Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Microtribe

May 27th, 2009 · No Comments

augustinebandToday’s New York Times features a fascinating account of the Shinnecock Indians’ three-decade quest for federal recognition—a quest that should finally be resolved this year, at least according to an Interior Department promise. At stake is the tribe’s right to build a casino, as well as its potential to lay claim to large swaths of the tony Hamptons.

What struck Microkhan the most about the Shinnecock’s bind is the relatively large size of the tribe—about 1,000 members. That got us thinking about the Western tribes that have managed to obtain federal recognition, yet are many times smaller than the Shinnecocks. And in all the land, no tribe is smaller than the miniscule Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians, which appears to have eight—count ’em—eight current members. Yet that hasn’t prevented the Augustine Band from opening up a casino and experimenting with solar energy.

The tribe’s continued existence seems to be the handiwork of one woman, Mary Ann Green (aka MaryAnn Martin). Here’s a a little backstory on her:

Martin said she’s had a lot of catching up to do because clues about her Indian roots came few and far between as she grew up in several cities across Southern California.

Her father was a black man who came and went during her childhood.

Her mother, Roberta Augustine, was a Cahuilla Indian who could not care for herself because she suffered from epilepsy and an undiagnosed mental disability that slowed her thinking. As a result, Augustine rarely spoke of her Indian heritage, and when she did it made little sense to her three children.

Raised by a black paternal grandmother, Martin considered herself black yet sensed part of her life was missing.

Martin’s journey to find her roots began after her grandmother died in Monrovia in 1986. Reading a newspaper article, Martin learned that her mother, Roberta Augustine, was not just a Cahuilla Indian but was the last federally enrolled member of the Augustine Indian tribe.

Martin’s quest took her to the Morongo Indian Reservation near Banning to find relatives on her mother’s side of the family. There, Martin discovered she and her two brothers had ancestral ties to the unoccupied Augustine reservation in the Coachella Valley. In fact, Martin is a direct descendant of Capt. Vee-Vee Augustine, her great-great grandfather and namesake of the reservation.

A far less flattering account of Martin/Green and her business dealings is available here. And there’s a full map of California’s myriad Indian tribes here.

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