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Assemblymember James Ramos discusses his bills addressing Native American issues

Ramos_Hastings College_Name change 041 12-10-21.jpg
Jeff Walters
Office of Assemblymember James Ramos
Assemblymember James Ramos seen doing the 'Opening Blessing' during a December 2021 discussion about changing the name of UC Hastings College of the Law.

Democrat assemblymember James Ramos spoke with KVCR's Jonathan Linden to discuss five of his bills, which Governor Gavin Newsom signed in September.

Below is a transcript of the conversation between KVCR's Jonathan Linden and California democrat assemblymember James Ramos.

Jonathan Linden: In September, Governor Gavin Newsom signed five bills directed towards addressing Native American issues here in California. All those bills were authored by Highland Assemblymember James Ramos, and he joined me to discuss those pieces of legislation... Just to get started here, assemblymember Ramos, you have these five different bills addressing Native American issues. But I wanted to get started with AB-1703. Could you tell listeners a little bit about that one?

James Ramos: So, AB-1703 calls into American Indian Education Task Force for local LDA's... educational institutions to partner with the local tribes in their local areas, to learn about the factual history, culture, and sensitivity of courses that are being taught in the schools here in the state of California. But it also calls into account trying to look at the achievement gap for high school graduation rates in education in general, with Native American students in the state of California. And this bill calls on it from the local areas to start to feed true history to the state. So, in our area, we just got done with California Native American Day conferences; it's the fourth Friday of September. And at Cal State University, San Bernardino, we found that that project, (which) has been going on since 1999, (with) over 50,000 3rd and fourth graders (coming) through that program... where (I’ve) taught music with Cahuilla bird songs and bighorn sheep songs. We've had other California Indian presenters come out and teach their culture... basketry with Roseanne Hamilton, and others... Willie Pink, Wayne Nelson, Wally Antonne... that have come down and taught different courses on it. So AB-1703 is a chance (for that) to now get ingrained in the school systems throughout the state of California. Those that want to engage to learn and work with California's first people in their local region... to learn about the music, the history, and the culture. Like one of the big misconceptions that we try to break is that a lot of people think that all Indian people use the drum for their music. When in our area, we use the gourd rattles and hoofs of animals for our songs. And so, breaking down those stereotypes is something that we're still tackling here in 2022.

Krishnia Parker
Office of Assemblymember James Ramos
Assemblymember James Ramos seen speaking at a January 2020 meeting of the Select Committee on Native American Affairs.

Jonathan Linden: And so, your fellow Inland Empire representative Jose Medina just had a bill signed last year, it was called the ethnic studies bill, and it was kind of similar in terms of wanting to incorporate more cultural items into California school education. Can you differentiate why your bill is different than that bill, the ethnic studies bill?

James Ramos: So, the ethnic studies bill is also something that was good for the state of California; it brings the different diverse cultures of the state of California together to start to learn about the importance and cultural aspects. Our bill strictly focuses on the California Indian people, which have been left for 170 years without a voice in the state legislature. So there still is a lot of stereotypes that we're fighting... misconceptions about who we truly are as California Indian people. A lot of people that we talk to, even in the legislature, when we talk about (having) cultural days on our reservation, they automatically think that we're having a powwow... when powwows are pretty much foreign to the state of California, as far as true culture plays into our daily activities. The powwow brings different people from throughout the United States and Canada to talk about and highlight their culture. But we're talking specifically about California Indian people... that's what AB-1703 will do... focus straight on California Indian people and their culture, their customs, history... some good history, and a lot of bad history that needs to be told about atrocities and genocide.

Jonathan Linden: And I could ask you a lot more about this bill. But I also wanted to touch base on another one that we had previously talked about, or I had covered was AB-1314, The Feather Alert bill. Can you also talk a little bit about that?

James Ramos: Exactly. I mean, so that's exactly what we're trying to do is raise the awareness of what has been going on within tribal communities, tribal Indian reservations, missing and murdered indigenous women, indigenous persons has been something that has been going on within Indian country for many, many years when I was growing up, and still to this day, and we've been able to bring forward the advocacy, but it's with partnering with other allies that are out there, like the Women's Caucus from the state legislature that helped to move forward this bill. And this bill, AB-1314, is the first in the state of California. It's an alert system. When someone goes missing from a federal Indian reservation or a tribal community in the state of California, there's a mechanism now to trigger a Feather Alert that would be administered through the California Highway Patrol and the tribal governments to implement it. So that then, we can start getting the word out on missing persons from Indian communities so that we could be more proactive to making sure that they come home safe, rather than having to address the high population of missing and murdered Native American women and persons from Indian communities. So, AB-1314 is something that we moved forward in the state legislature this year to start to address those areas, and the governor signed that bill into law, creating, for the first time, an alert system dedicated to the Native American people here in the state of California. And it's called the Feather Alert.

California Assembly Democrats
Highland assemblymember James Ramos speaking during a June 28, 2022 press conference, where he was advocating for this 'Feather Alert' bill.

Jonathan Linden: And so why have this specific program and not utilize any other already existing state alert systems?

James Ramos: Because there's been so much different lack of divide and understanding of jurisdiction, that has led to the high population of missing and murdered indigenous women and persons here in the state of California. Across the nation, this is a problem, but here in the state of California, California is number seven on the list as far as unsolved, missing, and murdered persons from Indian communities and Indian reservations. So, the process for Amber Alert/Silver Alert is a whole different process that goes through the local jurisdictions. But when you're dealing with a government-to-government basis, that still has to make sure that that relationship is strong. And so, by having a Feather Alert system now with the California Highway Patrol and directly with the tribal governments themselves, that shows government-to-government relationships. Other states (have moved) forward with a federal alert system, but that was implemented by the attorney generals. California is the first state where the governor moved forward on it on a government-to-government basis with tribal communities.

Jonathan Linden: And you don't need to get too deep discussing your other three bills addressing Native American issues. But can you give listeners a little snippet about each of those bills and what pushed you to introduce them and now be signed by Governor Newsom?

James Ramos: Definitely, I mean, another one was AB-2022, and that also goes back to the treatment towards Native American women, just like Feather Alert and having that implemented now as an alert system. But the mentality towards Native American women is something that has plagued many Native American communities here in the state of California, from colonial periods to the gold rush, to the United States territories, to ultimately the state of California... and many times viewed Native American women and Indian people as less than human. So, they were able to move forward and really look at Native American women in a different light. And so much so that terms were used over a point of history in the state of California. And one of those words is the S-word Bill. And I'll say it here because the listeners might not know, and I'll say it... because it's so derogatory, I don't say it a lot. But the S-word bill centers around the word squaw. Squaw was something that was used to degrade Native American women... during the time of different indentured slavery, different things that have happened in history. That term was still being used in the state of California, and some would argue with us (that it's) not a racist term. Well, the Secretary of the Interior of the Department of Interior, Deb Holland, also issued that this was a derogatory and racist term that needed to be replaced on federal property. My bill, AB-2022, now brings into light California properties and to make sure that that word is being now erased from areas here in the state of California, bringing full closure to here in the state of California on federal property and state property where that term will not be able to be used here any longer in the state of California... that degrades Native American women. And other bills that we were able to succeed and get through the legislature was AB-1936, that renamed (UC Hastings College of the Law) in San Francisco with a founder that name carried... (Serranus Clinton Hastings) brought atrocities and genocide towards the Yuki Indian people and the Round Valley Indian people in California. (Serranus Clinton Hastings) funded militias to go out and shoot and kill Indian people. And when that came to light, there was a big push and acceptance. Finally, by the board of directors from the UC Hastings College of the Law to move forward and change that name. We put together several discussions where we had tribal people from the Yuki Indian committee and Round Valley Indian tribes... come forward and voice their concerns. At the end of the day, that bill, my bill, changes the name. And it will be called San Francisco College of the Law. But along that restorative justice component, the school agreed to have the law library named after the Native American people where those atrocities were brought into and the counts that happened to them. So, they will be moving forward with a name to change that law library to carry a Native American name. And also, it calls for attestation to the atrocities that that founder brought towards the Yuki Indian people, and they'll highlight that and bring it forward during commencement and convocation so that people would truly understand that component of it, along with 21 other restorative justice components.

Jonathan Linden
91.9 KVCR
Highland assemblymember James Ramos speaking during a Sept. 21, 2022 ceremony to recognize California Native American Day.

Jonathan Linden: And you had more bills outside of just these five as well that have been signed by Governor Newsom, but just to finish up, could you also talk a little bit about AB-923?

James Ramos: So, AB-923 moves forward on that government-to-government relationship, on consultation that needs to take place with tribal government. So fully recognized Indian tribes, tribal communities, because a lot of people think, again, misconceptions... that the only time the state and tribes get together to talk about things is over gaming and gaming compacts when there's far much more as far as repatriation that needs to take place when Native American remains are uncovered during construction. There's also the fires that we know happen in the state of California, and cultural resources are being destroyed. Or the inadvertent discovery of Native American remains at that point. We also know the water, the drought, and different things that are going on, as far as how that impacts the cultural resources of tribes in the state of California. And the forest is something that's very dear to many tribes in the state of California. So, when we talk about the forest and deforestation and what's impacting them and how do you have a manageable, sustainable plan, we have to make sure that there is consultation with tribal governments to ensure that their voices (are) being heard around the table. So, AB-923 starts to set the parameters forward to start to engage on topics outside of what many others might think are only dealing with Native American issues. Gaming is one component, but there's so much more to California's Indian people than the gaming aspect itself.

Jonathan Linden: And for your next potential assembly session next year, if you are reelected during this November election, are you wanting to potentially bring forward more bills that would address other Native American issues?

James Ramos: Well, I think these bills, several of them that we're talking about here today, are just the beginning. No one bill on any one subject will start to solve all the issues that need to be addressed. The education bill, we're looking that local LDA's would partner with local tribes to build the curriculum and have factual history and culture presented. But that's the start. What happens if schools are resistant to forming those relationships? Well, then we have to further look at those areas. We look at the missing and murdered indigenous persons... the Native American women issue. The end result is not having the Feather Alert… the end result is making sure that jurisdiction and policing is something that rises to the level to make sure that when we talk about safety for all (in) the state of California, that includes California's first people in the lands that are there. So, these bills are meant to start the dialogue moving forward. There's a lot further that we have to go to bring resolve to them.

Jonathan Linden: Well, Highland assemblymember James Ramos, thanks for taking some time to speak with me.

James Ramos: Thank you so much for taking interest in these topics.

Jonathan Linden was a reporter at 91.9 KVCR in San Bernardino, California. He joined KVCR in July 2021 and served with the station till October 2022.