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  • Writer's pictureAntonio Gonzales

Tribes, Immigrants and Fishermen Unite Against MLPA

Tribes, Immigrants and Fishermen Unite Against MLPA

Assembly Speaker John P鲥z Is on the Wrong Side of History

By Dan Bacher

In a historic protest on July 21, over 300 members of California Indian Tribes and their allies peacefully took control of a Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in Fort Bragg to protest the violation of indigenous gathering and fishing rights under Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggers controversial MLPA Initiative.

Over 60 immigrant workers from the sea urchin industry, many from indigenous communities in central and southern Mexico that were forced to come to the U.S. after they were driven off their land under NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), marched side by side with members of the Yurok, Tolowa, Cahto, Kashia Pomo, Karuk, Hoopa Valley, Maidu, Hopi, Navajo and other tribes. Besides them were recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, seaweed harvesters, environmentalists and sea urchin divers and local political candidates.

Alongside tribal flags, participants hoisted banners with slogans including Keep Away MLPA, Native Conservation, Not Naive Conservation, No MLPA, MLPA=Big Oil, and RLF What Are You Funding. Many of the protesters wore blue shirts proclaiming, "M.L.P.A. Taking Tribal Rights Away."

I have been to hundreds of protests on a variety of water and environmental justice issues, but it was simply the most moving event of its kind that Ive ever been to. I was touched by the solidarity shown by people from such diverse communities in opposition to a process that that they feel is not listening to them or their needs.

Opponents of the MLPA Initiative believe that Schwarzenegger appointed MLPA officials have railroaded California Indian Tribes and fishing communities on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and South Coast - and now are trying to do it on the North Coast, but they have faced massive resistance there.

The group peacefully took over the task force meeting in a great example of non-violent direct action. After rallying at Oak and Main Street, over 300 people walked a half-mile to the C.V. Star Community Center. Just before heading into the meeting, tribal community members standing twenty deep chanted, No Way M.L.P.A.! to the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) members convened inside.

Tribal elders and immigrant workers then spoke on the impact of the MLPA process upon them. Some of the most powerful testimony came from Susan Burdick, Yurok Tribal gatherer, who slammed the Blue Ribbon Task Force members for violation of sovereign Tribal rights.

"Were not going to stop what we have doing for generations," said Burdick. "We have young people here, old people here and we will march everywhere you go.

What is your real purpose: to start drilling for oil off our coastline? she asked. Be honest with us!

Elizabeth Palma, a worker in the sea urchin industry, told the panel how the MLPA threatened the livelihoods of immigrant workers. By taking away our jobs by closing areas of coast, you are taking away the opportunity for our kids to go to college and make a better live for themselves, she stated.

Thomas ORourke, the chair of the Yurok Tribal Council, vowed that tribal members would be willing to go to jail to defend their rights.

It is wise to listen to the people who managed these lands for thousands of years, he continued. We believe in protecting species. We will continue to exercise our right to harvest seaweed and fish as we always have. You wlll have to take us to jail until you go broke and you fix this law.

Our tribal rights are not negotiable, Dania Colegrove, Hoopa Valley Tribe member and a member of the Coastal Justice Coalition, told the task force. Get used to it!

Frankie Joe Myers, organizer for the Coastal Justice Coalition and a Yurok Tribal ceremonial leader, summed up the feelings of many when he said, "This is about more than a fouled-up process that attempts to prohibit tribes from doing something they have done sustainably for thousands of years. It is about respect, acknowledgement and recognition of indigenous peoples rights!

When I got back from the protest, I was shocked to hear that Assembly Speaker John Perez, in spite of the massive opposition to MLPA Process from diverse communities, had recently sent a letter to the California Fish and Game Commission strongly endorsing Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggers fast-track MLPA Initiative.

In his letter, Perez said he supports "the strongest possible network of marine protected areas based on science" along California's southern Coast.

That is simply not true, since the MLPA as implemented on the Central North Central, South and North Coasts of California has completely taken oil drilling, water pollution, wave energy projects, corporate aquaculture, habitat destruction and all other human uses of the ocean off the table other than fishing and gathering.

"You have a historic opportunity to create a legacy for southern California's oceans and generations to come, stated P鲥z. Please adopt the protections most likely to provide lasting benefits for all Californians by choosing the strongest possible option of Marine Protected Areas in southern California.

However, the real "legacy" of the illegitimate process that John P鲥z adamantly supports is the industrialization and privatization of California ocean and bay waters under an initiative privately funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. This process has violated the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act, the California Public Records Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and other laws.

The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces, appointed by the worst Governor in California history to kick Tribal members, fishermen and seaweed harvesters of the water in fake "marine protected areas," are dominated by oil industry, real estate, marina development and other corrupt corporate interests.

In fact, the "strongest possible option of Marine Protected Areas" that Perez gushes over was crafted under the leadership of Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association and the chair of the South Coast MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force, who has called for new oil drilling off the California coast. What kind of protection is that?

Perez's increasingly friendly relationship with big oil companies is no secret. P鲥z is the author of the "rigs to reef "legislation on behalf of the oil industry that saves them billions in the decommissioning of oil rigs off Southern California, so his strong support of oil industry supported "marine protected areas" that also insulate them from pesky environmental regulations should also come as no surprise.

In a post on the California Majority Report, Marcela Gutierrez, program manager of Wildcoast, spoke up for the MLPA and for Perez's record, stating, Speaker John P鲥z has a strong and consistent record showing his commitment to social and environmental justice.

Suffice it to reference his work on AB 890, the law passed last fall to address chronic pollution (manganese) to the City of Maywood's water supply. Championing a solution to the oft-ignored problem that plagues Maywood's mostly working-class and immigrant community is hardly the hallmark of a corporate green-washer.

I roundly applaud P鲥z's work on AB 890, legislation that I strongly support. However, that doesnt excuse P鲥z from supporting the MLPA Initiative, a widely-criticized process that has united a diverse group of Indian Tribes, fishermen, immigrant workers, environmental justice advocates, conservationists, cities and coastal communities against it.

By supporting the MLPA Initiative, P鲥z is on the wrong side of history. If he truly cares about environmental justice and his legacy, he should use his power to convene a legislative oversight hearing to investigate the conflicts of interest, total disregard for indigenous fishing and gathering rights, violation of numerous state and federal laws and greenwashing that have plagued the MLPA Initiative since Schwarzenegger privatized it in 2004. Further, he should call upon the Governor to immediately suspend the MLPA process until this hearing is conducted.

People who care about true ocean protection, rather than the fake protection provided under the MLPA, should oppose corporate greenwashing and institutional racism, whether its Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Assembly Speaker John P鲥z, or any other politician who is supporting it.

For more information about the Coastal Justice Coalition's battle against the MLPA's violation of indigeous rights, go to:

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