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Federal agency to reassess Juaneño Band of Mission Indian sovereignty

By Brian Park

The Juaneño Band of Mission Indians received encouraging news this month regarding their continuing efforts to attain federal recognition.

In a letter sent Tuesday, December 3, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell supported the Juaneños’ petition for reconsideration as a sovereign nation. The Juaneños—also known as the Acjachemen Nation—were denied federal recognition in 2011 by the Bureau of Indian Affair’s Office of Federal Acknowledgement, saying that the tribe failed to meet genealogical, historical and other criteria.

Following a petition for appeal sent by the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, on behalf of the Juaneños, Jewell found errors in the bureau’s final assessment, primarily the bureau’s own acknowledgement that they had overlooked some evidence. Jewell recommended the Department of Interior reconsider the Juaneños’ petition and suspend consideration until revisions are taken into account.

“This is incredible news for our Nation,” said Juaneño Tribal Council Chairwoman Teresa Romero in a statement. “On behalf of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, I say ‘Om paloov’ (thank you) to Secretary Jewell for her decision.”

Although the tribe is recognized by the state, tribal leaders have fought for federal status for more than 30 years. Tribes that receive federal recognition are considered sovereign nations and may buy land, on which they could govern themselves and receive federal aid and protection.

With 1,941 current members, the Juaneños are the original inhabitants of San Juan Capistrano, as well as parts of Orange, Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside counties. Members of the San Juan Capistrano-based tribe helped to build the Mission. Unsuccessful attempts at federal recognition in the past, as well as in-fighting, have led to the fracture and the formation of factions in San Juan and throughout the county.

The Department of Interior has 120 days from the date of the letter to reach a final decision on reconsideration of the petition.

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