Marine Life Protection Act Initiative: Genocidal Attack on North Coast Tribal Culture and Sovereignty
by John Lewallen, member, Public Ocean Access Network
January 10, 2010 -- The Marine Life Protection Act Initiative (MLPAI) is a genocidal attack on the tribal nations and native cultures who are surrounded, and sometimes overwhelmed by, the State of California.
Here in Mendocino County, California, are eight sovereign tribal nations. Many more federally-recognized tribal nations live in Sonoma, Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Their cultural survival is dependent on being part of the intertidal and ocean ecosystem in an annual migration to the coast to camp, talk to the spirits, play, and harvest essential food for human and cultural health.
“Cultural Genocide” is a crime under international law, and a morally reprehensible act when done with full knowledge. I am sure the genocidal MLPAI will stop as soon as most Californians see its true nature.
Northern California Tribes Demand Sovereign Negotiations
In October, 2009, the National Congress of American Indians passed a Resolution titled, “Supporting the Demand of the Tribes of Northern California that the State of California Enter into Government-to-Government Consultations with these Tribes in Order to Ensure the Protection of Tribal Subsistence, Ceremonial and Cultural rights in the Implementation of the State Marine Life Protection Act.”
“Our tribal members rely upon fishing and gathering seaweed to feed themselves and their families, and the continuance of these practices are essential to maintain our identities as tribal people,” the Resolution declared.
“There has been no formal recognition of tribal subsistence, ceremonial or cultural rights in the MLPA process."
In addition to demanding Sovereign negotiations, the Resolution demanded that “the State of California ensure the protection of tribal subsistence, ceremonial and cultural rights in the implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act. “
Del Norte County Backs Sovereignty of Smith River Rancheria
On December 28, 2009, Gerry Hemmingsen, Chair of the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, sent a letter to Ken Wiseman, Director of the MLPAI.
“By way of this letter, the Board of Supervisors expresses its support of the Smith River Rancheria regarding the MLPA Initiative,” the official Del Norte County letter read, in part.
“This Board finds it important that you engage the Smith River Rancheria in discussions in order to address those issues that the Smith River Rancheria has outlined in the 11/19/09 letter asserting their status as a Sovereign Nation.”
A Truly Eloquent Tribal Letter to the MLPAI
The Nov. 19 letter endorsed in full by Del Norte County was fired off by Smith River Tribal Council leaders to MLPAI Director Wiseman the day after the Smith River Tribal Council leaders attended the MLPAI Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in Eureka. This Letter Regarding the MLPA, signed by Kara Brundin Miller, Tribal Chair, was posted on the Smith River Rancheria website.
“Our first observation,” the letter opens, “was the very limited timeframe provided to tribes and tribal leaders, which was not reflective of their unique status as leaders of Sovereign Nations. It was stated numerous times during the meeting that Tribes have a unique connection with the ecosystem and have been practicing stewardship of the aquatic environment and lands since time immemorial. These inherent responsibilities to the marine resources by tribal peoples are not being validated or given their justified consideration.
“It is our strong held belief,” wrote Tribal Council Chair Miller, “that if true voluntary government-to-government consultation is to take place without other state agencies forced to the table, then just consideration and time for valid dialogue must be provided to tribal leaders and their representatives. Nowhere, should it be or the position taken that these two minutes of public comment is adequate or shows proper respect for tribal positions regarding a state mandate initiative on tribes. In addition, never should the Blue Ribbon Task Force continue to view tribal leaders as simply the ‘general public.’ The BRTF will find that North Coast Tribes are well organized and will stand together to protect our inalienable rights to gathering, subsistence, and ceremonal customary uses of offshore and near-shore marine resources.”
The letter closed by “requesting that each tribal government directly affected by these regulations in the North Coast District have a positon on the Regional Stakeholder Group. “
“We are acutely aware of this process,” declared the Smith River Nation, “and we will engage by any means available to us to ensure tribal rights are honored and protected.”
The Blue Ribbon Task Force directed MLPAI Director Wiseman to prepare a full briefing on impacted tribal interests and rights, and how these interests and rights can be addressed during the process. This briefing on tribal interests is due to be presented at the coming Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting on January 14 in Crescent City.
MLPAI Genocide on the North Central Coast
When my wife Barbara and I became aware in October, 2008, that the MLPAI was in process of closing public access to ocean food in the North Central Coast--from Pigeon Point to Alder Creek, just north of Point Arena--Barbara immediately asked Director Wiseman if tribal ocean food gathering was being considered. Director Wiseman replied that tribal representatives were not part of the MLPAI process, because they would not disclose the locations of their intertidal and ocean food-gathering.
Sonoma and Mendocino County tribal nations and people, in my experience, have a deep reluctance to disclose ocean food-gathering locations to the State of California. Certainly in justice and probably in law, these ancient locations essential to tribal survival are not ruled by state law over sovereign tribal rights. The state has no right to force tribal people to disclose their sacred ocean and intertidal harvest locations.
At the August 5, 2009 California Fish & Game Commission meeting, Lester Pinola, representing the Kashaya Nation, asked the Commission not to close Stewart’s Point to tribal harvest that had sustained the Kashaya and other tribes for centuries. Lester Pinola said that ocean and intertidal harvest is necessary for Kashaya cultural survival. “Our children are getting diabetes,” Pinola said. “We need food from the ocean. We wouldn’t take food out of your mouths. Don’t take food out of our mouths.”
The California Fish & Game Commission then enacted the North Central Coast Integrated Preferred Alternative, outlawing ancient tribal ocean harvesting relationships in places disclosed and undisclosed, seen and unseen. There was no mention of the presence, or even existence, of tribal representatives or interests. “I defy you,” Commissioner Richard Rogers taunted the crowd, in his closing remarks (dvd available from ).
Genocidal Words Make a Genocidal MLPAI Process
Words have always been the basic instrument of genocide against American Indians, and can be applied with similar effect on Californians in general.
The Marine Life Protection Act Initiative is focused on obscuring the fact that everyone being regulated is really an ocean food provider, a person exercising their sovereign right to sustainably take food from California ocean waters (to three miles out) and intertidal zone.
Until recent assertion of tribal rights, unique tribal ocean harveting rights and practices were not mentioned by the MLPAI. All ocean food providers were, and still are (see MLPAI North Coast Draft Profile), categorized as either “commercial” or “recreational” “extractors.”
Tribal people, as I know them, are personally sovereign and interdependent with the intertidal locations. Tribal people harvest for subsistence and much more than mere subsistence: to participate in world-creation as a beautiful and essential element of the ecosystem.
The basic act of MLPAI genocide, which I believe is a genocidal attack not only on North Coast tribal sovereignty, but also an attack on the food sovereignty of all Californians, is the newly-minted definition of “Ecosystem Management” which mandates that all human beings must be removed from the ecosystem. This genocidal theory, now enjoying marine biology orthodoxy among foundation-funded biologists, denies the fact that people have been part of the North Coast ocean ecosystem food chain since time immemorial.
The whole MLPAI concept of ocean and intertidal areas, free of human take, where the ocean can recover and be like it was, is a fallacy that may cause a lot of ecosystem and human damage before it is corrected. People are a necessary and legitimate part of the North Coast ocean ecosystem and intertidal zone.
Roberta Reyes Cordero and Tribal Marine Protected Areas
“Tribal Marine Protected Areas: Protecting Maritime Ways and Cultural Practices” (Wishtoyo Foundation/Ventura Coastkeeper, 2004), is a foundation-funded white paper that came out as the Central Coast MLPAI was starting up.
My blood froze when I read this conclusion in the Wishtoyo paper :
“Promotion of Sustainable Fishery Practices. Future tribal MPAs within the region should be designated as no-take reserves given the general decline in the health of the south coast marine ecosystems and the general decline in the health of south coast marine ecosystems and the general lack of resource use by Chumash people of marine resources.”
There are an estimated five thousand Chumash people in the Central Coast, and I do not believe they never go fishing in the ocean, or collecting mussels. The Wishtoyo paper advises the Chumash to participate by helping archaeologists study signs of ancient Chumash culture in these new no-take tribal marine reserves.
Roberta Reyes Cordero, JD, wrote a brilliant and sensitive study of aspects of Chumash traditional culture for “Tribal Marine Protected Areas.” Now Dr. Cordero is a member of the MLPAI Blue Ribbon Task Force for the North Coast, focused on bringing North Coast tribal members into the MLPAI process.
To me, nothing could be more genocidal than getting North Coast tribes to disclose their traditional ocean harvest locations so they can be closed as “Tribal Marine Reserves." “Tribal Marine Reserves” have no place on the North Coast.
Tribal Sovereignty and Californian Food Sovereignty
North Coast Tribal Nations are uniting and becoming stronger under this latest genocidal assault from the MLPAI. As wild seaweed harvesters, my wife Barbara and I are struggling in concert with the Tribal Nations to assert Californian food sovereignty, our legitimate and ancient right to be a harmonious part of the North Coast ocean food chain.
I felt sorry for us when the MLPAI closed our traditional sea palm trimming site at Point Arena. Depressed, I felt hopeless, defeated, and organically ripped away from a part of myself.
Now I see our tribal neighbors, who have lived through the most vicious genocide ever seen, extensively documented in “A Little Matter of Genocide” by Ward Churchill. The Northern California genocide has involved state-financed bounty hunting, thrill-killing, relocation marches driven by federal troops, and other genocidal atrocities. Few treaty settlements have been made.
More recently, “Termination” broke up all tribal holdings. Through legal action and raw persistence, North Coast tribal nations have been reassembled and federally recognized.
It is unconscionable for true environmentalists to participate in the MLPAI process of cultural genocide. May we Californians put a stop to the genocidal MLPAI, support Tribal Sovereignty, and emulate the sense of personal and cultural sovereignty of the tribal peoples of Northern California.