The text below is a brief introduction to the Tsnungwe people, our history, our culture, and recent projects. This narrative was written by members of the Tsnungwe Council, and adopted by our Elders Council.
It is said that the Immortals lived at Hleldin, "the place where the rivers come together" in the days before the first men. When the Immortals left to live beyond the ocean, they left Hleldin for the first men. For thousands of years life in Hleldin, principal village of the Tsnungwe, remained essentially the same.
The climate was mild, food plentiful, and the Tsnungwe flourished. The people grew rich in number, culture, and wealth. Hleldin became a cultural and economic center for tribes along the Klamath, Trinity, and South Fork Rivers. The Tsnungwe spoke a Hupa dialect, in the Athabascan family. Since Hleldin was an important trade center, the Tsnungwe often spoke five or six languages: Chimariko, Wintun, Redwood, Wiyot, Hoopa Valley and South Fork Hupa. Goods from far away were brought to Hleldin: dentalia from the state of Washington, obsidian from the Modoc Plateau, and redwood canoes from the coast were major trade items.
Imagine the sight that greeted the Jedediah Smith or Josiah Gregg Parties when hundreds of people watched them from the banks of the South Fork of the Trinity River. Within a year of Gregg's arrival there were 2000 miners along the Trinity River. Hoping to avoid conflict, U.S. Army Colonel Redick McKee signed the Treaty of Lower Klamath on October 6, 1851. A number of tribes, including the Tsnungwe, were parties to this agreement. But, the treaty was neither honored nor ratified.
An influx of whites in heavily populated Tsnungwe areas resulted in conflicts as the whites pushed out the Indians. In 1853, a mail carrier was shot and a settler's home in Burnt Ranch was attacked. White retaliation for these acts included killing Indians and burning villages in Hayfork and along the Trinity River. Permanent white settlements and roads began to appear. A ferry was licensed at the mouth of the South Fork in 1857. Battles occurred between the whites and Tsnungwe. By 1864, military and volunteer patrols insured that the territory was rid of Tsnungwe; they had been killed, removed to Hoopa, or hid in the hills. That same year, the establishment of the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation was authorized. An Indian agency, school, medical care, and exclusive right to the Hoopa Valley and the hills nearby were promised in the 1864 "Treaty of Peace" to the Indians, including the Tsnungwe, if they gave up their guns, ammunition, and did not leave the reservation without permission.
Eventually there was an end to the violence, but conditions on the Hoopa Valley Reservation were deplorable. A longing for home during this difficult time and the living conditions moved many Tsnungwe to quietly return to their homelands. Fortunately, the Tsnungwe met no resistance. Among these families were: Saxeys, Petes, Dartts, and Campbells.
Upon their return they found that village and home sites had been homesteaded by white miners and settlers. Tsnungwe families built homes near original villages and began to grow and gather food, raise families, and restore order.
This period would have meant the end of a weaker people but strong family and leadership traditions allowed the Tsnungwe to work together and hold onto the values. As in days of old, the Tsnungwe lived in extended families. Traditionally, family units resided in separate villages. Generations lived together: grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters, and children. Each community was governed with one or two people who were looked to for leadership in dealing with other villages and in ceremonies, trade, warfare, and shared territory for hunting, fishing, and gathering. Community leaders were typically men who had achieved high social status. Our villages were destroyed, but the family-based leadership remained intact.
To illustrate our governing system, the leadership in one of our family units, the Saxey family, will serve as an example. We will begin with Saxey Kidd, who led his family back to the homeland in the late 1800s. The family leadership was passed from him through the generations first to James Chesbro, then Ray White, followed by Wes, Charles, Phillip, and John Ammon who are active in the elders council of our modern, organized tribal government.
Saxey Kidd was born at Hleldin before the Gold Rush and grew up at the mouth of South Fork during the years of white/Indian conflict. Although he was relocated to the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in the late 1850s, he later returned to his home with his family. At his ranch along the South Fork, he successfully raised a large, extended family on the Saxey Ranch. He was an influential religious, political, and cultural leader. Around the turn of the century, the anthropologist Pliny Goddard wrote of Saxey's religious leadership in the Hupa ceremonies, and also recorded a number of stories from Saxey that appear in "Hupa Texts". An example of his social leadership was joint ownership of our fishing hole where Madden Creek meets the South Fork. This ownership could be purchased, exchanged, and passed on to family members.
The leadership of Saxey Kidd was followed in the next generation by Saxey's son-in-law James Chesbro. James Chesbro was an important figure to the white and Indian communities in the southern Hupa territory. Before the age of automobiles, he was responsible for leading pack trains through our area. Another example of his political leadership in our community was his involvement with enrolling the Indians of California in 1928. Elderly, respected citizens of the Indian communities were needed to sign an affidavit for each applicant. Our people were enrolled as Hupa Indians whose ancestors resided in Humboldt and Trinity counties when the treaties were signed. James Chesbro performed the important duty of certifying these applications. Chesbro also figured prominently in religious, cultural, and social areas. Saxey Kidd chose to pass ceremonial regalia to Chesbro who later led at least one Brush Dance ceremony near his home in Burnt Ranch. In the 1920s, the anthropologist C. Hart Merriam visited Chesbro in Burnt Ranch, recording ethnographic data on the Hupa Indians.
Leadership of the following generation was provided by Ray White, grandson of Saxey Kidd. Ray White grew up in the age when our people first started attending schools. As one of the older children who was sent to Chemawa Indian School in Oregon, he assumed a role of social leadership for the children of our area. He was highly respected at Chemawa, and was considered one of its best students. Chemawa gave Ray the responsibility or arranging and supervising transportation for our children who ventured so far from home. After completing his education and serving in World War I, he returned home and was an active community leader. An example of this leadership was serving on a local school board. Ray White was also involved with the religion and culture, participating in ceremonies.
The generation following Ray White includes members of our current elders council. Wes, Charles, Phillip, and John Ammon, all great-grandchildren of Saxey Kidd, are members of the Tsnungwe elders council along with elders of other Tsnungwe families. Our tribal chairperson is Paul Ammon, great-great grandson of Saxey Kidd. Together they perform the most important role in our current, formalized government by giving us guidance in moving forward.
Our constitution is based on the "old way", with the well respected elders having control over tribal affairs. Our political leadership is formed by two councils: a general council composed of all adult tribal members, and an elders council composed of family leaders from the Tsnungwe families. The general council is responsible for proposing ideas/projects and putting them into action, but only if the elders approve of the proposals. Social and cultural projects are a vital part of our tribal affairs. Dan Ammon, Dena Magdaleno, Mike Ammon, and Jim Ammon, all members of the Tsnungwe general council, are involved in coordinating tribal meetings, researching our history, and planning cultural events.
In addition to our traditional family-based governance system, our continuing Indian identity has helped us remain a strong community over the years. Coming from strong tribal leaders such as Saxey Kidd, James Chesbro, and Ray White, our continued Indian identity is evident through previous tribal recognition by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and by our involvement with the Indian Board of Co-Operation, the Jessie Short lawsuit, the Indians of California, the State Indian Museum, the protection of the village site of Hleldin, and various ongoing programs.
After re-establishing the Tsnungwe community in our homeland, the Bureau of Indian Affairs recognized our tribe as one of the "landless bands and tribes of California". C.E. Kelsey, Secretary for the Northern California Indian Association, recognized the Tsnungwe in his 1905-1906 list of landless bands and tribes as the "Trinity" tribe of Humboldt County. Kelsey was appointed Special Indian Agent for California by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to help identify the landless bands and tribes. The BIA's "Indian Map of California", from their 1912 California Special Records, include the Trinity Tribe located in Humboldt County near the Trinity County line, and just south of the Hoopa Valley Reservation. This spot is marked as an "Indian Rancheria." This previous recognition of the Tsnungwe was reaffirmed by the BIA in 1927 by Sacramento Superintendent L.A. Dorrington and Commissioner of Indian Affairs E.B. Merritt when they again referred to the Burnt Ranch band as one of "landless bands and tribes of California".
During the 1920s, a Tsnungwe chapter of Frederick G. Collett's Indian Board of Co-Operation was established in our territory. Chapter meetings were regularly held from this time through the 1950s. Our tribal members were very active during this period in inter-tribal, state and national politics mainly concerning payment for the lands of California.
The Jessie Short Case was brought about because of unfairness in the Bureau of Indian Affairs' treatment of Indians in our area. The Jessie Short Case began in 1963 when individuals of neighboring tribes of the Hoopa Valley Tribe sued the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Hoopa Valley Tribe for rights and benefits on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation. Our people joined in this lawsuit because of our connections through the 1851 and 1864 treaties. Consistent with our traditional governing structure, Tsnungwe family leaders helped to organize all the papers and eventually represented their families in court. Although the case is still unsettled, nearly all Tsnungwe Indians were disqualified because our ancestors lived in southern Hupa territory (as we continue to do), and not on the Hoopa Valley Reservation.
Another instance of our Indian identity is as Indians of California. Our people are enrolled with the Bureau of Indian Affairs as Indians of California. This goes back to the work that was done in 1928 by leaders such as James Chesbro. In 1972, we were finally paid a small sum for the United States taking the lands of California. Another benefit from being enrolled as Indians of California is eligibility for Indian Health Services.
Along with previous tribal recognition, the Indian Board of Co-Operation, the Jessie Short lawsuit, and enrollment with the BIA as Indians of California, our Indian identity is reflected in our relationship with the California State Indian Museum. In 1977, Paul Taylor, grandson of Saxey Kidd, donated ceremonial obsidian blades, dentalium and bead necklaces that had been passed down to him. It was his desire for the items to be in a place where many people could appreciate these symbols of our pride. Upon our request, the museum has arranged special private showings for our people and explained the steps they take to preserve our donation.
The Tsnungwe community was faced with a very serious situation during 1987 and 1988 when a bridge was built over the mouth of the South Fork, at the site of our old village of Hleldin.
As "most likely descendants", people from our community worked as "Indian observers" to protect what remained of the Hleldin site. We worked with Cal-Trans and the Native American Heritage Commission in their efforts to complete the new bridge while preserving our ancestral lands. Upon completion of the bridge, it was dedicated as a memorial to the village of Hleldin.
We continue our strong Indian identity through participation in a number of ongoing programs and services. Cultural programs include Hupa language classes with Hoopa Valley, and the Title V Indian Education and Cultural Program in the schools for our children. Social programs include health services at the Trinity Rural Indian Health Project in Weaverville, where one of our elders, Violet Warren, is on the board of directors. Also, we benefit through Indian scholarship programs at the college level. And looking to the future, we continue to work with the Northern California Indian Development Council (NCIDC). Our tribe is a member organization of NCIDC and our tribal representative is one of the Council members to NCIDC. Through NCIDC, our tribe has received Administration for Native Americans funding to assist us in restoring our federally recognized tribal status, i.e. "status clarification".
As well as providing strength for the Tsnungwe community to persist, our traditional family based governance system and continuous Indian identity demonstrate that we meet many of the requirements by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be granted status as a federally recognized tribe. The remaining requirements are easily answered. We have a governing document, our constitution. We also have a current roll of tribal members that have completed enrollment forms and have been approved by the elders council. We are not a splinter group: no Tsnungwe tribal members are enrolled with any federally recognized tribe. And finally, we were never terminated by Congress. Therefore, the Tsnungwe do meet the BIA's criteria for tribal recognition.
Given that we meet this criteria, and in light of our previous tribal recognition, an expedient legislative solution is encouraged to restore our
tribal status. As noted above, we were definitely recognized by the BIA in the 1910s and 1920s by Special Agent Kelsey, Superintendent Dorrington, and Commissioner Merritt. But as with many other tribes across the state, we were never allowed to organize under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934. Legislation extending the IRA to the previously recognized tribes of California would provide a simple and cost-effective solution to clarifying our tribal status.
We have spent countless hours and travelled many miles in working to restore our federally recognized status. Our people were murdered; our land was stolen; our tribal rights have been taken away; our treaties were never ratified. And yet, we are still here, living on our homeland as we have done for countless generations. We deserve the respect as the people of our land ... and we ask for that recognition.