Skip to main content

Tribal Coalitions to Assert Native Gathering Rights

Tribal Coalitions to Assert Native Gathering Rights

by Dan Bacher

The Klamath and Coastal Justice Coalitions are calling on all members of local tribes to gather coastal resources at their traditional gathering places on California's North Coast from 5:30 am to 8:30 am on Saturday, June 18, according to an announcement from the coalitions.

Members of the coalitions will be harvesting coastal resources at Patrick’s Point State Park at 5:30 am, Clam Beach at 7:30 am and Wilson Creek Beach near Klamath at 8:30 am, said Hoopa Tribal Citizen Dania Rose Colegrove, an organizer for the Klamath Justice Coalition.

“It is our sovereign and sacred right to harvest coastal resources according to our customs," said Colegrove. "We will no longer allow the state or the feds to criminalize our culture."

Local Tribes use hundreds of coastal resources for ceremonial regalia, medicine and for subsistence. Under the proposed Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) North Coast regulations, Colegove said tribal citizens face fines and potential incarceration for harvesting for traditional purposes in a culturally appropriate way.

"Regulations against indigenous people in state parks, federal marine reserves and the proposed MLPA marine protected areas are an unacceptable and outdated threat to native sovereignty and culture," she emphasized.

Pushing for dam removal, defending tribal gathering rights

The Klamath and Coastal Justice Coalitions are native alliances formed with the aim of protecting tribal rights. The KJC played a large role in pushing forward the removal of four dams on the Klamath River and is currently working to ensure California’s Marine Life Protection Act honors tribal sovereignty.

The Klamath and Coastal Justice Coalitions and their allies organized a peaceful take over of a Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting by over 300 people on July 21, 2010 in Fort Bragg. Members of over 50 Indian Nations, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, environmentalists and immigrant workers marched on the meeting in support of protecting tribal gathering rights on the North Coast.

“Whether it is their intention or not, what the Marine Life Protection Act does to tribes is it systematically decimates our ability to be who we are,” stated Frankie Joe Myers, a Yurok tribal citizen and organizer for the Coastal Justice Coalition. “That is the definition of cultural genocide.”

“We should have had better immigration laws,” Yurok tribal citizen and Air Force Veteran Wally Obie told the Blue Ribbon Task Force. “That’s not funny.”

The MLPA's violation of state, federal and international laws

Tribal members, fishermen, grassroots environmentalists, human rights advocates and civil liberties activists have slammed the MLPA Initiative for the violation of numerous state, federal and international laws. Critics charge that the initiative, privatized by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004, has violated the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act, Brown Act, California Administrative Procedures Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act and UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

President Obama agreed to sign on to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in December 2010.

Article 32, Section 2, of the Declaration mandates “free prior and informed consent” in consultation with the indigenous population affected by a state action.

Article 26, Section 3, declares, “States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.”

However, rather than respecting and recognizing tribal knowledge, customs and traditions, MLPA and state officials refused to appoint any tribal scientists to the MLPA Science Advisory Team (SAT). This was in spite of the fact that the Yurok Tribe alone has a Natural Resources Department with over 70 staff members, including many scientists. The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force also didn't include any tribal representatives until 2010 when one was finally appointed to the panel.

State still hasn't addressed tribal gathering rights

Representatives of the Yurok Tribe and other tribes have met with John Laird, Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, regarding tribal gathering under the MLPA, but the state has to date failed to address tribal fishing and gathering rights.

During the Fish and Game Commission meeting in Folsom on April 7, Laird said there is no "legally defensible" administrative fix to provide exclusive use to tribal members in marine protected areas. "We continue to run up against obstacles to providing exclusive use to tribes in marine protected areas," he stated.

However, Yurok Chairman Thomas O’Rourke Sr. pointed out, “The Tribe’s rights are nonnegotiable. As long as we are here, we will continue to gather in culturally appropriate way that is beneficial to all species.”

“We don’t perceive traditional tribal gathering of ocean resources to be some kind of delinquent activity, but the state and feds do,” said Yurok Tribal Heritage Preservation Officer, Bob McConnell. “We harvest from the ocean for our ceremonies and physical health. It is time to decriminalize our culture.”

The California Fish & Game Commission (CFGC) will meet in Stockton on June 29-30 to discuss and adopt the amended "unified" proposal for marine protected areas on the North Coast. For more details on the amended plan, please read Frank Hartzell's article,

The "marine protected areas" created under the MLPA Initiative fail to protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, water pollution, military testing, wave and wind energy projects, corporate aquaculture and all other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering. The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces that oversaw the implementation of "marine protected areas" included a big oil lobbyist, marina developer, real estate executive and other individuals with numerous conflicts of interest. Catherine Reheis Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association who is pushing for new oil drilling off the California coast, served as the chair of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast.

The MLPA Initiative operated through a controversial private/public "partnership funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. The Schwarzenegger administration, under intense criticism by grassroots environmentalists, fishermen and Tribal members, authorized the implementation of marine protected areas under the initiative through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the foundation and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG).

For more information on the MLPA Initiative and protecting tribal rights, go to: