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MLPA Initiative Violates American Indian Religious Freedom Act, UN Declaration


By: Dan Bacher

May 26, 2010 - Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative has brazenly violated the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, passed by the UN General Assembly in September 2007.

Passed by both houses of Congress, AIRFA became law on August 11, 1978, spurred by the American Indian Movement's Longest Walk from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. that year. The act recognized the "inherent right" of American citizens to religious freedom; admitted that in the past the U.S. government had not protected the religious freedom of American Indians; proclaimed the "indispensable and irreplaceable" role of religion "as an integral part of Indian life"; and called upon governmental agencies to "protect and preserve" for American Indians their inherent right to practice their traditional religions.

AIRFA states, "it shall be the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites."

The MLPA process has violated this historic law by banning the Kashia Pomo Tribe from practicing their religion by gathering seaweed and shellfish and conducting ceremonies at their sacred site, Danaka, in northern Sonoma County. In the Kashia Pomo's creation story, Danaka (Stewarts Point) is the place where the tribe first walked on land.

The sacred site is located in a so-called "marine protected area" that was part of a package of reserves that the California Fish and Game Commission voted 3 to 2 for on August 5, 2009, in spite of vocal opposition by the tribe, fishermen and environmental justice advocates.

"They're interfering with our religion, the food that we lived off before the white man came," said tribal elder Violet Chappell during a blessing ceremony off Danaka on April 30, the day before the May 1 closure, hosted by landowner Arch Richardson.

The gathering on a bluff overlooking the ocean drew 145 people, including members of the Kashia Pomo and other California Indian Tribes, recreational anglers, seaweed harvesters and environmental justice advocates to thank and bless the ocean for the food it has provided to native peoples for thousands of years.

"We used this food every day – we call it health food," Chappell stated. "The food was created by our creator - we treated it with care and respect. We are here to say respect us for our food - don't close this area down because it's part of our religion."

"I don't think the Fish and Game Commission would be allowed to close down a Catholic Church, would they?" she asked.

Article 32, Section 2, of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People mandates "free prior and informed consent" in consultation with the indigenous population affected by a state action (http://www.iwgia.org/sw248.asp).

It also says, "States shall provide effective mechanisms for provention of, and redress for: Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources."

Ken Wiseman, MLPA Initiative executive director, and the California Fish and Game Commission violated the UN declaration by never consulting with Kashia Pomo and other tribal leaders over the closure of a sacred site. They also provided no mechanism for redress of this grievance.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in October 2009 passed a strongly worded resolution blasting the Marine Life Protection Act (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 stated.

The MLPA, a law passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999, has been hijacked by oil industry, real estate, marine development and other corporate interests under the Schwarzenegger administration. MLPA officials have completely taken water pollution, oil drilling, habitat destruction and other human uses of the ocean other than fishing in this bizarre parody of marine "protection."

Wiseman and his collaborators constantly claim that the MLPA process, funded privately by the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, is "open and transparent," but the only thing "open" about the initiative is how it has openly violated the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Not only has it broken these federal and international laws, but until recently MLPA officials openly defied the state of California's Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act and the First Amendment of the U.S.Constitution by barring reporters from covering "work sessions" of the process with video and audio recording equipment.

It was only after an outpouring of outrage by civil liberties advocates and journalists over the arrest of David Gurney, independent journalist, as he filmed an MLPA "work session" that Wiseman decided to finally obey the law.

For more information about the violation of indigenous subsistence, cultural and religious rights under the MLPA, go to: http://www.fishsniffer.com/forums/content.php?r=221 and Violet Wilder's facebook page, "KEEP THE NORTHERN CALIFORNIA BEACHES ACCESSIBLE FOR THE COASTAL TRIBES" (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=105945012781743).


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