Our Fifth Decade of Advocacy and Counting!
Before California Indian Legal Services’ (CILS) inception legal representation for Native Americans and tribes was provided through California Rural Legal Services (CRLA). Over time the complexity and breadth of legal problems faced by California’s Native population compelled the formation of an Indian Services Division within CRLA to address these unique issues. In 1967 George Duke and a young Hoopa activist named David Risling incorporated CILS as a distinct program dedicated to Native American issues.
During the 1970s CILS expanded from just one office to field offices in Bishop, Escondido, Eureka, and Ukiah. CILS took on major issues impacting tribes and Native Americans such as: restoring reservation lands; quantifying tribes’ reserved water rights; obtaining equitable federal funding for California Tribes; litigating discrimination and civil rights, and fortifying tribal governments to name a few. At a time when the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as trustee for tribes, did not act, CILS served as a watchdog for California tribes. Legal support for tribes in drafting constitutions and ordinances was and is an ongoing component of protecting tribal sovereignty. CILS has produced some of the best Indian lawyers in California.
Through the 1980s CILS succeeded in protecting pristine and sacred forests for the Yurok, Karuk, Tolowa and Hoopa people. Through litigation and later negotiations, CILS restored over 30 tribes who had been terminated in the 1950s. The fruits of CILS’ efforts are seen today in thriving tribal communities that were once disbanded by federal authorities.
As tribal governments matured in the 1990s, a new era of economic development began. When former CILS attorneys participated in the landmark case Cabazon Band of Mission Indians v. California and successfully overturned California’s authority to regulate bingo on Indian reservations; it opened the door for tribes to develop gaming facilities and brought much-needed revenue their reservation. CILS negotiated some of the original compacts for tribes and developed the regulatory codes and framework needed for Indian gaming. As a result of gaming, many tribes today have become financially independent and less dependent on government funding. For tribes who continue to strive for economic independence, CILS continues to assist with low cost, quality legal services.
During the last ten years CILS has targeted specific work groups to address: Indian children welfare issues that includes state compliance with the Indian Child Welfare and Act (ICWA) and Indian education issues; trust asset protection through drafting of will that comply with the American Indian Probate Reform Act (AIPRA) and protection of cultural resources; fiscal issues such as state taxation of individual’s income; and strengthening tribal governance through tribal court and law enforcement development. The success of these can be seen throughout California Indian Country. As leaders in the area of ICWA, CILS was instrumental in the passage of comprehensive state legislation (commonly known as SB 678) that extends federal ICWA protection to California’s Indian children. CILS drafted the original California Judge’s Benchguide in 2010 and updated it in 2012. With the trust asset protection working group, CILS was instrumental in obtaining provisions in the AIPRA that allows California Native Americans, regardless if they are members of a federally recognized tribe, to pass their allotments to their heirs by Will. CILS also remains at the forefront of assisting tribes in developing courts and law enforcement agencies by providing trainings, drafting codes and orchestrating statewide conferences.
CILS remains attuned to the changing needs of Native communities in California. Our four offices—Bishop, Escondido, Eureka, and Sacramento—serve all 58 counties in California. The majority of its Board of Trustees is comprised of California Native Americans.
Our Board Of Trustees
MARK ROMERO – Board Chairperson, Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians
JOE AYALA – Board Vice-Chairperson, State Bar Appointee
MERCEDES AMAVISCA – Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians
GABE CAYTON – United Auburn Indian Community
ANDRÉ CRAMBLIT – Karuk Tribe of California
ROBERT GONZALEZ – State Bar Appointee
JESSICA GOODROW – Round Valley Indian Tribes
JOHN HUESTON – State Bar Appointee
MERRI LOPEZ-KEIFER – San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians
VICTORIO SHAW – Hoopa Valley Tribe
The California Indian Legal Services Board of Trustees meets four times a year.
THE ADVISORY BOARD OF CILS NEEDS YOU!
The Advisory Board support CILS’ Board of Trustees and Staff by enhancing awareness of CILS’ mission, striving to increase community involvement, and engaging in fundraising efforts to support our programs and services. If you’re looking for leadership or networking opportunities, membership on the Advisory Board is a great way to get started!
Advisory Board members encourage charitable giving to CILS by overseeing the Annual Campaign for Justice, the primary fundraising vehicle of the Advisory Board. We are looking for people who can provide insight into marketplace trends, make introductions, facilitate funding, and suggest alliances. Our Advisory Board benefit from networking, sharing, learning, and shaping something that has enormous potential. It’s a chance to give back, feel appreciated, and get recognized.
Support From Many Sources
CILS receives financial support from individuals, corporations, foundations, government agencies, and tribal organizations. CILS is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, so contributions are tax-deductible. Fee arrangements are negotiated with clients having the ability to pay.
CILS is an established non-profit organization with over five decades of experience in grants management and accounting in accordance with generally accepted accounting standards. Each year, CILS has an audit performed by a firm of certified public accountants to ensure accountability in fiscal matters. Harrington Group has performed the annual audits for the past several years and submits its reports to the CILS Board of Trustees.
Our Annual Report contains detailed information on all CILS activities and programs, a treasurer’s report, and acknowledgment of contributions. CILS distributes the Annual Report to foundations, major contributors, certain federal and state agencies, tribes, Native American organizations, and to others upon request.
Our quarterly newsletters contain articles on CILS activities and programs. CILS distributes these newsletters electronically to our email list of foundations, major contributors, federal and state agencies, tribes, Native American organizations, and to others upon request. Add yourself to the list here.