EPIC Supports the Pomo People Near Willits in a Struggle with Caltrans

Fred Short, Spiritual Leader with the American Indian Movement, takes part in a ceremony held on a former village site located on Willits Bypass Project Mitigation Lands, July 2015.  Photo by Steve Eberhard – The Willits News.

Fred Short, Spiritual Leader with the American Indian Movement, takes part in a ceremony held on a former village site located on Willits Bypass Project Mitigation Lands, July 2015. Photo by Steve Eberhard – The Willits News.

The Willits Bypass is a grossly overbuilt project consisting of a 6-mile stretch of new freeway that bypasses a town of 5,000 people with a price tag of over $300 million for the first 2-lane phase of construction. Many First Nation’s cultural sites have been destroyed; most significantly an entire ancestral village skewered by wick drains and buried under 30 feet of fill. Details of the misdeeds of Caltrans are painfully described in letters from local Tribes (see below).

The Willits Bypass Project has had major negative impacts on Native American cultural resources both on the Bypass footprint and on the over 2,000 acres of “mitigation” lands. There have been so many post review discoveries that the Tribes have been calling for a Supplemental EIS on Cultural Resources. The Tribes having their cultural heritage adversely affected are: Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, the Round Valley Indian Tribes and the Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians. These Tribes have tried without any success to engage in good faith government-to-government consultations with Caltrans, hoping to achieve a successful Programmatic Agreement (“PA”) and Post Review and Discovery Monitoring Plan (“PRDMP”). The Tribal representatives have been insulted and lied to; tribal construction monitors have been excluded and ignored on numerous occasions. Over the strenuous objections of the Tribes, Caltrans is now asking the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to approve Caltrans-drafted documents. These documents should not be approved. They are vehemently and justifiably opposed by the Tribes most affected by the contents.

Caltrans ignored the Natural Historic Preservation Act by engaging in significant ground disturbing activities without obtaining signatures on a PA or PRDMP. Caltrans ignored the Tribes’ protest of commencement of ground-disturbing activities without a PA and PRDMP. Caltrans ignored the Tribes’ protest of Caltrans ‘failures to adequately identify, protect and avoid ancestral cultural sites throughout the Willits Bypass Project. An important village site, the Village of Yami was destroyed by Caltrans early in the course of construction, although this village site had been mapped and known since the time of Kroeber. Caltrans ignored the Tribes’ request to adequately survey the construction site resulting in many significant artifacts being “discovered by bull-dozer” since there were no adequate surveys.

Two of the affected Tribes have filed suit in federal court against Caltrans, Federal Highways and others. These are not Tribes with big casinos and they expend their casino revenues in providing services to their members. The well-respected law firms of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy and long-time EPIC attorney Sharon Duggan who have foiled Caltrans before, have stepped up and are willing to argue the case without pay.

This kind of collaboration is not as new as it might seem. Maybe you know the story of the Northern California InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council (ITSWC); an alliance between 10 Federally recognized Tribes and many environmental groups from Trust for Public Lands to EPIC and Earth First! that resulted in the creation of the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness.

First Nations people lived for many thousands of years in relative balance with the natural world due in large part to cultures that respected natural law, understood ecological balance and held populations to carrying capacity or below. It is no surprise that the descendants of these First Peoples should want to preserve their ancestral cultures and that other people should want to support this endeavor partly because most non-native cultures have moved so far from balance and respect for the natural world as to overpopulate, overuse and in fact decimate landscapes and render many species extinct.

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