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State forest a cultural landscape

People gathered around a large redwood tree in a forest.
People gathered around the Gemini tree, which was saved by Earth First! direct action, during a tour led by Coyote Valley Chairman Michael Hunter last month.

Coyote Valley Chairman Michael Hunter is leading tours of JDSF at the end of the month, on Sunday the 27th and Monday the 28th.

February 10, 2022 — With the international movement to return tribal lands picking up steam, a local tribe is strategizing how to have more of a voice in the management decisions of Jackson Demonstration State Forest, which one ethnohistorian argues is an Indigenous cultural landscape in its entirety.

“You have to get out of the mindset of just a site, and into understanding how the whole environment is a site,” said Victoria Patterson, who has filled several volumes with oral histories of local Native American people and curated an interactive exhibit at the county museum about tribes.

The Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians has sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom’s office requesting a moratorium on all timber harvest plans during tribal co-management and management plan revisions. The Board of Forestry decided last year to revisit the management plan to address Native American concerns about biological and cultural resources.

Polly Girvin, who is authorized to represent Coyote Valley in government-to-government consultations, spoke earlier this month about the main disruption to tribal sites during logging operations.

“All of the sacred sites at Jackson State Forest have been systematically and consistently damaged and re-damaged by road-building activity,” she explained. “Back in 1999 the state commissioned a report. The Betts Report had archeologists out here surveying for the sites. They were in such an appalling state that the archeologists working for the state said there should be no more cutting around these sacred sites until you re-survey their boundaries, and until you come up with a road maintenance plan that will protect them in the future.”

JDSF is unceded tribal territory, associated with Pomo and coastal Yuki tribes. There are village sites and evidence of campsites throughout the forest. A waterfall known to have been used for purification has been compromised.

But Patterson says the forest is more than just a few sites. “The area was used for literally thousands and thousands of years,” she said. “And it was used by hundreds of people walking back and forth to the coast, yearly or bi-annually or even more frequently, to gather resources that were available on the coast, or to trade inland resources to coastal resources. And as they traveled across, of course they’re walking, and so they were camping, and they were spending the night, and they were gathering things as they walked around and then they went to the coast, where they had summer camps, drying seaweed and fish and so on, and then you had the return to the lowland villages in the wintertime, and so it’s not just like, they would go to the coast for the weekend and then come back home. The whole thing was the home. The whole thing was part of a life cycle, a yearly seasonal round if you will, of gathering.”

Girvin says that’s significant, in light of policies stemming from a 2019 Governor’s order. “Pursuant to a state policy edict that came out after the creation of the Truth and Healing Council, all state lands that are the ancestral territory of tribes can be co-managed by the tribes,” she noted. “And that is now in the Governor’s 30x30 policy plan. It goes so far as not just co-management, but actual return of land to tribes.”

Patterson hopes more historical understanding will lead to a wider variety of protections. She thinks the appropriate response to the knowledge about sites should be more archeology in JDSF, which she expects will lead to further knowledge. Even Three Chop Village, a well-known site, has not yet been fully investigated. “We’re just discovering more, and as dating techniques become more technical and more accurate, we begin to see the record go back and back and back of when people lived in the forest,” she said. “The idea is to protect the forest. To protect not only the trees, but also the cultural resources. Which involve not just the plants and the animals and the basketry materials and the medicinal materials. But also the cultural connection to those places. The spiritual connection to those places. The mythological connection to those places. All of that has to be considered in a cultural landscape.”

When it comes to using that knowledge to contribute to efforts toward tribal co-management and control over the land they historically used, she said, “The idea is to create a conversation between CalFire and the tribes to determine what activities should take place and how they should take place in the forest…what does it mean to run a bulldozer through a house site? What does it mean to destroy a so-called lithic scatter, which is of no merit monetarily, to take away that knowledge from the people whose people it was?” Patterson noted that this is a historic moment for tribes: “Indigenous land returns are happening everywhere, including on the Mendocino coast,” she pointed out. “You have the example of over 500 acres being added to the Sinkyone Intertribal Wilderness by the Save the Redwoods League, which just happened a couple weeks ago. You also have the new tribal non-profit being formed to manage Blues Beach (just outside Westport), from CalTrans. And it happened a number of years ago to Kashia (Band of Pomo Indians. The) Kashia tribe got back some of their land. So this is a movement going on everywhere because it’s the right thing to do. The land was stolen from Native people.”

Local News
Sarah Reith is the lead reporter for KZYX News. She joined the KZYX News team in 2017, and covers local politics, water, law enforcement and the arts in Mendocino County.