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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Robert T. Lundahl
RL | A
Public Relations and Public Policy Communications
P.O. Box 429
Solana Beach, CA 92075
Sr. Alfredo Figueroa
La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle
BLISTERING DESERT SOLAR MEETING, DESTRUCTION OF NATIVE AMERICAN SACRED SITES AND LACK OF CONSULTATION DOMINATE
BLM Begins Rio Mesa Project EIS Process to Strong Opposition Over Desert Solar Siting
BLYTHE, CA The Bureau of Land Management scoping meeting for the Rio Mesa Solar Plant outside Blythe, California likely caused heartburn for the BLM, applicant Brightsource, and related subcontractors and agencies last Thursday.
Time and time again Native Elders stood up to declare concerns and articulate potentially unresolvable conflicts of values, goals, and process that have the potential to devastate Obama Administration hopes to build large solar across the deserts of California and the West.
BLM representative Lynette Elser declared the “government to government consultation process…”, required by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, “began for the Rio Mesa Project in November 2011.” When questioned by Chemehuevi Elder and tribal member Phil Smith, Elser could not recall which tribes had been involved in discussions. She said BLM Associate Field Manager Holly Roberts would also not be able to recall.
(See Video Press Release Supplement: https://vimeo.com/49510568). Roberts volunteered that her office would send a list upon request.
Ft. Mohave Tribal Member and Mohave Indian Nation Traditional/Hereditary Chief, The Reverend Ronald Van Fleet, stated that he did not know of any requests for consultation at the time of the 9/15/2012 meeting, asking, “Who are we to trust here?”
The BLM is obligated by the federal government’s “Trust Relationship” (holding lands and cultural resources in trust) with tribes, to follow the rules they made.
“An incoherent or non-existent Section 106 process undermines that trust relationship, and is helping to unravel Obama Administration solar policies across the West,” says Cory Briggs, Attorney for La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle. La Cuna filed complaints in late 2010 against the Departments of Interior and Energy, against the BLM, and against several applicant companies, including Brightsource, which had become associated with Robert Kennedy Jr. and VantagePoint Partners.
“We said no,” declared Reverend Van Fleet, “When is it going to get through your head?” A million dollars is nothing, do we have to fine you a billion dollars for violating one of our cremation sites, or 10 billion dollars? I think that’s a pretty number. Do we have to go to court to do that? That’s the only thing you understand is the money.”
Van Fleet was joined by 15 Mohave Nation Elders and Councilmembers, and by Elders and Councilmember’s from the CRIT Indian Nation (Colorado River Indian Tribes), which includes Hopi, Navajo, Chemehuevi, and Mohave peoples. CRIT Councilperson Amanda Barrera noted that the National Congress of American Indians, NCAI, adopted a resolution introduced by CRIT, opposing the Department of Interior Fast-Track Policies of Renewable Energy Projects on Ancestral Homelands http://www.ncai.org/resources/resolutions/opposing-the-department-of-interior-fast-track-policies-of-renewable-energy-projects-on-ancestral-homelands.
La Cuna’s Founder, Sr. Alfredo Acosta Figueroa, a Chemehuevi Nation Cultural Monitor, added that the siting of the Rio Mesa facility is on and near areas sacred to Uto-Aztecan peoples. The three peaks close to the site are called Cali, which is from the Nahuatl language and reflects the origin of the name of the State of California.
Additionally, he states, the recent discovery of hundreds of acres of mammoth fossils on the Rio Mesa site, and the BLM’s continuation of the scoping process regardless, is inconsistent with the recent establishment of a National Monument in the Las Vegas Valley, where Nevada Senator Harry Reid helped to protect similar deposits.
“They can declare a National Monument anywhere they want, said Figueroa.”
My week began without the expectation of what was to come. I had been made aware of a public meeting in Blythe, to be held at the college, beginning the EIS (Environmental impact Statement) process for the Rio Mesa Solar facility.
I suspect after the travesties of the “Genesis Project,” Florida Power and Light’s debacle built on Ford Dry Lake, everyone is a little tired. The distemper outbreak among Kit Fox is devastating. Not only does it subject the species to the disease, but to the cure, human interference, dislocation and stress. Ford Dry Lake is dry now, but until the 1970’s, you could fish from it. And Native Americans fished. And lived, there. And so when shovel hit soil as in so many other cases, uncovered were bones. People. Cremations. Outside the project area, yet inside the transmission corridor. And hundreds of artifacts, are now in San Diego awaiting repatriation. The elders say this causes psychological disturbance.
I filmed my first BLM meeting after having been asked not to film on two occasions. And Reverend Ron Van Fleet, who is a member of La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle, spoke. There is a time in life when you are sitting at Denny’s next to a guy who just became a hero. He is putting ketchup on his french fries. He turns to me and says, “The truth shall set you free.” My friend says, “Anyone who is that close to the animals is a holy man.”
Watching the BLM fumble questions about consultation with tribes including the most basic, did you? shows something amiss. There’s a lot of money on the line here, and for that matter a government shoving our billions at a not yet existing answer to an evolving question about energy. Where does it come from? The find of mammoths at the Rio Mesa location is important because it offers us a way to place human and animal behaviors into a context of climate. The desert offers us a roadmap to adaptation to climate change. The evidence of previous communities, water, animals, plants, humans, and their movements over time is the only way we can study up. Let’s look deeper also into the archeological and ethnographic record for stories about the Hohokam people, those who left.
I remember going to the Sequim-Dungeness Museum in Washington. A farmer found a mammoth skeleton in a field. There was a spearpoint in the rib, lodged there 13,700 years ago. Russ Hepfer, former Elwha Klallam Tribal Chairman, said, “Oh yea. That’s one of ours.” And so in a warmer and wetter world, those mammoths were somebody’s sacred brothers and sisters, and maybe their livlihood. Where the people wound up, and where the mammoths wound up, are the most important aspects of the story.
Mohave Traditional/Hereditary Chief, The Reverend Ron Van Fleet gave many of us in California and around the world a lot to think about this last Thursday.