, it is a federal government that has failed to acknowledge our very existence, has
excluded us from their history books and nearly exterminated us. When will we be inspired to unite?

Over the years our Juaneno tribe has ended up in three groups. All of them have failed in bringing us together. We have
let the rich government wave false promises of recognizing our existence, false hopes of gold and prestige, come
between us. The government has failed to recognize many tribes across our land for hundreds of years. And yet, we
read their hypocritical criticisms of the newly, democratically-elected Palestinian government for not recognizing the
existence of Israel. Have they forgotten about the many indigenous tribes that remain persona non grata here.

Each of our splintered groups has had grand visions of the blessings of casino money pouring in, which will aid our
material wealth, but will not define us. Any federal recognition by the government will not make us more, or better,
Juanenos. The only true way to define ourselves is by accomplishing what has been missing, what escaped our Elders,
what is essential and what our Elders wanted all of us to understand: come together. We are not alone in this endeavor.
All of humankind struggles to accomplish coming together to make the world, our lives, our children’s lives an example
of unity under the banner of peace and love.

If we remain divided, without all of us sitting at the same table, federal recognition will be a hollow victory. I, for one, see
us chasing federal recognition before we are unified. How sad, not for us, but for all those who dreamt a dream of you
and I holding hands, ending hundreds of years of neglect and lies that were preceded by our near extermination. A
dream in which we are told, “You are all here and the federal government recognizes the Juaneno Tribe.”

We are indebted to our great ancestors like Many Horses, who was a great dancer, for showing us our true worth and
the meaning of being Juaneno. He knew that it was about self-definition, not money, not recognition, but our acceptance
of all our people, united as one. And he did not have to put it in words. You merely had to watch him dance at the
hundreds of powwows where he stomped his feet.

And if we are denied federal recognition, who will we be? A divided group of people who failed to stand up together and
leave a real legacy for our children to remember, for history to record. Merely the fact that they were not united. Is this
what we want?

There must be a reason why I feel Anise touching my hand, my finger and my soul. It is about a message from the past
to the future. A message about the desire for all Juanenos to come together, to step in stride, much like my fingers
wanting to close together. Our Elders’ hopes and dreams can come true today, even if the front page reads, “Juanenos
Not Federally Recognized....but they stand united as one."


-Robert Bracamontes
Comment on this article.


"Juaneno Unity"
The real struggle is not federal recognition
(May 14, 2006)