The First Nations and the MLPAI “Initiative”

Instead of being the first to be consulted on the wisdom and practicalities of establishing marine protected areas in Northern California, the “First Nations” were among the last.

This was more than just an oversight.  It displayed a total lack of respect and common sense – a complete disconnect from the people who inhabit the Coast.  The people – Indians, fishermen, seaweed pickers and coastal dwellers – who know the ocean from years, generations, and centuries of day to day first hand experience, were absent from the “process,” either by their own disgust at the organizers’ arrogance and corruption, or by negligent omission.

The truth is, that marine protected areas will simply not work without the active co-operation and participation of everyone concerned.  Native peoples have correctly argued that we as humans are part of the ecosystem, and not something seperate.  To seperate the people who live by and love the sea from the source of their spiritual and physical sustenance, will never work.

Although tempting as a simple solution to a complicated problem, the marine protected area idea on the North Coast is one that has failed, even before it began.  By hastily and arrogantly forcing a delicate matter upon the people of the North state, using coercive, manipulative and illegal tactics, the organizers of the co-opted MLPA “Initiative” have ironically had the opposite of their intended effect.  More attention, and hence more human pressure, is being focused upon precious ocean ecosystems.

The keepers of our earth, who should have had a primary voice, are now pitted as outsiders against state officials who pretend to be responsible for the care of her creatures – the Department of “Fish and Game.”

But perhaps it’s a good thing.  Ultimately, the real stewards of our ocean will come forward and be recognized, to hopefully preserve and defend our right to be human, and live and work respectfully and in balance with the ocean and her wildlife.

Dan Bacher’s article on yesterday’s Tribal Protest is below:

Tribal members gather to protest proposed MLPA closures

by Dan Bacher

Members of the Yurok, Hoopa Valley, Karuk and other Tribes on Saturday, June 18 gathered seaweed, mussels and clams at three beaches on the North Coast to protest proposed restrictions on coastal gathering proposed under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

The Tribal members, organized by the grassroots Klamath and Coastal Justice Coalitions, gathered 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.

“Our rights are not negotiable,” said Hoopa Tribal Citizen Dania Rose Colegrove, an organizer for the Klamath Justice Coalition, who gathered seaweed and mussels along with 11 others at Patrick’s Point. “The state of California, under the MLPA Initiative, is trying to make us into ‘recreational users. However, where we gather as Tribal members is none of their business.”

She said no park rangers interfered with the harvesting of coastal resources by Tribal members at Patrick’s Point, as rangers have done in the past.

She pointed out the hypocrisy of the MLPA’s “marine protected areas” outlawing tribal gathering and fishing, while doing nothing to stop ocean industrialists from destroying the marine ecosystem.

“How is it that the MLPA doesn’t protect the ocean from big oil, wave energy projects, water pollution, military testing and all of the people who want to mess up the ocean, the people with big money,” Colegrove emphasized. “Now the North Coast has been opened up to military testing by the Navy.”

“We’re doing this in solidarity with all of coastal tribes now that the MLPA North Coast process is coming to a head,” she noted. “Our message is ‘Don’t mussel us out.’ We’re here to stay – we’ve been gathering here for thousands of years and we will continue to gather.”

“It is our sovereign and sacred right to harvest coastal resources according to our customs. We will no longer allow the state or the feds to criminalize our culture. They will have to acknowledge that we are part of the ecosystem,” added Colegrove.

Bob McConnell, Yurok Tribal Heritage Preservation Officer, said coastal tribes harvest from the ocean for their ceremonies and physical health.

“Our methods of take enhance these resources rather than harm them,” said McConnell. “We offer as evidence the abundance of coastal resources prior to European contact. Prayer is an integral part of the process as no life can be taken without acknowledgement of that life. We thank the creator and the plant/animal for that life each and every time we gather a resource.”

McConnell said decades have passed and public perceptions about Native Americans have changed since most of the rules that govern California’s coast were signed into law.

“These government bodies have made criminals out of people for embracing their culture. It is time to decriminalize our culture. We want the people of California to know that and join us in the process of reversing it,” McConnell concluded.

Local Tribes use hundreds of coastal resources for ceremonial regalia, medicine and for subsistence, according to Colegrove. Under the proposed Marine Life Protection Act marine protected areas, 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 stated.

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.

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 that sought to protect traditional tribal fishing and gathering rights. Unfortunately, the DFG has introduced significant changes to the proposal that are opposed by fishermen, tribal members and environmentalists. For more details on the amended plan, please read Frank Hartzell’s article: The Mendocino Beacon

Colegrove said that tribal members will show in force at the Fish and Game Commission meeting to defend their sovereign rights that are now under attack by the MLPA Initiative. For the meeting agenda and other information, go to: Dept. of Fish and Game Commission.

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.

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