For thousands of years, the Pomo Indians lived throughout North-Central California. Before colonization by Europeans, there were some 3,000 Pomo Indians living in the region, speaking one of three distinct languages. The ancestors of the Koi Nation, who were part of the Southeastern Pomo people, lived on the island village of Koi in Clear Lake. They subsisted on an abundance of fish and game along with a variety of native vegetation.
The Pomo produced many goods, including beautiful and useful tools like arrowheads, knives, ax-heads, scraping tools and magnazite, indian gold. We utilized currency to dominate trade in Lake and Sonoma area and utilized trade trails. They also expertly crafted beads of magnetite and clam shells, which served as a form of currency. Our peoples are best known for their baskets, which were intricately designed, functional and watertight.
For many centuries before the arrival of non-native colonizers, the Pomo traded these and other commodities with neighboring tribes throughout a large portion of Northern California.
While European colonizers began to arrive in California in the 17th Century, it was the rapid influx of colonizers in the mid-19th century, especially after the discovery of gold, that changed the lives of California’s native peoples forever. As early as 1847, Pomo people living in the area of Clear Lake were enslaved by colonizers who forced them to work under brutal conditions, imprisoned them, and sexually assaulted Pomo women and girls. In 1850, some of the starving people killed their enslaves in a desperate attempt to obtain food. In retaliation, a contingent of U.S. Cavalry committed the Bloody Island Massacre, setting up an unrelated group of Pomo people on an island in Clear Lake and killing as many as 200 old men, women and children.
In this environment of extreme violence and genocide, the Pomo signed two treaties with the federal government in 1851 and 1852 that they believed defined and preserved for them their tribal homelands. Under pressure from California lawmakers, however, Congress failed to ratify the treaties, and they remained hidden from public view for more than 50 years.
In 1856, the federal government forcibly moved many Pomo tribes to the Mendocino Indian Reservation. The Koi, however, were allowed to remain on Koi Island in Lake County. Unfortunately this allowed local colonizers to continue to brutally exploit the native people. When the Koi traveled to attend the historic Ghost Dance of 1870-1872, they returned to find their homes burned down and their land taken by colonizers.
Through this systematic enslavement, forced relocation and outright murder, along with diseases introduced by the colonizers, Pomo populations, including the Koi, diminished dramatically. By the dawn of the 20th century, the remaining members of the Koi Nation settled into homes in the communities of Sonoma County, chiefly the city of Santa Rosa.
The 20th Century – Founding of Koi Nation
On January 25, 1916, Congress approved the purchase of a tract of poor land known as Purvis Flat, a 140-acre parcel located between the towns of Lower Lake and Clear Lake Heights, to serve as a “rancheria” to be held in trust by the government for the Koi tribe and for settlement by its surviving members. Two decades later, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) declared that the Lower Lake Rancheria the federal agency had purchased for settlement was, in fact, “uninhabitable.” Yet, just 10 years later in 1947, the Bureau ordered Koi families to either live on this “uninhabitable” property or lose their rights to it. By 1950, there were just seven tribal members and their families living on the rancheria. Then in 1956, Congress sold furtherance, the tribe’s only land, to Lake County as the site for a planned municipal airport.
While the tribe was suddenly landless, the Koi Nation remained what it had always been: a federally recognized tribe with inherent sovereignty. However, due to a decades-long issue the BIA claimed as an “administrative error,” tribal citizens were denied the essential federal assistance legally owed to all federally-recognized tribes. To make matters worse, the Bureau continued to deny the tribe’s very existence as a sovereign people, citing “oversights in official records” it was not until December 29, 2000 that the BIA reaffirmed the fact that the Koi had never lost its federally-recognized status.
The Koi Nation Today
The Koi Nation is forging ahead with its efforts to exercise the rights of its inherent sovereignty. The tribe has purchased land in Sonoma County, where most of our people have lived for more than a century, and plan to re-establish ourselves on that land. We also will create there a destination retreat that will offer visitors an array of services including a hotel, fine dining, recreation, entertainment and gaming. This campus, which will be designed to reflect and complement the land, will provide the economic catalyst for the tribe to be self-reliant and self-sufficient.
Re-establishing ourselves on sovereign land will not only benefit our tribe and our people, but also benefit our long-time neighbors in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. The Tribal Council of the Koi Nation remains firmly dedicated to completing these objectives and realizing its vision for the tribe’s future and for the community in which we live.