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National Congress of American Indians Demands Protection of Rights Under MLPA


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By: Dan Bacher

Nov. 17, 2009 - The National Congress of American Indians, at their annual session from October 11-16 in Palm Springs, passed a strongly worded resolution blasting Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process for failing to recognize the subsistence, ceremonial and cultural rights of California Indian Tribes.

"While the tribes support the State's goal of developing marine protection, they are concerned that the State's MLPA process does not address their sovereign standing or interests," according to the resolution. "To date there have been no government to government consultations by the State with any tribe in California in the MLPA implementation process, nor is there a mention of the sovereign status of the tribes in the MLPA Master Plan or legislation."

The resolution emphasizes that the tribes 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 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.

More recently, the MLPA was criticized in the historic California Tribal Water Summit held in Sacramento November 4-5. Participants concurred that "in the Marine Life Protection Act, the California Department of Fish and Game has made an explicit policy decision to NOT consult with tribes."

The Schwarzenegger administration and previous administrations have shown absolutely no respect for the rights of California Indian Tribes to sustainably harvest seaweed, mussels and abalone as they have done for centuries in the intertidal zone. The current lack of recognition of tribal rights in the MLPA occurs in the context of cultural genocide against the indigenous people of California that started during the Spanish colonization of California, expanded throughout the state during the Gold Rush and continues to this day.

This marine protected area (MPA) plans developed on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and Southern California Coast regions were rammed through by the Schwarzenegger administration in spite of complaints by representatives of California Indian Tribes, including the Essalen Tribe of the Monterey Bay region and the Kashia Pomo Tribe in Sonoma County, that the state of California had not formally consulted with them on the MLPA process.

While Ken Wiseman, Executive Director of the MLPA Initiative, and the Governor's Staff have continually gushed about what an "open and transparent process" the MLPA is, the exclusion of California Indian Tribes from the process shows what a lie that claim is. Not only have the tribes been excluded from the initiative, but the input of North Coast environmentalists, recreational anglers and commercial fishermen was largely disregarded by the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force in the Central Coast, North Central Coast and South Coast processes.

On August 5, the California Fish and Game Commission banned the Kashia Pomo and other tribes from harvesting seaweed in their traditional areas off Stewarts Point in Sonoma Conty and Point Arena in Mendocino County. The recent ban is part of a long history of the denial of tribal seaweed gathering and fishing rights by the state and federal governments.

During the Solstice Seaweed Protest off Howard Beach, 4 miles north of Westport on June 21, 2003, Atta P. Stevenson commented on the cultural significance of harvesting seaweed, abalone, mussels and surf fish to California Indians. Stevenson, the Secretary Treasurer of the Cahto Tribe, was one of the planning team members of the California Tribal Water Summit and is a longtime advocate for tribal seaweed harvesting and fishing rights.

"To gather our seaweed, pick abalone from the rocks, dig for mussels, to surf fish, to take the sea palm: that is why we meet at the ocean together as large tribal families," said Stevenson in a statement published in the water summit program. "If Fish and Game or State Parks is successful in taking that away from us - limiting what we can gather as tribal people, imposing zero takes on what you call 'nori,' or the abalone - like they did with sea palm - and begin to vigorously enforce harsher and harsher limits against tribal people, using as the excuse the protection of 'endangered resources,' in the process we will disappear as tribal families in any meaningful way. We, what have remaining of our indigenous culture, will become extinct because we will have no reason to congregate as families."

It is essential that the North Coast process, since it has operated unlawfully and unjustly to date by not formally consulting with California tribes, be suspended indefinitely. Furthermore, the marine protected areas already designated on the Central Coast and North Central Coast should be rescinded until government to government relations are developed between California Tribes and the Schwarzenegger administration over the MLPA process and the marine protected areas are reviewed by the tribes.

North Coast environmentalists, Indian Tribes, fishermen and seaweed harvesters have blasted the MLPA process for being rife with conflicts of interests, mission creep and corruption of the democratic process. The absurdity of Scharzenegger administration claims that the MLPA process is "open and transparent" is further demonstrated by the fact that the current chair of MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force's project for the South Coast and former member of the North Central Coast panel is Cathy Reheis-Boyd, an "oil industry superstar," in the words of John Lewallen, respected North Coast environmental leader.

The Board of Directors of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) on October 16 announced that Reheis-Boyd will assume the role of President of the oil and natural gas industry trade association January 1, 2010. Reheis-Boyd is currently the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of WSPA, a curious position of employment for a Schwarzenegger appointee who is supposedly overseeing marine "protection."

What is an oil industry lobbyist doing overseeing "marine protection" in California, especially when the industry is seeking to open up the coast, particularly in the Point Arena Basin, to offshore oil drilling? Is Schwarzenegger, an offshore oil drilling advocate, trying to kick California Indians, recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen and seaweed harvesters off traditional harvesting areas in order to eliminate the strongest opponents of offshore oil drillling and wave energy projects in his plan to privatize ocean public trust resources?

And why is Schwarzenegger's MLPA initiative, a supposedly "public" process, funded by a private corporation, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation?

In the face of this unjust, privately funded process, the resolution by the National Congress of American Indians defending the rights of California Indian Tribes and demanding government to government relations in the MLPA process should be warmly welcomed by tribes, seaweed harvesters, recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen fighting for environmental justice and true marine protection along the California coast.


Below is the resolution:

N A T I O N A L C O N G R E S S O F A M E R I C A N I N D I A N S
The National Congress of American Indians
Resolution PSP-09-089c

TITLE: 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

WHEREAS, we, the members of the National Congress of American Indians of the United States, invoking the divine blessing of the Creator upon our efforts and purposes, in order to preserve for ourselves and our descendants the inherent sovereign rights of our Indian nations, rights secured under Indian treaties and agreements with the United States, and all other rights and benefits to which we are entitled under the laws and Constitution of the United States, to enlighten the public toward a better understanding of the Indian people, to preserve Indian cultural values, and otherwise promote the health, safety and welfare of the Indian people, do hereby establish and submit the following resolution; and

WHEREAS, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) was established in 1944 and is the oldest and largest national organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments; and

WHEREAS, the State of California through the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is currently in the process of designating areas of the Northern California coast for restricted use to promote the conservation and recovery of marine plant and animal communities; and

WHEREAS, tribes of Northern California maintain prescriptive rights to access the Coast as their people have done from time immemorial as well as to continue to fish and gather at usual and accustomed places within their Ancestral Territory; and

WHEREAS, the tribes of Northern California strongly support marine protection and are willing to work with Federal and State governments in a collaborative process to address this goal; and

WHEREAS, while the tribes support the State's goal of developing marine protection, they are concerned that the State's MLPA process does not address their sovereign standing or interests; and

WHEREAS, to date there have been no government to government consultations by the State with any tribe in California in the MLPA implementation process, nor is there a mention of the sovereign status of the tribes in the MLPA Master Plan or legislation; and

WHEREAS, because the focus of the MLPA is the commercial and recreational use of coastal waters tribal rights and interests are being ignored because subsistence fishing and gathering and cultural uses are neither commercial or recreational; and

WHEREAS, 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; and

WHEREAS, there has been no formal recognition of tribal subsistence, ceremonial or cultural rights in the MLPA process.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that 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

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, 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.; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that this resolution shall be the policy of NCAI until it is withdrawn or modified by subsequent resolution.

The foregoing resolution was adopted by the General Assembly at the 2009 Annual Session of the National Congress of American Indians, held at the Palm Springs Convention Center in Palm Springs, California on October 11-16, 2009, with a quorum present.

 

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