SACRAMENTO—Governor Gavin Newsom today signed six wide-ranging tribal bills introduced by Assemblymember James Ramos (D-Highland). They aid tribal foster youth, create a new monument to Sacramento-area tribes on state Capitol grounds, bolster students’ right to wear tribal regalia at graduation ceremonies, allow a paid holiday for state court personnel on California Native American Day and streamline access to emergency response vehicles on tribal lands. Newsom signed the legislative package on California Native American Day.
In a news release issued by the governor upon signing the Ramos measures and other tribal related bills, Newsom stated, “Today’s action sends a powerful message from the grounds of Capitol Park across California underscoring the state’s commitment to reckoning with our past and working to advance a California for All built on our values of inclusion and equity.” He added, “I’m proud to sign this long overdue legislation to honor the Native peoples who have called this land home since time immemorial and to further our important work in partnership with Native American communities to tackle the multi-faceted challenges facing California. I thank our legislative and tribal leaders and everyone whose work has enabled us to take these important strides forward as a state.”
Ramos, the first California Native American elected to the Legislature in the state’s 171-year history, said, “We mark these important struggles against history but are also mindful of how much more work remains to be done. I thank the governor for reminding us that California is moving forward, and that California Native Americans are not alone in the battle to overcome a history of genocide, enslavement, and other grave injustices."
RAMOS LEGISLATION SIGNED BY GOVERNOR NEWSOM
- AB 338 (Native American Monument/Serra statue in Capitol Park): Creates a monument honoring Sacramento-area tribes in Capitol Park and removes a provision in state law requiring maintenance of the controversial Junipero Serra statue. The sculpture stood on the Capitol grounds from April 1967 until July 4, 2020, when it was toppled by protesters.
“We did not condone the vandalism, but through hearings on the measure and other public discussions, a more complete and accurate telling of Native history occurred. Native Americans have been told by others, “This is your story. This is your culture – even when the history presented to us was not what we experienced or knew to be true. AB 338 gives us a moment to share a different perspective,” Ramos stated.
“When the Serra statue was established through state law in 1967, Native Americans did not have the opportunity to tell their stories about the devastating impacts of the mission period on California Indians. As AB 338 progressed through the Legislature, California tribal people rallied to relate their history.”
Jesus Tarango, chairman of Wilton Rancheria, whose tribe is among those sponsoring AB 338, said, “A statue of Junipero Serra on Capitol grounds represents a double injury. The Miwok and Nisenan people have lived in this region since time immemorial before the hostile takeover of Native lands by settlers, land barons and gold miners who established Sacramento and the state Capitol. The statue of a figure who represents the mission period—another earlier time of genocide, slavery, and other degradations imposed upon California Indians—strikes twice at our history. We have yet to see a full telling of what it took to build the state Capitol and who paid that cost. This bill will begin to tell that history for us and for future generations.”
Sponsors include six Northern California tribes: Wilton Rancheria, Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians, Chicken Ranch Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians, Ione Band of Miwok Indians, Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians and the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians. It is also supported by various tribes and non-tribal associations. A partial list includes the Central California Tribal Chairs Associations, Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Nations, California Tribal Business Alliance, and the California Nations Indian Gaming Association.
- AB 855 (California Native American Holiday for state court employees): Allows state court employees a paid holiday on California Native American Day. Judiciary employee holidays are set in the Code of Civil Procedure and a change requires legislation. Other state employees are covered in the Government Code. AB 855 would amend the Code of Civil Procedure to recognize California Native American Day as a judicial holiday to provide proper recognition for the state’s First People and celebrate their history. It would not create an additional paid holiday for court personnel because Columbus Day would be exchanged for another state holiday, California Native American Day, which is celebrated on the fourth Friday in September. Court personnel are currently the only state workers receiving the existing October 12 Columbus Day holiday as a paid day off.
Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye of the California Supreme Court and chair of the Judicial Council said, “The Judicial Council is proud to sponsor this landmark legislation authored by Assemblymember James Ramos. By honoring California Native American Day, we properly recognize the contributions and history of our state’s First People. This important day marks another step in our mission to provide equal access and fairness throughout our justice system—one in which all Californians feel seen and represented.
”Ramos said, “I was a San Manuel council member when I started working toward this goal with then-Assemblymember Joe Baca Sr. This is one more step forward in recognizing and building knowledge about the history, culture, and contributions of California’s Native Americans.”
AB 855 is sponsored by the Judicial Council of California. It is also supported by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, California Tribal Business Alliance, and the Nashville-Enterprise Miwok-Maidu-Nishinam Tribal Council.
- AB 798 (Access to emergency response vehicles on tribal lands): Authorizes federally recognized tribal governments to operate, inspect, maintain, and drive emergency vehicles used in fire or law enforcement emergency calls to often isolated Indian reservations.
“This bill helps ensure that Indian reservations have the prompt medical, fire and other lifesaving response services they need in a crisis when minutes count,” Ramos explained. “COVID-19 exposed many gaps in essential services for Native Americans that other Californians take for granted. Access to emergency response vehicles is an example of those gaps. Rebuilding a stronger California post-pandemic demands addressing these gaps.”
Currently, publicly-owned authorized emergency vehicles (AEVs) such as ambulances and fire trucks are licensed and permitted by the California Highway Patrol. Tribal AEVs are not included in the definition of “publicly owned,” forcing reservation leaders to use a private permitting process that results in greater expense, time, and reduced access to critically needed services during emergencies.
Ramos noted that when the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians purchased a state-of the-art ambulance, it took more than a year from purchase to operation. After paying a fee to use the private permitting process, San Manuel submitted fingerprints for their 50 firefighters, then had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, pay a fee, get tested and obtain the appropriate vehicle class license. A private vendor certified the ambulance’s brakes and a CHP inspector conducted an inspection on the unit before a temporary permit was issued to San Manuel. The entire process—from purchase to getting the ambulance operating permit from CHP—took more than a year. Those delays and expenses are reduced or eliminated through the self-certification process extended to local governments and agencies.
Ken Ramirez, chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, said, “We are pleased to be the sponsor of AB 798, which brings parity to tribal governments when certifying emergency vehicles for use on and off Indian lands. This change in the law will protect tribal citizens, guests, and surrounding communities. We appreciate the Legislature's unrivaled support.”
“I was honored when Assemblymember Ramos asked me to be the floor manager for AB 798, and was thrilled to have it pass off the Senate Floor unanimously,” said Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R-Ycaipa), co-author of AB 798. “It is so important that we give tribal fire departments the same essential tools that we give to other public fire departments. This bill will help to ensure that there are sufficient ambulances to serve the tribal communities when emergencies arise.”
AB 798 is sponsored by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. It is also supported by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.
- AB 873 (Tribal roster youth legal representation): Ensures that tribal foster youth have tribal representation during court proceedings involving possible removal from their homes. It also requires the California Department of Social Services to assist tribes in implementing agreements regarding care and custody of Indian children and jurisdiction over Indian child custody proceedings. AB 873 clarifies the path to federal and state funding to ensure tribes have the resources needed to aid Native youth and families during legal child custody hearings.
Ramos offered, “It’s essential that children and tribes have the representation and tools to protect these kids as decisions are made about the most important factor in a child’s life—who will care for them as loving and responsible parents. Removing children from their Native American parents and their tribes is traumatic. It evokes the inhumane practices of the removal of children to force assimilation at boarding schools. This is a positive and healing step forward for Native families.”
Pala Band of Mission Indians Chairman Robert Smith said of AB 873 and another Ramos tribal foster youth bill, AB 1055 (see below), which Newsom also signed today, “The California Tribal Families Coalition is grateful as Governor Newsom signed two CTFC-sponsored bills bringing common sense policy reforms promoting the health, safety, and welfare of tribal children and families. We are confident these initiatives will work to remedy significant inequities in the child welfare and education systems.”
Isaiah Vivanco, chairman of the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians Tribal Government, also praised approval of the two measures: “The Soboba Tribe applauds Governor Newsom signing into law these important bills. Soboba has, from sponsoring the Tribal Customary Adoption bill to fighting threats to the Indian Child Welfare Act, always supported efforts to protect our most vulnerable tribal children and youth. Thank you, Assemblymember Ramos and the California Tribal Families Coalition for your work on these important measures.”
- AB 945 (Wearing of Native American regalia at graduation ceremonies): Reinforces the rights of Native American students to wear items of cultural and religious significance at high school graduation ceremonies. “Despite existing protections in state law, local school officials continue to object when students wish to wear items such as eagle feathers, sashes with basket designs, basket caps or beaded medallions during graduation ceremonies,” Ramos observed. He noted that in 2018 former Assemblymember Todd Gloria, of Alaskan Native descent, successfully enacted AB 1248, which authorized a student to wear tribal regalia or recognized objects of religious or cultural significance at graduation events.
The Ramos legislation would require the California Department of Education to convene a task force to gather public comments from people denied their right to wear traditional tribal regalia or recognized objects of religious or cultural significance at school graduation observances. It would also require the department to develop recommendations for school authorities to use as model practices. AB 945 is sponsored by ACLU California Action, the Yurok Tribe and the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band.
Tedde Simon (Navajo), Indigenous justice advocate at ACLU of Northern California said, “Indigenous students across the state of California deserve a public education that recognizes and honors their full identity—including respecting their right to celebrate graduation with the tribal regalia that is deeply important to them and their communities. We celebrate the passage of AB 945 on California Indian Day and look forward to working alongside the governor, Legislature, and Indigenous leaders to ensure that Indigenous students are welcomed in California schools.”
Ramos added, “High school graduations are times of great celebration, especially in tribal communities because tribal kids have the lowest graduation rates of all ethnic groups. Our students have a 75.8 percent graduation rate compared to the 84.3 percent statewide rate. Eagle feathers and other symbols of Native American significance are often presented by a proud community to the student as a way to recognize personal achievement. It is a means for the tribe not only to honor the student but also to share in and express pride in the graduate’s achievement.”
- AB 1055 (Tribal foster youth education protections): Extends the same protections to students in tribal foster care as other foster students. The measure will be named to recognize Judge Claudette White for advocating on behalf of the change in the law. She tragically succumbed to COVID-19 in February at the age of 49. “Judge White was a towering figure in Indian law, a member of the California Child Welfare Council, and a passionate advocate for Native Americans, particularly children.”
The Ramos legislation builds upon the work of AB 1962, a 2018 law allowing schools to count tribal foster youth under the state education Local Control Funding Formula. But it did not function as intended because of conflicts with provisions in California’s Welfare and Institutions Code.
Sherry Treppa, chairperson at Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake Tribe, said, “The Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake Tribe is very pleased that Governor Newsom has, on California Native American Day, signed two important bills to help address gaps in state law that affect our most vulnerable tribal citizens, our children. The Habematolel has long supported efforts to protect the Indian Child Welfare Act and include all tribal youth in educational attainment. These bills move the needle in the right direction. Assemblymember Ramos and California Tribal Families Coalition are to be congratulated on these important efforts.”
AB 1055 is supported by the Yurok Tribe, Children Now, Alliance for Children’s Rights, the California Charter Schools Association, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and the California Alliance.
Morongo Band of Mission Indians Vice-Chair Mary Ann Andreas stated, “The governor signing the Claudette White Tribal Court Education Equity Act into law is a meaningful way to honor the tireless work of Judge White, who was an example of native leadership at this time when California and the nation are coming to terms with the history of inequity aimed at Native people. Judge White was a leader and role model for Native youth, and her legacy of serving the most vulnerable of tribal members, our children, continues to inspire our people to continue her vital work.”
Assemblymember James Ramos proudly represents the 40th Assembly district which includes Highland, Loma Linda, Mentone, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, and San Bernardino. He is the first and only California Native American serving in the state’s legislature.