Changes To CILS Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Legal Services During COVID

By Susan Dalati, CILS Escondido office Staff Attorney

The CILS Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault (“DV/SA”) Legal Advocacy Program is housed CILS’ Escondido office and is comprised of an attorney and legal advocate. Due to the pandemic, the DV/SA Program staff began providing virtual legal services in March 2020. To date, their services are still being provided virtually. The transition to virtual services has been challenging, but the DV/SA legal staff has met the challenges by assessing their clients’ needs and making changes to accommodate those needs.

One of the significant changes was that DV/SA community providers started to meet more frequently to communicate their current status regarding services and sharing their available resources. The North County Domestic Violence Coalition (currently chaired by the CILS DV Staff Attorney and well attended) started meeting virtually every other week. (They have gone back to monthly meetings). During the pandemic, a new virtual meeting group of providers was formed headed by Keely Linton, the Executive Director of Strong Hearted Native Women’s Coalition, and comprised of local Tribal community partners. This meeting occurs every week and is still happening.  The meeting has been tremendously helpful in allowing partners to keep in touch, share resources, and expeditiously coordinate client services when needed. The DV/SA Legal Staff feels that this meeting has fostered strong bonds with the Tribal community partners.

The DV/SA Legal Staff found that it sometimes seems to take a bit longer to build trust with a new client because client meetings are being conducted virtually. The DV/SA Legal Staff try to make sure the client is comfortable with them before dispensing legal advice. During the pandemic, the DV/SA Legal Staff has had former clients return to them for services. Some of the issues that have arisen for returning clients include; a marked increase in abuse by their perpetrators, custody and visitation issues related to the pandemic, challenges with maintaining sobriety and mental health, etc. The legal advocate and attorney have worked together since the beginning of the CILS’s first DV/SA grant in 2015. They have always encouraged former clients to return for services if new issues arise or prior issues re-emerge.

The DV/SA Legal Staff is currently taking new client referrals. They assist survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and sex trafficking. All of their services are cost-free, and there are no income guidelines. They primarily serve San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, but they can also give out general information and referrals for other counties. Potential clients can reach out to the legal advocate at (760) 746-8941 extension 106. Please leave a message along with a safe phone number, and your call will be returned. Below please find a list of additional DV/SA resources.


Avellaka “Safety for Native Women” Program Office: 1 (760) 742-8628

Cahuilla Consortium: 24/7 Helpline: 1 (951) 330-0479 Office: 1 (951) 763-5547 Advocacy email:

Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Advocacy 24/7 Office: 1 (760) 765-8897

Indian Health Council’s “Peace Between Partners” Program:  Advocate and Therapist: 1 (760) 749-1410 ext. 5249

San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians Native Women’s Resource Program:  Office: 1 (760) 651-5171

Southern Indian Health Council’s REVIVE Program:  Office: 1 (619) 445-1188 ext. 200

Strong Hearted Native Women’s Coalition, Inc.: Office: 1 (760) 644-4781

StrongHearts Native Helpline:  Helpline: 1 (844) 762-8483

Non-Native American Specific Resources:

California Courts Self Help:

National Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence:

National Domestic Violence Hotline:  or   Helpline: 1 (800) 799-7233 (SAFE)

National Human Trafficking Hotline 1 (888) 373-7888 (TTY: 711) *Text 233733

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 (800) 273-8255 (TALK)

Rape Abuse Incest National Network: 1 (800) 656-4673 (HOPE)

Community Education

By Mark Vezzola, CILS Escondido office Directing Attorney

This blog entry is devoted to a concept rather than a specific issue. California Indian Legal Services has made community education a priority since its creation in 1967. In addition to representing and advocating on behalf of Native American individuals, tribes, and organizations, CILS is committed to sharing information and resources related to federal Indian and Tribal law with all sectors of our community, fellow members of the state bar to law enforcement officers to Tribal elders.

Figure 1 – CILS Escondido office Directing Attorney Mark Vezzola presenting to a group of San Diego City Attorneys in 2019.

In normal times, grants allow CILS attorneys to attend and participate in conferences and presentations across California. These are not normal times, however. Since the COVID-19 pandemic effectively stopped in-person events, CILS adapted by educating groups and individuals through virtual and remote means such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other platforms. Read about some of the Escondido office’s recent community education engagements below:

Addressing Tribal Court-State Court Forum – August 13, 2020

The California Tribal Court-State Court Forum, a statewide entity made up of Tribal and state court judges that advises the California Judicial Council on overlapping jurisdictional issues, asked me to present on potential issues resulting from the Supreme Court’s monumental ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma (2020), 591 U.S. ___, 140 S. Ct. 2452. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that the federal government never disestablished the Muscogee Creek Reservation in Oklahoma, meaning the eastern half of the state remains Indian country for purposes of Tribal jurisdiction.

Tribal Will Clinic – October 27-28, 2020

The Escondido office of CILS supervised ASU law students in hosting a will clinic for southern California to encourage Tribal members to create executed wills, powers of attorney, and/or healthcare directives. As the supervising attorney, I met with law students in private to discuss clients’ wishes and reviewed preliminary drafts of estate planning documents. We protected client privacy and safety by using confidential online meeting rooms and observed all safety protocols to allow twenty Tribal members to sign their documents at the Tribal administration center.

Fair Housing Conference Panel – February 10, 2021

Last month, I participated in a panel called “Sources and Applications of Law under Reservation and Urban Housing Programs” as part of a statewide fair housing conference on the history leading to loss of land and limited housing options in Indian country. All planning and presenting was remote thanks to PowerPoint and Zoom.

What kind of community education does CILS offer? Well, this blog is just one example of how CILS shares information and ideas related to our work. Other written materials developed by CILS and available at no cost include handouts, resource guides, and even an ICWA bench guide for state court judges. In terms of presentations, CILS participates in conferences and panels across the country, on a variety of topics including but not limited to the following:

  • Development of Tribal Economic Development Corporations
  • Public Law 280 (for state, local, and Tribal law enforcement, government leaders)
  • Indian Child Welfare Act (developments, regulations, case law updates)
  • AIPRA and estate planning (wills, powers of attorney, healthcare directives)
  • Domestic Violence (rights, resources, prevention, etc.)

As they say, the show must go on. Like all of us, CILS anxiously awaits life returning to normal, whatever that is, and remains available to educate the community on our work and updates and developments in federal Indian and Tribal law.

The Long and Winding Road to Federal Recognition

By Dorothy Alther, CILS Executive Director

The federal government defines a “tribe” as “a designated group with whom the federal government has established some kind of political relationship or recognition.” Federal recognition entitles tribes to federal benefits, services, provides governmental immunity from unconsented lawsuits, to establish and be governed by their own laws, and to come within federal statutes that protect tribal resources. How and why countless tribes in California are “unrecognized” is beyond the scope of this paper but is a topic for a later date.

There are two paths to federal recognition: filing a petition with the Office of Federal Acknowledgement (OFA) or seeking congressional recognition through legislation, both paths are time-consuming and expensive.

The OFA is housed within the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the petitioning process and recognition criteria is set forth under federal regulations found at 25 C.F.R. Part 83, recently amended in 2015. There are seven criteria that an unrecognized tribe must meet to have a successful petition:

Criterion 83.11(a)- Identifications of Indian entity from 1900 to present: the petitioner must be identified as an “Indian entity” by external sources as it existed contemporary the time of the identifications and should be no more than 10 years. This means the petitioner must find an outside source that identifies the tribe as a “tribe” or a distinct group beginning in 1900 through 2020.

Criterion 83.11(b) – Distinct Community: documentation of the group’s social and cultural events and activities from 1900 to the present.

Criterion 83.11 (c)- Political Influence or Authority: evidence that reflects the petitioner’s political events and activities from 1900 to the present.

Criterion 83.11(d)- Governing documents: Constitution and tribal laws that address enrollment, elections, or other internal matters.

Criterion 83.11 (e)-Descent of current members from historical Indian tribe: this criteria requires a complete genealogy to establish the earliest members of the tribe and that all current members descend from these ancestors.

Criterion 83.11 (f) – Membership is composed principally of persons who are not members of any other federally recognized Indian tribe.

Criterion 83.11 (g) – No congressional legislation that prohibits or terminated the federal relationship.

As you can see meeting this criterion requires in-depth research of historical, anthropological, ethnological, and genealogical work dating back to 1900 and for every decade to current times. In compiling this documentation tribes rely on dedicated tribal members and professional volunteers such as university professors and graduate students. Also challenging is when tribes are faced with “gaps” in their history and no documentation can be found. Remember there were periods in California history of extermination of Native people and the destruction of tribes. California tribes and their members during these periods clearly would not have wanted to be “externally identified” or their cultural practices documented and may have been prevented from exercising “political influence” over their members. As a result, a tribe might have difficulty meeting the OFA criterion.

Even once a petition is completed, it can take the OFA years to review and verify the tribe’s documentation. Most tribal petitions are massive since all facts within the petition must be supported by sources verifying the facts. The 2015 regulatory changes to Part 83 attempts to streamline the review process to make the decision-making process more efficient and expeditious. Time will tell.

Given the cumbersome OFA process, some tribes have turned to Congress for legislative recognition. Even with this alternative route, tribes are often still required to demonstrate their historical existence and that they continue today as organized functioning governments. Because legislative recognition is a political process it is critical that there be no strong opposition to the tribe’s recognition. A congressional representative may shy away from sponsoring or supporting a bill if there is opposition from the county or other tribes back home.

Because most unrecognized tribes have no financial resources they cannot hire a lobbyist to usher their recognition bill through the halls of Congress (House and Senate) and lack the political clout needed to open doors to key politicians. However, strong letter-writing campaigns and perseverance can and does work. Finding friendly congressional representatives to commit to seeing the recognition bill through is the key to success.

CILS Bishop Office – Logo Design RFP

Calling all graphic artists! California Indian Legal Services’ (CILS) is requesting proposals from graphic designers and artists to design a new sign for our Bishop office that communicates the existence of all 3 of our legal service programs: California Indian Legal Services (CILS), the Easter Sierra Legal Assistance Program (ESLAP), and the Inyo-Mono Senior Legal Program (IMSLP).

Submissions are due Sunday, March 28, 2021. The chosen graphic designer will be awarded $2,700.

See the flyer below for details.

CILS Bishop Office Logo Design RFP (due 3.28.2021)