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  • Writer's pictureAntonio Gonzales

MLPA Taking Tribal Rights Away

Tribal Activists Disrupt MLPA Meeting to Protect Gathering Rights By Dan Bacher Over 40 American Indian activists took over a meeting of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Science Advisory Team in Eureka on June 29 to protest the violation of tribal gathering and fishing rights under the controversial process. Frankie Joe Myers, a member of the Coastal Justice Coalition and Yurok Tribe ceremonial leader, went to the microphone and demanded that the panel open up a public comment period. The MLPA team attempted to meet without allowing any public testimony, but they were prevented from proceeding as they were interrupted by chants of Keep your laws off my culture and M-L-P-A taking Tribal rights away. Tribal members held up signs and banners stating, MLPA Cant Hide the Genocide, MLPA making my grandmother an outlaw, Respect Native Tradition and Fish and Game, Youre Lame. Unable to proceed without interruption, the MLPA officials conceded and members of North Coast Tribes and non-native supporters provided powerful testimony slamming the process and demanding tribal representation on the science panel. The activists demanded that tribes, who have been the stewards of the ocean for thousands of years, not be scapegoated for the decline in ocean fisheries caused by decades of government mismanagement. We gathered and harvested the oceans bounty for thousand of years in a sustainable manner, said Myers. For California to blame tribes for its reckless mismanagement of our fisheries for the last century is simply appalling. After the public comment, Ken Wiseman, executive director of the MLPA Initiative, said, We look forward to the continued input." The Coastal Justice Coalition that organized the historic protest is a group of regional tribal members who agree that the State of California has no right to regulate tribal gathering. The protest occurred as increasing numbers of tribal members, environmentalists, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and political leaders from a variety of political perspectives are blasting the MLPA Initiative for its numerous conflicts of interests, violation of state, federal and international laws, and privatization of public trust resources. A private corporation, the shadowy Resources Legacy Foundation, funds the initiative through a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Fish and Game. The Blue Ribbon Task Force that oversees the process includes oil industry, marina development, real estate and other corporate representatives who are there to make sure that their interests are protected as the state creates so-called marine protected areas" (MPAs). The MLPA is supposedly designed to protect ocean resources, but tribal spokesmen contend that the privately funded initiative is an attempt by the Schwarzenegger Administration to greenwash his environmental legacy. They pointed out that these "protected areas" will allow deep water oil and gas drilling and do nothing to stop water pollution while banning sustainable tribal gathering of seaweed, shellfish, shells and fish from the ocean. The science panel met yesterday and today to review four MPA proposals developed by the North Coast Region Stakeholder Group, all of which have the potential to impact the rights of the Yurok Tribe and other tribes to gather ocean resources. The Science Advisory Team, which could potentially influence decisions regarding tribal gathering rights, does not have any scientific evidence suggesting that tribal gathering affects resources, but that has not stopped them from proposing a ban on tribal practices, according to Myers. We asked them to show us the science that indicates that Tribes are to blame for the decline of any single species they cant because there is no science behind their decision making." The activists say the MLPA structure also adversely affects tribal groups who gather in the intertidal zone. In a bizarre leap of logic, the MLPA science panel claims that collecting mussels and seaweed by hand has a high impact and therefore would be banned in backbone Marine Protected Areas. This makes sense in an area like Los Angeles where there is a potential for millions to harvest from the intertidal zone and disrupt the entire ocean ecosystem, Myers said. It defies logic here where the pressure is not comparable and the access is severely limited. Myers said the Science Advisory Team has also asked tribes for detailed information about the resources they use. To date, all tribes have declined to provide the information. The same resources my ancestors gathered are still abundant today because of time-tested tribal stewardship. If we were to give them details about what we gather, it could create the potential for mismanagement and commercialization of those resources, Myers said. Tribes gather ocean resources for sustenance, everyday utility items and ceremonial regalia, according to Myers. Gathering is at all times a spiritual process, which is the primary reason why the Coastal Justice Coalition is advocating that the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative recognize that tribal rights and uses are outside the scope of the States authority and the Initiative process. The activists noted that the MLPAs initiative view that people and nature are separate from one another clashes with tribal religious and cultural views. The MPA officials have an idea that people are apart from nature, while tribal folks believe that people are part of nature, said Myers. We are not against conservation one of our biggest goals is conservation of coastal resources for future generations. The tribal members affirm that they will keep gathering and fishing in traditional areas, regardless of what MLPA or state officials decide. Tribes have always had the inherent right to gather - whether the state makes it legal or not is their choice, said Georgiana Myers, Yurok Tribal member and organizer for the Klamath Justice Coalition, the group that conducted direct action at the Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska in 2008 to successfully spur billionaire Warren Buffett to agree to the removal of four Pacific Corp dams on the Klamath. The Yurok Tribe has been gathering since the beginning of time, said Myers. "We have always done it, we will always do it, and we feel that the MLPA is the biggest attempt in the last 30 years to take away tribal gathering and fishing rights." Craig Tucker, a McKinleyville resident who spoke at the meeting, said, Im proud to live in a community where native people are active stewards of the land and ocean. If you want to protect the ocean, make sure that you stop new deep water drilling, not Indians from picking seaweed. The protesters disrupting the meeting included members of the Wiyot, Hoopa Valley, Karuk, Smith River Rancheria (Tolowa), Cahto and other tribes. Advocates of Schwarzeneggers MLPA process claim that the MLPA is an open and transparent process and that they want to hear the concerns of Tribes and other ocean users. For example, Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin on June 29 wrote a guest opinion for the Eureka Times-Standard where she proclaimed, My fellow (MLPA) task force members share a mutual interest in ensuring that traditional tribal uses of the ocean are preserved However, local tribal members say that the task forces actions contradict their claims. If she was really concerned about preserving tribal practices, maybe Ms. Strom-Martin should ensure tribal members and tribal scientists are involved in the process, suggested Frankie Joe Myers. The MLPA, passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999, is very broad in scope. The law was intended to not only restrict or prohibit fishing in a network of marine protected areas, but to address other human uses and extractive activities including coastal development and water pollution. However, the Schwarzenegger administration has taken all other human uses and extractive activities other than fishing and seaweed harvesting off the table in the implementation of the MLPA process. The MLPA fiasco does nothing to stop water pollution, oil drilling, and wave energy projects or other activities from destroying fish and other marine life populations in Californias coastal waters. The law would do nothing to stop an ecological catastrophe like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from devastating the California coast. In fact, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association and a member of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the North Coast, has repeatedly called for new oil drilling off the California coast. As an investigative journalist who has written dozens of articles covering the MLPA fiasco, I greatly applaud the activists who exposed the MLPA Initiative for the corrupt fraud that it is! A webcast of the public testimony at the June 29 science panel meeting can be found at the following website: To access the webcast, go to the left menu bar, and choose "Science Advisory Team" under "All MLPA." Similar testimony will be provided at the July 21-22 Blue Ribbon Task Force meetings in Ft. Bragg. Agendas for these meetings are available at the following website: For more information about the Coastal Justice Coalition, call Frankie Joe Myers, (707) 951-5052.

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