A Mono Home - Edward S. Curtis

Big Sandy Rancheria History

In 1909, the Big Sandy Rancheria of Auberry became a sanctuary for the Western Mono Indians, thanks to the Bureau of Indian Affairs securing 280 acres in California. However, the 1958 California Rancheria Act, which aimed at terminating the trust status of lands for 41 Rancherias including Big Sandy, marked the beginning of a challenging period. The Rancheria’s subsequent struggle with termination and the loss of federal support led to socioeconomic hardships. In a significant turnaround, a 1983 court decision restored the Rancheria’s status, offering a fresh start towards self-sufficiency.

In 1909, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) acquired 280 acres of land to be held in trust for the benefit of the San Joaquin or Big Sandy Band of Western Mono Indians. This land, which later became known as the Big Sandy Rancheria of Auberry, was intended to provide the Band with a secure land base for building homes, cultivating crops, raising cattle, harvesting wood, and protecting them from non-Indian encroachments.

In 1958, Congress passed the California act, which authorized the termination of the trust status of lands and the Indian status of people belonging to 41 California Rancherias, including Big Sandy. Consequently, in 1966, the Big Sandy Rancheria established the BSR Association to manage common property and approve the BIA’s distribution plan for the Rancheria’s termination.

Per the plan, a portion of the Rancheria was transferred to the American Baptist Home Missionary Society as part of a land swap agreement between the Society and the BIA, representing Big Sandy. However, the distribution plan did not include provisions for improvements to housing, water, sanitation, or irrigation facilities, despite their pressing need.

The tribe accepted the BIA’s distribution plan without being fully informed of their rights, obligations, the pros and cons of termination, or the alternatives available to them. Following the approval, the BIA withdrew its recognition of the Band’s governing body and discontinued its government-to-government relationship with the federal government. Apart from preparing the distribution plan, the BIA never fulfilled its commitments to the Rancheria under the Rancheria Act. Nonetheless, the Rancheria was considered terminated, and its members deemed ineligible for federal services provided by the BIA for Indians. This termination was particularly detrimental to the tribe’s social and economic development, as it coincided with significant expansions of federal programs aimed at assisting Indian tribes. The situation led to persistent substandard housing, low income, high unemployment, increased alcohol and drug abuse, and low educational attainment levels.

In 1983, a United States District Court action officially restored the BSR as Indian Country, and the tribe’s people were once again recognized as federally recognized Indians. The final judgment allowed members who held land in accordance with the BIA distribution plan to return their land to trust status at their discretion and required the Association’s joint properties to be converted to trust status, paving the way for the development of a self-sufficient community.

Auberry California,


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