The Lytton Rancheria is a federally recognized Pomo Indian Tribe from California’s San Francisco Bay area. Prior to European contact it is estimated that as many as 350,000 Indians were living in what is now the State of California. By the end of the 19th Century, that number was reduced by ninety‐six percent (96%) to approximately 15,000.
The Pomo people occupied lands in the northern part of California that spanned an area from the Pacific Coast at the northern San Francisco Bay Area to the Lake District in Northern California. Their ancestors were devastated by the Gold Rush and hostile State and Federal policies towards Indians in the 19th Century. By the early 20th century, most Indians and Indian tribes from the area who managed to survive were poverty-stricken, landless and homeless. Because of this unconscionable state of affairs in California, Congress enacted legislation to help purchase reservation lands for many of these Indians and tribes. The Lytton Rancheria is one such tribe which received reservation lands in Sonoma County from these purchases.
The Tribe resided and flourished on the land, sustaining itself by farming and ranching until it once again fell prey to bad “Indian policy” on the part of the government. Unfortunately, the hostile attitude toward California tribes soon returned, and with passage of the California Rancheria Termination Act of 1958, Lytton Rancheria, along with dozens of other California tribes, had its relationship with the Federal government formally terminated in 1961.
This resulted in the Tribe losing all of its Rancheria lands as well, and it once again became a destitute, landless Indian tribe with no means of supporting itself. As has now been widely accepted, the California Rancheria Termination Act of 1958 was another failed attempt to cause Indian tribes to disband and assimilate. Despite the hardships caused to it by continuously losing its homelands, the Lytton Tribe remained cohesive and strong, not giving up its claim that it had been wrongfully terminated.
STRUGGLE FOR RESTORATION
In 1987, the Tribe joined with three other tribes in a lawsuit against the United States challenging the termination of their Rancherias. In 1991 a federal court concluded in “Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians of the Sugar Bowl Rancheria v. United States of America” No. C‐86‐3660 (N.D.Cal. March 22, 1991), that the termination of the Lytton Rancheria was indeed unlawful, and Lytton’s federally recognized tribal status was restored by court order. In part the Stipulated Judgment reads, “…that the distributees of the Lytton Rancheria are eligible for all rights and benefits extended to Indians under the Constitution and laws of the United States; and that the Lytton Indian Community and its members shall be eligible for all rights and benefits extended to other federally recognized Indian tribes and their members…”
Lytton’s status was restored, but its land base, now owned by non‐Indians, was not returned to them and Lytton remained a landless and impoverished tribe. The Tribe had no home to return to. The Stipulated Judgment that ended the case was agreed to by federal and County authorities and specifically promised the Tribe a new homeland in Sonoma County on lands to be held in federal trust. Twenty‐four years later, the Tribe is still waiting for that promise to be fulfilled. Almost three generations of Lytton people have not known what it is like to live in a community on tribal lands.
In 2000, Congress passed Section 819 of P.L. 106‐568 which directed the Secretary of Interior to take certain land into trust for gaming purposes for the Tribe in San Pablo, California. This action was taken after due consideration and strong local support from the City of San Pablo. Lytton began renovation of an existing card room and established a successful Class II gaming operation in that location which is limited by law to electronic bingo games and poker. The Tribe collects revenues from this facility to pay for tribal needs including education and health care, and to purchase property for a homeland and area to diversify the Tribe’s economic development. The Tribe’s 9.5 acre San Pablo trust parcel is large enough for the gaming facility but cannot meet the Tribe’s need for tribal homeland.
While successfully operating a casino, Lytton has been forward-thinking by diversifying their economic infrastructure, never forgetting their original means of survival was snatched away. To that end, the Tribe operates businesses outside of gambling in California including viniculture, property management, health clinics and corporate lending. These efforts, while strategic business investments for the Tribe, also provide local benefits to a specific population or industry.
For example, Lytton has purchased a number of vineyards and is operating them in an environmentally-sensitive manner. Vineyards that were in various stages of disrepair prior to the Tribe’s purchase are now being put back into clean, healthy working order. Small tributaries of the Russian River that have long been clogged and unusable by fish are being cleaned out and made ready for use again. Additionally, the Tribe has installed wind machines to use during frost warnings to keep the grapes from freezing, rather than using overhead spray from the Russian River like many ranches in the area. This innovative measure saves water from being taken from the Russian River during vital times of the river’s flow.
The Tribe’s investment in the ongoing viniculture operations has reinvigorated many previously deteriorating vineyards, and its grapes are being used to produce high‐quality wines. Lytton operates its vineyards on a fish‐friendly and sustainable basis, and is working towards sustainability certification pursuant to the practices of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission and the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.
Lytton Rancheria has prided itself in being a good neighbor to the communities surrounding its lands. In San Pablo, the Tribe provides more than 50% of the City’s operating budget and donates to many local charities. For instance, the Tribe sponsors a yearly golf tournament to benefit the Brookside Foundation thus providing $100,000 a year for healthcare for an impoverished community. The Tribe has also donated $50,000 to the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Pablo. In addition, the Tribe contributes $25,000 a year to the Friendship House in San Francisco to help aid in drug and alcohol rehabilitation in the Bay Area.
RETURN TO SONOMA COUNTY
Lytton Rancheria has used revenues from the San Pablo Casino to purchase lands, from willing sellers and at fair market value, near its former Rancheria in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County (part of the 1991 restoration agreement that effectively prohibits the Tribe from ever returning to their original homeland). Lytton Rancheria has concentrated the purchase of property near the Town of Windsor and currently holds these lands in fee status.
In an effort to be a good neighbor returning to Sonoma County, Lytton has reached out to support schools and fire services in both the Town of Windsor and within the County of Sonoma. Lytton is committed to supporting tribal members within the County as well a commitment to all children, tribal or not.
In 2007, the Lytton tribe funded the Lytton Education Center and the Lytton First Step program which provides preschool services, modeled after Head Start, to tribal children in the Santa Rosa area. The First Step program is a family-oriented, comprehensive and community-based program to address developmental goals for children, support for parents in their work and child-rearing roles, and linkage with other service delivery systems.
In 2009, the Lytton tribe contributed $50,000 to the Windsor Fire Protection District and has given $400,000 to date.
In 2010, the Lytton tribe donated $550,000 to the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, completing the renovation of the 36-year old lobby. In addition to lobby contribution, the tribe had been a Corporate Alliance Partner for the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts since May of 2009. Lytton's support of WFCA has reached over $2,600,000 during the past five years . The money helps support the Education Through the Arts program, serving 30,000 students and teachers per year.
In 2012, the Lytton tribe swiftly answered a plea for administrative vehicles from the Windsor Unified School District, donating two new E-Z-GO Model TXT golf carts. These carts replaced recently retired vehicles, and provide much needed assistance to teachers, faculty and administrators across the campus of Windsor High School.
In 2014, the Lytton tribe made a multi-year $1,250,000 commitment to Sonoma County Children's Charities as the Grand Sponsor of the Schulz Celebrity Golf Classic. Children from both Windsor and the County benefit from Lytton's support:
Boys & Girls Club of Central Sonoma County
PDI Surgery Center
Native American Scholarship program, Sonoma Academy
Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center
Other local organizations have received financial support from Lytton over the years. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has received $300,000 (2009-2013) and the Sonoma County Historical Society accepted $170,000 (2009-2015) in support of History Day for students in Sonoma County.
On the federal level, Lytton Rancheria does not accept any federal funding for which it is eligible as a tribe except for Indian Health Service (IHS) funding, which it immediately turns over to the Sonoma County Indian Health Clinic. This Clinic provides healthcare for all Indians, regardless of tribal affiliation, residing in Sonoma County. On top of its IHS funding, the Tribe also donates an additional $600,000 per year to the Sonoma County Indian Health Clinic to use for expenses.