La Verne Way

La Verne Way

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LaVerne Virginia Nelson, circa 1955

Courtesy of The (Palm Springs, CA) Desert Sun.  All Rights Reserved

Gift of Mildred Pete Browne


LIVED: 12/23/1921 – 12/28/1993

LaVerne Virginia Nelson, mother of Tribal Chairman Richard M. Milanovich, became a significant force of change from a very early age.

In the 1920s and 1930s, a rift developed between Agua Caliente tribal members who believed in land allotments (land granted to individual tribal members) and those who believed in communal tribal ownership.  LaVerne’s mother, Rufina Miguel, belonged to the former group and in 1930 demanded that funds from her child’s allotment be released for her own use.  This action would have significant implications on how tribal land ownership would be defined in the years to follow.

At the age of seventeen, LaVerne’s name already figured prominently in the local media. With seventeen other band members, she fought for the formal issuance of individual land allotments.  Allotments were scheduled in both 1923 and 1927 but had never been signed into law by the Secretary of the Interior.  This struggle would eventually make its way to the national level. As a result of Arenas vs. United States, the Supreme Court ultimately upheld the U. S. Court of Appeals decision of April 26, 1945 validating land allotments.

In her adult life, LaVerne served on the Tribal Council which in the 1950s was composed exclusively of women.  The council became nationally known and left a significant legacy of development. Thanks to this group’s ceaseless efforts, the tribe was able to develop, promote, and obtain lease legislation which would eventually allow for long-term leases on tribal lands nationwide.  Previously, land leases were only allowable for a five-year term on reservation lands, stunting tribal development opportunities.  Revision of these discriminatory laws would prepare the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians for future successes on both social and economic fronts.