By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
Joe Giovannetti's Tolowa connection comes from his mother's side.
"There's a strong emotional attachment," Giovannetti said, noting local landmarks such as Howonquet. "It's the feeling of connectedness to the village."
His name comes from his father's Italian background that also includes English, Scottish and Irish ancestry.
"We're all more interconnected than we know," said the newly elected Smith River Rancheria Tribal Council member.
Giovannetti lives in Eureka, where his Tolowa grandparents raised him and spoke about the tribe losing its land to white settlers and the U.S. government.
"I guess I got introduced to the struggle early," he said.
Now, he knows of the struggles of tribes throughout the nation and the challenges facing those nearby including the housing, health, education and economic development needs of Smith River Rancheria and its more than 1,000 members.
A professor with degrees in psychology, journalism and education, Giovannetti leads Humboldt State University's Native American Studies Department. He has taught Native American studies there for 13 years, had taught in Eureka schools for just as long and worked in drug and alcohol counseling, as well.
He took his tribal council seat in May.
"It takes it out of the theoretical and it moves it right into application," he said of the post. "I think I'd always hoped to be in a position to make some sort of contribution."
Giovannetti plans to ask a lot of questions, broach ideas, look to other tribes' methods. But he's no stranger to government, having served as a representative for the Tolowa Nation, where he helped petition the U.S. Department of the Interior for federal recognition as a tribe. That request is still pending, along with about 50 others in California.
Giovannetti rattles them off the Wintu, Shasta Nation, the Tsunugwe near Willow Creek, the Miwok of Yosemite. He points to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts that greeted and helped the Pilgrims and only just garnered federal recognition earlier this year after decades of trying. The Muwekma Band of Ohlone, the original American Indians of San Jose, continue seeking recognition, as well.
"They've all gone without a lot for the past 150 years," Giovannetti said, noting the government services that apply to recognized tribes.
Those include health, education, economic development, hunting and fishing rights and other aspects, such as stronger protection of burial grounds.
"Some people might look at non-recognized Native American tribes as just footnotes in history," Giovannetti said. "A necessary byproduct of progress."
A tall, 57-year-old father of two, Giovannetti is quick to show off photos of a new granddaughter.
Other accomplishments include earning a spot in Humboldt State's Hall of Fame for his running speed as a track and field star. He is completing a book on Tolowa culture and history and another on Native Americans who played major league baseball, a project that prompted him to write to 10,000 people and take two trips to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
And he smiles over his shorthand ability.
"I like the challenge of trying to keep it alive, not lose it," he said of the fairly uncommon skill.
But he calls himself a progressive in his politics, his penchant for learning new computer networking and software skills.
And in another area.
"I want all the services, all the funds, all the rights that the tribe should enjoy," he said. "People need every kind of service. People need as much as possible to build hope, to build choices, to find a way to stop that intergenerational breakdown of our people because of conquest."
He points to the promises attached to reservations and rancherias meant to ensure tribes can provide for their members' futures, following previous generations' suffering. He looks to treaties as still-useful tools.
"Treaties don't have any expiration dates. They do not sunset," he said. "Tribes are within their rights to demand or insist that their sovereignty be respected."
Aware and open'
Former council member Bill Richards expects Giovannetti's teaching experience and knowledge of tribal issues to help the rancheria secure needed services, such as economic development aid.
"He's aware of the problems that are going on," said Richards, who also complimented the new council member's integrity. "His value system is right on."
During his three-year term, Giovannetti aims to bolster rancheria services to buy and repair homes, improve education to boost the number of graduates, set up programs to bring college graduates back to work in the area.
He also wants to make the rancheria tribal council government more transparent so that citizens can better understand its operation and take part. That could include adding a second day to the rancheria's annual day-long meeting in the spring in order to give citizens more time to raise concerns and ideas.
"I just try to stay open," Giovannetti said. "I want to be available to the people I represent, to the tribal membership. That might be one of the most important things to be open."