Nov. 20, 2009 - Indian Tribes from throughout the state held the first-ever water California Tribal Water Summit, entitled "Protect Our Sacred Water," in conjunction with the Department of Water Resources, Sierra Fund, Planning and Conservation League and other organizations on November 4-5.
Ironically, the summit began just hours after California Legislators, with no consultation with the tribes, voted for a water policy and $11.1 billon water bond package that many tribal leaders believe will lead to the construction of a peripheral canal, more dams and the destruction of the California Delta.
The $11.1 water bond and water policy package was one of the hottest topics of the discussion over the two-day period. One tribal leader after another criticized the Legislature and Schwarzenegger administration for not engaging with the tribes as partners in government to government relations and consulting with the tribes on the legislation.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was originally scheduled to speak to the summit participants by video on day two of the summit. Instead, Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman addressed the group, praising the water package passed by the legislature for being "milestone" legislation providing for "comprehensive water reform to rebuild a seriously deteriorated system."
"The $11.1 billion bond will help address drought relief, Delta sustainability, watershed conservation, water storage, and water clean up, and the two co-equal goals of ecosystem restoration and water supply," said Chrisman. "It is a truly historic measure the effects of which will be felt for generations to come."
Representatives of California Tribes strongly disagreed with Chrisman's assessment of the water package. Danny Jordan, Hoopa Valley Tribe Self Governance Officer, said the passage of a package that will determine water policy for decades to come epitomized the failure of the federal and state governments to recognize the senior water rights of the tribes.
"California's current water policy toward Indians is exactly why the plan was adopted yesterday without our input," said Jordan. "The law requires tribal water rights to be honored first. Instead, the tribes are completely left out of the process. The state doesn't have a system in place to deal with the tribes."
"If the system worked, we wouldn't be having the type of conference that we're having today," he summed up.
Jordan also criticized the package for not only clearing a path to build a peripheral canal that will take more water from the Trinity and Sacramento rivers, but for linking construction of the canal and more dams with $250 million allocated in the water bond for Klamath dam removal.
Caleen Sisk-Franco, the spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, strongly criticized the Governor's plan to build a peripheral canal when she opened the second day of the summit.
"The peripheral canal will only cause more destruction," she said. "Our efforts should be focused on cleaning up the water to the point where we can drink the water in our rivers and streams. The Governor and Legislature talk about building more dams, but nobody is talking about taking the toxics out of the water. In fact, in our area, they want to raise Shasta Dam to provide more storage in the lake."
She noted how the Westlands Water District bought 7 miles of land on the McCloud River, the tribe's ancestral land, to acquire water rights to Shasta Lake water. "Why are they allowed to buy some sort of right to water in Shasta Lake?" she asked.
Sisk-Franco said that the peripheral canal will benefit a few private corporations and wealthy landowners while doing nothing to stop the unprecedented decline of Central Valley fall, winter and spring run Chinook salmon and other fish populations.
"If the state decides to do a peripheral canal, there will be a handful of people who make money off the destruction of the earth," she stated. "On the one hand, the Bureau of Reclamation is putting gravel in the river for salmon to spawn. On the other hand, the federal and state governments are still giving permits to take gravel out of the river. It just doesn't make any sense.'
She said that multi-national corporations are moving to buy the water in the rivers and aquifers to continue making profits off the planet's destruction after the oil runs outs.
Sisk-Franco emphasized that instead of raising Shasta Dam, building new reservoirs, constructing a peripheral canal and dumping gravel in the rivers, the federal and state governments should instead put their efforts into ensuring that salmon and steelhead can return to their ancestral waters in the McCloud and other rivers.
"When the salmon are gone, the Indian people will be gone also," she said. "We are now trying to get the salmon around Shasta Dam. If they just make a water way connecting the river with Dry Creek, the fish will find the gravel and spawn."
Mark Franco, Sisk-Franco's husband and the headman of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, pointed out the sacredness of water in tribal culture.
"Water is not a commodity to be sold, anymore than our blood is a commodity to be sold," said Franco, who gave the keynote talk on the second day. "It is a sacred thing. We have to work to keep the water pure so everybody, not just a few, have clean water."
Franco, like many others at the summit, slammed the water package as enormously expensive fiasco that will lead to the death of the Delta and salmon populations.
"There is no way that when the state is cutting budgets for schools, fire departments, health care for children and other services that the voters are going to approve an $11 billion bond that will create a total ecological nightmare," said Franco. "The children of our tribe have suffered for seven generations and now our children for seven generations ahead will be paying for this if this measure is approved."
Randy Yonemura, a member of the summit planning committee from the Miwok Tribe, emphasized that water is a "heritage right" of American Indians even though they are consistently left out of the process by the State of California.
"The water package is leaving out water needs of the people of Central and Northern California, not to mention the environmental impact it will have on the Delta and state for decades to come," said Yonemura. "For them to leave California Indian consultation out of the process is a violation of federal law."
Besides discussing a myriad of topics regarding water rights, river restoration, dam removal and drinking water, the conference participants recommended that state agencies develop a standardized process and approach for working with the Tribes, rather than each time reinventing the wheel. They recommended that the Governor issue an executive order that requires all agencies to work with tribal governments.
In response to tribal concerns about their exclusion from water policy decisions, Lester Snow, Director of the Department of Water Resources, identified five areas that the state of California would work on.
These are (1) establishing a network of communication between the tribes and the state; (2) the inclusion of tribal boundaries in GIS layers; (3) attempting to integrate federal and state tribal consultation; (4) integrating tribes into integrated regional water management; and (5) establishing a high level person in the Natural Resources Agency to work on water issues with the tribes.
Ron Good, the tribal chairman of the North Fork Mono Tribes, pointed out that that the word "management" is a bad term to use for the stewardship of water and natural resources that tribes have practiced for thousands of years.
"The word manage is out," he emphasized. "The native peoples of this land ‘lived on the land'; they did not survive from the land. It means they prepared for 3 to 5 years and they thought in terms of 3 to 7 generations. We do not manage, no one manages me. I manage no one. Creator gave all things life, with the same breath as he gave us. So therefore we all have the same spirit."
The summit participants also took aim at exclusion of the tribes from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process in California.
"The ocean is the same water; in the Marine Life Protection Act, the California Department of Fish and Game has made an explicit policy decision not to consult with the Tribes," according to one tribal representative.
Before the summit, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) at their annual session from October 11-16 in Palm Springs passed a strongly worded resolution blasting the MLPA process for failing to recognize the tribal subsistence, ceremonial and cultural rights of California Indian Tribes.
"The NCAI does hereby support the demand of the tribes of Northern California that the State of California enter into government to government consultations with these tribes; and that the State of California ensure the protection of tribal subsistence, ceremonial and cultural rights in the implementation of the state of Marine Life Protection Act," the resolution concludes.
Britta Guerrero, executive director of the Sacramento Native American Health Center in Sacramento, did an excellent job of facilitating the event. Exhibits, including the Tribal Water Stories Project, were on display throughout the summit.
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