CalExit Supporters Relaunch California Secession Campaign, Aim to Create 'Native American Nation'

California State Flag
The California state flag flies outside City Hall in Los Angeles on January 27, 2017. A revamped campaign by Californians to secede from the rest of the country now includes the creation of an independent Native American state. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Proponents of California's secession campaign are set to relaunch their efforts with a shifted focus toward creating an "autonomous Native American nation."

Organizers of CalExit will revise their original secession proposal this week to include a call for the establishment of an independent Native American nation that would encompass nearly half the state.

Under the new proposal, created by the Yes California campaign, a majority of the federally owned land in the Sunshine State would be returned to Native Americans. Federal estimates say that the government owns about 47 percent of California's land from the Oregon border to Mexico.

The strip of land consists mainly of rural areas, as well as the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains, and would provide a kind of buffer between the rest of the United States and what would constitute the new, independent California Republic.

CalExit President Louis Marinelli told Newsweek on Wednesday that this new plan would be a way to "right some of the wrongs" the American people had committed against indigenous people throughout history.

If the plan comes to fruition, Native Americans could govern themselves and participate on the world stage. The nation-state would support itself through national resources that exist on its land, through tourist attractions such as Lake Tahoe and through what would then technically be considered "international trade" with California and the U.S.

California is home to 12 percent of the country's Native American population, which totals about 720,000 people. California has a total population of about 39 million, meaning that this secession plan would result in half the state being handed over to less than 2 percent of the state's current residents.

But Marinelli told Newsweek that it didn't necessarily matter how many indigenous people were living in the new territory, and that the goal of the campaign was to correct some of the wrongs of American history.

He added that, technically, Californians who already resided within the drawn boundaries would become residents of the Native American nation-state and live under its governance. Ideally, he said, indigenous people from around the country would move to the newly formed nation-state.

Marinelli also offered assurances that the boundaries and maps the Yes California campaign had created previously might not necessarily reflect the final outcome. But he said they were a good start for giving Native Americans land while at the same time "not disrupting the life and culture of the majority of Californians," as about two-thirds of the state's residents live in its coastal cities.

When asked how Native American tribes had reacted to the proposal, Marinelli said the group not had a chance to speak with many of them but was looking forward to opening the lines of communication further. He expressed hope that the Native American community would view this proposal as an act of good faith and a step in the right direction.

Tomorrow we are releasing the details of the new #Calexit plan which establishes an autonomous Native American nation (not a reservation) - the first of its kind in North America - created through the retrocession of (most) federal properties in California to Native Americans.

— #Calexit (@YesCalifornia) July 31, 2018

Now that the new proposal has been released, the next step for the group would be to try to qualify for an independence referendum on the 2020 ballot. That way California voters could decide the issue for themselves. To end up on the ballot, the group needs to gather about 600,000 signatures before October 17. And while the group had already been collecting signatures, rewriting the original proposal to include a Native American nation-state means it would have to start over again, with only two and a half months until the deadline.

But even if the Yes California campaign gets enough signatures, it could still be stopped by the state's Supreme Court. A similar ballot proposal that was circulated earlier this year suggested that California be divided into three separate states. The petition had garnered more than 600,000 votes, but a lawsuit was filed against the proposition and the California Supreme Court voted to remove it from the ballot.

Even if the proposal managed to get on the ballot, however, it would still need 50 percent of voters to agree to its terms before it could move on to Congress to become a law or a constitutional amendment.

At the peak of the secession campaign, a poll indicated that only 2 percent of Californians supported CalExit. That high point of support directly followed the election of Donald Trump in a state that overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton.

But Marinelli said he believed Democrats would be "hard pressed" to say they didn't support the radical idea.

"This is going to be something that can be supported by a large portion of the political left," he said. "We're talking about returning land to Native Americans to own and govern themselves, that's a pretty huge progressive idea."