CILS Celebrates Fifty Years of Legal Service to Native Communities in California

Escondido, CA – October 26, 2017: This year marks CILS’ 50th year of legal services in California Indian Country. Since its founding, CILS has taken on major issues impacting tribal sovereignty such as restoring lands to trust, quantifying tribes’ reserved water rights, obtaining equitable federal funding for California tribes, litigating discrimination and civil rights and fortifying tribal governments. During the last five decades CILS has also tackled tribal termination, Native prisoners’ religious rights, and renegotiating tribal gaming compacts.

CILS grew out for the California Rural Legal Assistance legal aid program that focused efforts on all rural communities amidst the political and social movements of the 1960s. Recognizing the uniquely complex legal issues facing Native American communities in California, attorney George Duke and a young Hoopa activist named David Risling began our story with the incorporation of CILS in 1967.

The life of the organization and its mission can be summed up succinctly enough. “CILS never gives up…always defending and enforcing Indian rights from forces that would cause harm. We are celebrating fifty years of serving California Indian communities with legal services that involve issues unique to Native Americans,” explains Mark Romero, Chairman of CILS’s Board of Trustees. “I could not be prouder of these accomplishments and look forward to celebrating all the legal victories for Indian people that will come in the next fifty years.”

CILS continues to grow with tribal communities in California and serves them through four offices strategically located in Bishop, Escondido, Eureka, and Sacramento. Protecting tribal communities requires constant vigilance. CILS actively serves clients and handles cases in all fifty-eight California counties. The organization is guided by a Board of Trustees comprised of tribal and community leaders, appointees of the State Bar of California, and representatives of the client-eligible population.

A Celebration of CLS’ 50th Anniversary

Pictured: Mark Romero, Chairman of CILS Board of Trustees, handing out gift bags to honored elders

Pictured: Dorothy Alther, Executive Director, CILS; Sheila Quinlan, CILS Board of Trustees and Attorney in private practice; Joe Ayala, CILS Board of Trustees and Attorney, State of California Office of Legislative Counsel

CILS’s 50th anniversary coincided with another special occasion, the observance of California Native American Day turning fifty, which was observed on Friday, September 22, 2017. In honor of our joint anniversaries, CILS and CNAD commissioned a poster to commemorate this historic double milestone. The poster featured a colorful bear created by award-winning artist John Balloue. These posters were handed out to all the attendees at CNAD. To honor the elders and tribal leaders participating in the festivities, CILS made gift bags that included posters, pins, and the history of CILS. The bags were handed out by members of the CILS Board of Trustees and its Executive Director, Dorothy Alther.

Following the CNAD celebration, CILS hosted an anniversary reception at the Hyatt Regency across the street from the State Capitol. The event was well attended by tribal representatives, past and current clients, representatives of government agencies, alumni attorneys and friends old and new. Guests were treated to performances by the Southbay Ramblers drumming group and the Chumash Intertribal Singers. André Cramblit, CILS Board of Trustees member, a traditional storyteller, and singer/drummer honored us with our opening prayer and shared a touching story about why he serves on the CILS Board. CILS also presented a short film on the history of CILS produced by Jack Kohler through On Native Ground’s productions. Governor Jerry Brown’s Tribal Liaison, Cynthia Gomez presented the Board of Trustees and our Executive Director with a proclamation acknowledging CILS’ accomplishments and the “efforts of CILS in removing the legacies of [California’s] historic wrongs and forging a better understanding among our peoples as we face the future together.”

Pictured: Diana Terrazas, Community Outreach Manager, Autry Museum; Tracy Stanhoff, President, American Indian Chamber of Commerce of CA; Nicole Scott, Director of Marketing and Development, California Indian Legal Services; Matthew Kennedy, Principal Landscape Architect, Costello Kennedy; Joe Ayala, CILS Board of Trustees and Attorney, State of California Office of Legislative Counsel

Pictured: Reception guests watching CILS’ 50th Anniversary video

Pictured: Chumash Inter-Tribal Singers

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CILS Completes Renovation of Escondido Office Building

Photo of the front of the Escondido office building. Fresh paint, updated safety features, landscaping, LED lighting, new entry doors, and signage were all part of the renovation project.

Photo of building before renovation.

Escondido, CA – September 10, 2017: CILS completed renovation of the Escondido office building in August. The exterior of the building was renovated with the goal of providing a welcoming and comfortable space.

The Escondido office is centrally located near several Indian reservations and provides legal assistance to individuals and tribes in Southern California. CILS purchased the building in 1998 to ensure legal services would be available for decades to come. This is the first time the Escondido office has been updated.

When starting the project, using Native-owned businesses was important to CILS, and CILS turned to California Indian Chamber of Commerce’s Tracy Stanhoff and Cheri Myron for help. The renovation was completed by GC Green Incorporated, an Indian- woman- and veteran-owned company. The project spanned eight months and cost $118,000 including painting, updated safety features, landscaping, lighting, new entry doors, and signage.

Elizabeth Perez, President of GC Green Incorporated, stated, “We were excited to assist CILS in their extensive plans to upgrade their building. Being an Indian-owned construction company allowed us to understand their vision of a native environment. They were insistent about using Indian vendors, and so were we.”

“The value of networking at California Indian Chamber is illustrated by our ability to find both a construction company and a landscape architect in one meeting,” said Nicole Scott, CILS Director of Development and Marketing. “The Chamber helped us locate Elizabeth Perez of GC Green and Matthew Kennedy of Costello Kennedy Landscape Architecture to aid in our renovation.”

The new landscaping, designed by Costello Kennedy Landscape Architecture, gives a feeling of the natural landscape environment. More than forty plants of twelve species, all of which are native to southern California, can be found throughout the new landscape.

Dorothy Alther, CILS Executive Director, stated, “The building renovation made a big difference in the way the building feels. When visitors arrive for the first time, they can find our building because of the new signage. We brought the native landscaping inside the building by placing plants in both the downstairs and upstairs corridors. At night we have LED lights and video cameras to create more safety. The renovation has improved the staff and visitor experience.”

The renovation was made possible by a Façade and Property Improvement Grant from the City of Escondido, a Neighborhood Reinvestment Program Grant from Supervisor Dave Roberts, a donation from the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation and general donations throughout the year.

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American Indian Probate Reform Act (AIPRA) and Indian Wills

For years CILS has prioritized the preservation and enhancement of the California Indian land base in California.  Part of this work correlates with assisting individuals that have an Indian allotment or an interest in an allotment to better understand their rights and sometimes their responsibilities to future generations. As part of this work, CILS has conducted numerous presentations over the years regarding the impact of the AIPRA and the need for executing an Indian Wills or estate planning of Indian trust assets. The AIPRA, enacted in 2004, provides for a national uniform inheritance scheme in situations where there is no valid Indian Will. The inheritance scheme is one that not every Indian trust holder may wish to have applied when determining who will inherit their trust assets. Unless an individual leaves a valid Indian Will, AIPRA’s scheme may control their trust property’s future. This is where CILS presentations and Indian Will drafting helps individuals make informed decisions. Typically, individuals have specific questions and concerns that they may not wish to voice to family members or friends but that CILS staff can assuage. All CILS offices provide Indian Will drafting for those holding Indian trust assets.

CILS Will drafting services are no-cost to those who qualify for our free legal services. For those who are over-income, CILS provides Indian Will drafting at an hourly rate – typically to cover the cost. While CILS does not generally take on work for individuals who are over-income, our Indian Wills practice is an exception. Most California private estate planning attorneys do not draft Indian Wills; their focus is upon those assets coming strictly under California state inheritance laws. Many of these private attorneys shy away from drafting Indian Wills, in part because of the perceived complexities involving Indian trust assets including Federal regulations, tribal codes, the AIPRA and the myriad of administrative agencies within the Department of the Interior. For CILS, however, this services is part of our common practice – and is much-needed throughout Indian Country.

CILS is available for Indian Wills/Indian estate planning presentations and Indian Will clinics.  Tribes can contact the local CILS office to arrange this service. Individuals holding Indian trust assets, such as allotment or heirship interests or Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts, can also contact their local CILS office and speak with a representative about their eligibility for Indian Will drafting services.

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Anna Hohag Starts Fellowship in Bishop Office

“I am a citizen of the Bishop Paiute Tribe and from the Payahuunadu (Owens Valley). I am grateful and excited for the opportunity to work as a CILS fellow. I know CILS will provide me with a broad variety of cases which will help me develop the skills needed as a future attorney advocating for tribal rights. Finally, I hope to give back to my community and serve as a role model to local Native youth while I’m a CILS fellow,” said Anna Hohag about her fellowship.

August 28, 2017: Anna Hohag will start a one-year Legal Fellowship in September at our CILS Bishop office. The California Bar Foundation awarded CILS a Public Interest Legal Fellowship Grant which made it possible for Anna to join the CILS team. Anna will focus on Tribal Court development which includes providing training for tribes in the local area on how to establish a  Justice System. She will also help provide legal education, consultation, and advocacy to tribes and Native American individuals, work to protect tribal sovereignty and the rights of tribes, and the civil rights of Native American individuals.

Anna Hohag is a recent Arizona law school graduate and a member of the Bishop Paiute Tribe. We are honored to have her joining our Bishop office.
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Ninth Circuit Allows Bishop Paiute Law Enforcement Case to Proceed

Today the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handed a victory to the Bishop Paiute Tribe in its federal suit against Inyo County, the County Sheriff, and District Attorney.  The lower district court dismissed the Tribe’s law suit against the defendants on July 13, 2015, for lack of jurisdiction finding there was no “justiciable case and controversy.”  The Tribe appealed the lower court’s dismissal, and today the 9th Circuit reversed and remanded the case to lower court allowing the Tribe to move forward on the merits.  Please see the decision for a complete summary of the facts and procedural history of the Tribe’s law suit leading up to appeal.

Read more here on Turtle Talk.

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