(Washington, D.C.): The Environmental Law Institute (ELI), the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (NATHPO), and Dr. Jamie Donatuto, community environmental health analyst for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, today announced their partnership with two California Native American Tribes—the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, and the Pechanga Band of Indians—in a groundbreaking project to advance tribal sovereignty and cultural resource protection in state and local environmental decisionmaking.
With the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Policies for Action program, ELI, NATHPO, and their partners initiated the project in 2021 to promote tribes’ role and improve government-to-government consultation with state and local agencies in California. The project spotlights the implementation of two California laws, SB 18 (Traditional Tribal Cultural Places), and AB 52 (Native Americans: California Environmental Quality Act). In addition to a legal and policy analysis, the project will focus on impacts to tribes as understood by tribes.
“This Project is a good opportunity for the Tribe’s voices to be heard regarding the effectiveness of AB52 and SB18 implementation,” said Chairman Chris Wright of the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians. “Through Dry Creek Rancheria’s participation, we hope to make the consult process work better for all tribes. Consults are necessary and critical because the implementation of these laws is not just about artifacts, but also about cultural history and community health and wellness.”
“We are excited to participate in what we hope will be a landmark study that will result in more effective protection of cultural resources by tribal, state, and local governments,” said Mark Macarro, Tribal Chairman of the Pechanga Band of Indians. “California continues to undergo massive growth and development into traditional tribal territories. These findings should help inform policymakers at the tribal, state, and local level about the efficacy of laws designed to protect our irreplaceable cultural resources and sacred places.”
“California’s environmental and land use planning laws go further than most because they require state and local agencies to consult with tribes on the cultural impacts of their decisions,” added Cynthia R. Harris, ELI’s Director of Tribal Programs and co-Principal Investigator on the project with ELI Visiting Attorney Greta Swanson. “Yet, what we’re hearing loud and clear is these laws often fall far short in practice.”
To further understanding and communication of tribal impacts, the team is working with one of the pioneers of the Indigenous Health Indicators (IHIs), Dr. Jamie Donatuto. Dr. Donatuto will work with the Pechanga Band of Indians and Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians to develop a tribe-specific set of IHIs. “Indigenous Health Indicators provide a tangible evaluation method for each tribe to demonstrate their respective health and well-being priorities, based on their worldviews and cultures," said Dr. Donatuto. “IHIs reflect the integral connections between humans, other species, homelands, and the spiritual realms.” The ultimate goal is to bridge the gap of understanding between Indigenous values and western bureaucratic approaches to land use and planning.
The project is grounded in the Indigenous experience and worldview, with the team benefitting from the advice and insight of the project Steering Committee. The Steering Committee comprises tribal leaders and experts in California Native American history and culture, state and local administration, environmental policy, tribal and federal Indian law, and tribal community health and wellness.
“The work being done by this project will be mutually beneficial to local and state agencies and for California Native American tribes,” said Merri Lopez-Keifer, Tribal Member and Senior Advisor to the Tribal Council of the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians and project Steering Committee member. “The protection and preservation of tribal cultural resources is the responsibility of all Californians—not just tribes and tribal people. Ours is a living culture—our past is part of our being, and interwoven between our present and future—it binds us together as a community. It is important that the state’s genocidal policies of the past truly cease and the significance and value of the non-renewable resource known as tribal cultural resources be embraced and treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. This project will help provide that pathway.”
The project is carried out in collaboration with the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (NATHPO), a national nonprofit organization that empowers tribal preservation leaders to protect culturally important places that perpetuate Native identity, resilience, and cultural endurance. According to NATHPO, connections to cultural heritage sustain the health and vitality of Native peoples.
“Meaningful consultation is truly predecisional and respectful of tribes’ knowledge and expertise, but that is so frequently not the way it happens,” stated NATHPO Executive Director, Dr. Valerie Grussing. “SB 18 and AB 52 have the potential to improve this and strengthen the role of Native voices in decisions that affect them, but there must be accountability.”
About the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians
The Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians’ ancestral homeland covers 86,000 acres in northern inland Sonoma County. For at least 10,000 years, the natural fertility of these lands provided a settled and satisfying life, but that life changed drastically with the arrival of white settlers in the early 1800s. During the next century, most of the Tribe’s ancestors perished. The few that did survive were rendered homeless. The Tribe’s original 75-acre Rancheria was established by the federal government in 1915 to rectify this condition. The Rancheria is 80 miles north of San Francisco, located near the wine country town of Healdsburg. Because the Tribe built the mid-sized River Rock Casino on the Rancheria in 2002 to help generate income for its approximately 1,300 members, today, no tribal members live there, but most reside in the surrounding towns and suburbs.
About the Pechanga Band of Indians
The Pechanga Band of Indians is a federally recognized Indian Tribe that has called the Temecula Valley in southern California home since time immemorial. The Pechanga Indian Reservation was established by presidential executive order in 1882, affirming the Tribe’s sovereign rights and land-base. The Pechanga Band directly employs over 4,000 people and owns and operates the award-winning Pechanga Resort Casino and several economic enterprises.
The project Steering Committee includes Salvina Norris, Vice Chair of the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians; Sherrie Smith-Ferri, Ph.D., Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians THPO and enrolled Tribal Member; Merri Lopez-Keifer, Tribal Member and Senior Advisor to the Tribal Council of the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians; Anne Lucke, Library Director of the National Indian Law Library, Native American Rights Fund; and Ted Griswold, Partner and Founder of the Native American Practice Group, Procopio LLP.
For more on ELI’s work in this space, visit ELI’s Center for State, Tribal, and Local Environmental Programs at https://www.eli.org/center-state-tribal-and-local-environmental-programs.