Local Salinan Indian tribe applies for federal recognition

Seeking to “recapture” its history and heritage, the local Salinan Tribe has applied for recognition from the federal government.

After 20 years of working on it, the tribe last week sent 920 pounds of documents to the Department of Interior’s Office of Federal Acknowledgement, according to Chris Molina, a spokesman for the Salinan Tribe of San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties.

“We want to get our culture back,” Molina said.

Submitting the documents is the first step in a long process of gaining official recognition.

It is also the initial action toward qualifying to open a casino, but Molina says that is not on the tribe’s radar at the moment. He did not rule out seeking a casino at some later date. That is a long and complicated process.

Qualifying for federal recognition is a similarly tedious and costly endeavor. The tribe has hired genealogists, ethnohistorians, anthropologists and attorneys, most of them high-priced specialists. They have culled birth and death records, and searched for obscure documents.

The goal of all these experts has been to prove that the Salinan tribe has existed continuously since 1900. That includes cultural and political continuity.

The tribe “is seeking to restore its ability to preserve its culture and history, and to recover its ancestral artifacts and remains that are held by institutions throughout the United States and abroad,” Molina said.

Molina said the Salinan tribe historically had extensive villages throughout San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties, and is believed to have existed on these lands for more than 10,000 years.

“The Salinans were one of the first California natives to have been visited by Europeans in the 17th century,” he wrote in a news release.

“With the coming of the Spanish and development of the missions in San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties, many Salinans moved their villages to the mission sites to assist in the construction of said missions,” Molina went on.

“Both Mission San Miguel and Mission San Antonio today reflect the skill of the Salinan artisans,” he wrote.Molina wrote that the tribe hopes to “recapture and share its history with the greater community at large.”

The state of California already recognizes the Salinan Tribe and includes the tribe’s name on the California State Indian Seal on the steps of the Capitol.

According to the tribe’s website, there are 700 active members living in the two counties.