Winnemem Wintu - The Journey to Justice

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Location: Redding, CA, United States

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rocky Point Charter School

I recently had the opportunity to talk with the students in Mrs. Hobbs combined fifth through eighth grade classes at the Rocky Point Charter School, located in Redding California. I have always been an advocate of charter education and found the experience of talking with these children, to be a highlight of the work that I do on behalf of the tribe.

Mrs. Hobbs and the staff administration of the school are to be congratulated on the innovative approach that they are taking it educating the children of Shasta County. During the time that I was on campus, which was actually more than an hour longer than I intended to be there, I found that the teaching practicum, classroom management styles, and the general behavior of the children was better than in any of the other schools that I have had the opportunity to work with. This is not to say, but the children and staff of the public schools are lacking in the ability to learn and to accept new ideas, only that the Rocky point school has made a point of including their children, as they say, as members of the "crew" that propels their ship of education.

During my presentation , the students listened attentively and I could see as they listened they were formulating questions based on information they were just then hearing, and combining that information with what they had studied prior to my arrival. The students asked questions of the caliber of those asked by students I have spoken before in universities and colleges around the country.

After we have completed our visit, students who had come into the presentation not truly understanding the effect of damming rivers, flooding traditional homelands of tribal people, or even realizing that there were other Wintu bands who still exist in Shasta County besides those of the rancheria, were heard saying that they had formed updated opinions on the topics discussed and were looking forward to seeing the areas we talked about to actually see the effect of Shasta Dam on those places .

For those of you in Shasta County looking for quality education for your children, let me wholeheartedly recommend that you look into the Rocky Point Charter School as an alternative educational experience for your children.

I look forward to visiting the school again and appreciate the questions, the hospitality, and most importantly, the children of Mrs. Hobbs' class.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pacific Gas & Electric and the Winnemem Wintu tribe

For those of you who have been following the actions that the Winnemem Wintu have been involved in over the last few years, you may remember that PG&E is in the process of renewing their hydroelectric license through FERC for the McCloud River reservoir. The tribe has been involved in negotiations with PG&E and in consultation involving the U.S. Forest Service, Sierra Pacific Industries, Hearst Corp., Cal Trout and others who are listed as "interested parties". During the initial stages of the consultation on this project, PG&E, was not forthcoming in all of the details and in all of the actions that would be involved in completing the FERC application. namely they did not divulge at this project would include additional hydroelectric generator station on the existing McCloud reservoir, nor did they divulge that an additional 14 miles of transmission line, either above ground or below, would be needed for the project. They also did not divulge any information regarding appurtenant roadwork, or other construction, that would be needed for the installation of these new components. Initial studies that had begun, did not include this information, and so the tribe feels that the studies that have been undertaken are incomplete and flawed at this stage of the process. Additionally you may remember that the tribe, while in meetings that discussed waterflow, riparian habitat, geologic and hydrologic concerns, stated our questions regarding these activities and were advised that those issues were better served in meetings that dealt strictly with cultural issues.

Seeing the difficulties that the tribe would be faced with, we asked at the beginning of the process, for the tribe to enter into an MOU that would stipulate certain requirements, rights and responsibilities to be undertaken by both parties. The tribe also asked that an ethnographer of our choosing, be hired to complete the ethnographic study on behalf of the tribe. All of this began almost a year ago in 2008. By the time PG&E and the tribe completed the paperwork required, we were almost into the beginning of winter. Now, just imagine,how difficult it is, to conduct field investigations and fieldwork in the snow, rain, and mud of the Winter. It is now February 2009, our ethnographer, Shelley Davis-King, has been hard at work trying to cram into a very short period of time, almost one year of fieldwork. I must commend Shelley, for her hard work and dedication to this project. She has done, in a short period of time, what personnel from the Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and other agencies that we have become involved with, have failed to do in much greater periods of time. Our tribe is extremely grateful, and recommend without hesitation, Shelley Davis-King as a person of integrity, and great understanding of tribal mores and procedures so needed by those who engage in the type of work that she does, but who do not measure up to the standards that she has set.

So what does all this have to do with the Winnemem and PG&E you might be asking yourself. As part of the contract awarded to Ms.Davis-King, money has been provided as stipends for informants who have information pertinent to tribal areas of concern within the area of potential effect of this project that PG&E is working on. Since it is now winter, the tribes' use of electricity to heat the homes of our elders and those of our members who are ill, has caused an increase in our overall consumption. The tribe now faces PG&E bills that run from approximately $1400 to $3000 each month. I was thinking about this the other day as I was paying the bills, and I realized that with all of the money that it takes to travel to meetings, time away from working on the other affairs of the tribe, and the mental wear and tear of dealing with a large corporation concerned only with making money and, apparently destroying the pristine nature of the upper McCloud River, that even with the money our tribal people obtain from working on the FERC licensing, the Winnemem Wintu tribe loses approximately $2500 a month.

It seems as though we are beating our heads against a hydroelectric dam and that when the new generators are installed, the new power lines are placed through our tribal territory, and the efforts of our ethnographers and tribal people are finally written down, we will have done all of this work for PG&E only for the reason that they need to check a box that says " we consulted with the Indians", "we heard their concerns, but we went ahead with the project anyway".

I don't know about you, but I think it's time that tribal people and those who are concerned about protecting the fisheries and the water flows of the rivers in northern California, stand up and say enough is enough. Big corporations need to better respond to the concerns of tribal people and to those who are dedicated to protecting the environment and the ecology of northern California and not just provide lip service or a mere "check the box" action to satisfy an even larger federal bureaucracy.

We are continuing to document our tribal history with Shelley Davis-King, and we are continuing to have representatives at meetings with PG&E and the other players in the McCloud Pit re-FERC, but our patience and our goodwill are flagging. We believe that people should be open and transparent at the beginning of projects, and not add changes or additions that are not considered during the initial study phases, and not try to wear down the participants by holding meetings in far off locations, where most of the participants are paid employees and where tribal people must attend using their own limited funds.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about this subject later on in the week, and I know that I have been remiss in posting our thoughts and happenings of the Winnemem Wintu on this blog, but I have been chasing down and documenting sites on the upper river in the rain, and the snow.

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