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California Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-San Bernardino), the first and only California Native American elected to the legislature, received an award from the California Native American Heritage Commission for serving as the longest serving chair. Ramos is a member of the Serrano/Cahuilla tribe and former chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

Ramos received the award on Thursday night at the California Tribal Chairpersons Association. 

“It is an honor to receive this recognition from an organization I hold in high regard for protecting the state’s Native American sacred sites and resources. I valued the opportunity to bring attention to the diversity and history of California’s tribes and to engage in the work of protecting our cultural patrimony,” Ramos said. 

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The Commission was established by the California State Assembly in 1976 as the primary government agency responsible for identifying and cataloging Native American cultural resources. Up until then, there had been little government participation in the protection of California’s cultural resources.

As a Commission, it was authorized to identify a Most Likely Descendant (MLDs) when Native American human remains are discovered at places other than a dedicated cemetery so MLDs could make recommendations for the respectful treatment of those discovered human remains.

Ramos was appointed to the Commission by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He served as chairman of the Commission from 2008 until 2018 when he was elected assemblyman. 

Commissioner Wayne Nelson (Pala Tribe) introduced Ramos at the Thursday meeting and observed Ramos would probably have served longer but for his 2018 election to the Legislature. 

“In his time as a state legislator he has been able to challenge institutions to address and correct the lack of accurate and respectful representation of Native Americans. He is a true champion for Native American communities,” Nelson said.

Raymond Hitchcock, the Commission’s Executive Secretary stated, “It is our distinct pleasure to honor Assemblymember James Ramos as a longstanding Chairman of the Native American Heritage Commission from 2008 until 2018,” said Executive Secretary, Raymond C Hitchcock. “His passion and leadership of the Heritage Commission, fighting and advocating for the protection of our tribal Ancestors and communities is now on full display to the entire State of California. This is a testament to the beautiful soul this man really is!”

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