Native Peoples protest Department of Justice

18 06 2007

Reposted from my old blog, from April 11th, 2007.

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The Department of Justice plans to build power plants on the sacred Natural Medicine Lake Highlands near Mt. Shasta. These are spiritual places for the Native peoples of California, and are just another instance of the colonialism and genocide that continues to this day against Indigenous people in the U.S. and beyond.

Could you imagine if they wanted to pollute and destroy Jerusalem to build power plants over the Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques in the area for a quick buck? Why does that seem ridiculous, and this kind of destruction of sacred sites so commonplace? Our government still doesn’t recognize the right to self determination of Native peoples, nor do they acknowledge their beliefs as legitimate religion.

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On Friday, April 6, 2007, I joined Native activists and other Environmental Justice allies for a rally at the Department of Justice Office. The Rally itself was beautiful. An intergenerational and multi-racial group of activists stood in a circle. Rather than simply gathering around to see a couple hand-picked speakers, the megaphone was passed around to give each person an opportunity to speak and meet one another. Some people gave fiery and rousing speeches, while others simply said they were here to support.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The demonstration and rally was organized by Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites, Seventh Generation Fund, International Indian Treaty Council, Indigenous Environmental Network, Citizens of the Pitt River Nation, and Redding Rancheria Cultural Department. And involved allies like Rainforest Action Network.

Some background from Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites:

On 2/21/07 the US Department of Justice (DOJ), acting on behalf of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service (FS), requested that the 9th Circuit Court review the issues involving the proposed plans to build geothermal power plants in the Medicine Lake Highlands, a mountainous region held sacred to many Native Nations. In November 2006, a panel of the 9th Circuit unanimously ruled that the agencies not only violated the cultural rights of the Pit River Nation but also failed to uphold provisions of the National Environmental Protection and National Historic Preservation Acts. In their ruling the Court of Appeals found that the above Federal Agencies had never adequately considered whether the Highlands should be developed for energy at all. As a result, the Court rejected the leases that would have allowed Calpine Energy Company to build geothermal plants.

With DOJ’s recent request to the 9th Circuit Court, the department may try to claim that the issue brought by the tribal government and supported by a panel of the 9 th Circuit is irrelevant. They may argue that the Native peoples who traditionally use the Highlands did not protest a new 40-year lease agreement that superseded the previous lease agreement.

In the 1980s, BLM decided to lease the Highlands for geothermal development, but did not go through the required tribal government consultation process mandated by U.S. law. Pit River, Modoc, Wintu and other Native peoples have been opposing these plans ever since they learned that their holy place would be violated. From a Native rights perspective, Medicine Lake Highlands is essential to the free exercise of Tribal religious beliefs and the encroachment of the proposed electrical power generating plant, represents a gross infringement of their constitutional and civil liberties. Native Peoples have never endorsed energy development in this pristine and sacred region nor will they ever. In fact, as far back as June 5, 1970, the late Mickey Gemmill, a distinguished cultural leader of the Pit River Nation issued a “Proclamation: To the President of the United States and the American People” that stated “We are the rightful and legal owner of the land. No amount of money can buy the Mother Earth; therefore, the California Indian Land Claims Commission has no meaning. The Earth is our Mother and we cannot sell her.” From this statement it is clear that the Native peoples that hold the Highlands sacrosanct would never support the pollution and money generating plans of the federal government and energy companies that would cause irreversible damage to the sacred and natural Medicine Lake region.

“Clearly, DOJ, BLM, FS, and Calpine energy company are grasping at straws with their latest legal argument to try to open up the Highlands for energy development,” said Radley Davis, Co-Chair of the Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites.

James Hayward Sr., Co-Chair of the Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites, said “If the Creator wanted such development in that area there would not be large amounts of dangerous arsenic and mercury in the ground to contend with. A panel of the 9 th Circuit and a lower court have already spent a great deal of time and other resources reviewing the case and it is time for developers to leave the Highlands alone. “

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