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Karuk, Winnemem Wintu Tribes respond to release of state consultation policy

Resources Secretary Announces Tribal Consultation Policy

by Dan Bacher

John Laird, the California Secretary for Natural Resources, on Wednesday announced the release of a draft policy directing the resources agency and its departments to "increase communication and collaboration with California’s Native American tribes."

The lack of consultation by the agency with tribes on environmental programs including the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, Delta Vision, Bay Delta Conservation Plan and other processes has led to frequent conflicts between the Tribes and the state. This failure to consult has led to many protests, including the peaceful take over of an MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in Fort Bragg on July 21, 2010 by over 300 Tribal members and their allies to protect Tribal gathering rights.

The draft policy letter is available at:

A news release from the agency said, "This will help further the mission of the California Natural Resources Agency and provide meaningful input into the development of regulations, rules and policies that may affect tribal communities."

“Native American tribes have a unique relationship with the state’s natural resources,” said Laird. “It is only by engaging in open, inclusive and regular communication that the interests of California’s tribes will be recognized and understood.”

On Sept. 19, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown issued Executive Order B-10-11, which states that "it is the policy of the administration that every state agency and department subject to executive control is to encourage communication and consultation with California Native American tribes."

The release noted that all California native tribes "have distinct cultural, environmental, economic, and public health interests." The Natural Resources Agency and its departments interact frequently with tribal communities and are already working closely with them in many of these areas. The secretary’s direction is intended to build on those existing relationships, and encourage further outreach and collaboration.

“Historically, state government and California’s tribes have experienced conflict,” Laird said. “I intend to improve the relationships between the agency responsible for the state’s wild places and the communities that have watched over them for centuries.”

Secretary Laird’s direction aims to "create informed decision making where all parties involved share a goal and can reach decisions together," according to the agency. All parties involved should encourage respect, shared responsibility, and an open and free exchange of information.

Laird noted that the policy "is intended as guidance for employees of the Natural Resources Agency and its departments only, and does not extend to other government entities."

Karuk Tribe: Finally, a step in the right direction

Craig Tucker, Klamath Coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, reacted to the announcement by stating, "Finally California is developing a policy for consulting with tribes. This would have been a great idea before initiating things like the corrupt Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative process!"

"If this policy was in place before the MLPA process started, we probably would have realized a better outcome and have avoided the litigation that is likely to follow," said Tucker.

"This is a step in the right direction," said Tucker. "It is ridiculous that tribes have had to wait 150 years for a consultation policy from California."

He added, "One of the complaints by the tribes is that they are brought into the process is after the power point presentations are made. The Tribes should be brought into processes at the conceptual stage - not after the plan is already developed. This new policy will help us out."

"We should give kudos to the Brown administration for taking the initiative to develop this policy," said Tucker.

Winnemem Wintu: A positive move, but policy lacks real commitment

Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, said she is happy that the Governor is concerned about hearing the voices of California Indians, but criticized the draft tribal policy document for lacking any real committment to tribes other than consultation.

"After reading this short little description of the California Natural Resources Tribal Policy for the departments, I find it amazing that while one would think this is a positive step forward because it sounds so determined to acknowledge and respect California Tribal peoples, it is without any real commitment other than to consult," said Sisk.

"The Winnemem Wintu Tribe has evaluated the consultation processes as being highly ineffective," he stated. "What we do want to see is how the Governor will install and use the Articles of the UN DRIP to affirm our Indigenous peoples' rights to 'free, prior, and informed consent.' I am glad to see that the Governor's Office is concerned about the voices of the California Indians, but I would like to see some solid policies that 'cause change' because they are meant to cause change!"

The document states, "This policy defines provisions for improving Natural Resources Agency consultation, communication and collaboration with tribes to the extent that a conflict does not exist with applicable law or regulations."

Sisk responded, "The reason we need a policy that has some clout for change is because there are inappropriate laws and regulations that ignore or suppress the rights of California Tribal peoples that are all ready causing 'conflicts.'"

"I do hope for the best to come of this attempt to develop 'inclusive and regular communication efforts that the interests of California’s tribes and tribal communities will be recognized and understood in the larger context of complex decision-making.' "It would also be important for the Governor to provide a budget for this effort on the part of the California Tribal peoples, who are always expected to volunteer their time when everyone else at the table is on the payroll."

The lack of any tribal consultation policy has been a persistent problem in not only the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative process to create "marine protected areas" along the California Coast, but in the Delta Vision and Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) processes designed to build a peripheral canal or tunnel and other programs managed by the Natural Resources Agency.

Under pressure from fishermen, tribal members and environmentalists, the Schwarzenegger administration finally appointed one tribal representative, Gary Mulcahy of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, to the Delta Vision stakeholders group in 2005. However, the Resources Agency has refused to date to appoint any tribal representatives, as well any fishermen, Delta residents and family farmers, to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan Management Committee.

Indian Tribes, fishermen, Delta residents, family farmers, grassroots environmentalists and scores of elected officials are opposed to the construction of the peripheral canal because they and the government's own scientists believe that it will hasten the extinction of Central Valley chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other species.

The policy will be circulated for comment, with a comment deadline of July 15, 2012. A public meeting will be held on June 26 at 1:30 pm, at Thunder Valley Resort, 1200 Athens Avenue, Lincoln, California 95648.