From WILL PARRISH
This is a round-up of the latest developments regarding three major stories I’ve been writing about for the Anderson Valley Advertiser in the last few years. First is the latest regarding the dramatic story of a 24-year-old Willits-based goatherder and vegetable grower (“The Warbler”) who is perching in a tree at the southern entrance of CalTrans’ proposed bypass of Willits.
Recent weeks have also seen disturbing news regarding the tribal disenrollment scandal at Robinson Rancheria near Upper Lake, as well as the latest major assault on Mendocino County’s oak woodlands and watersheds by Big Wine.
The Warbler, Week 3
As of this writing, The Warbler has been nesting in her 4′x8′ plywood perch overlooking Highway 101 south of Willits, at the southern interchange area of CalTrans’ long-proposed freeway bypass, for 15 days. On Day 14, this past Monday, she got her first reported visit from an actual yellow warbler: the easily identifiable buttery-yellow or warm-yellow birds (the color tone depends on gender) who remain relatively abundant in the Willits Valley.
At least for now.
The yellow warbler perched for several minutes in a blue or black oak tree very near the tree sit. Warblers enjoy wet thickets, which the Southern Interchange area of the proposed bypass route certainly is. One of the Willits Valley’s six primary creeks, Haehl Creek, meanders in a northerly direction past The Warbler’s stately and increasingly well-known ponderosa pine, before curving to the west about 200 yards north.
The creek ultimately merges with Baechtel Creek slightly north of where CalTrans’ proposed superhighway crosses East Valley Rd., not far from the Willits Post Office. Baechtel Creek drains into Little Lake on the north end of the valley, which then discharges into one of the largest remaining coho salmon runs in California: Outlet Creek, a mighty 116-mile tributary of the mainstem Eel River.
As I wrote in the AVA last month, construction of the CalTrans Bypass would require vast destruction of Little Lake, as well as the wildlife – including yellow warblers – that depend on it. The prospective killing of these wetlands, which have defined Little Lake Valley’s identity for millennia, followed by construction of a freeway over the wetlands’ corpse, has outraged countless locals.
The destruction of Little Lake is the basis of a Clean Water Act lawsuit the Willits Environmental Center, Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and Environmental Protection Information Center filed in an effort to halt the project, with the suit slated to be heard in federal court in early-June.
Another charismatic animal that depends on these wetlands are an enigmatic herd of tule elk who recently moved down into Little Lake following migration through the Sherwood Mountains. Once abundant throughout Northern and Central California, the elk had not been seen in Willits in several decades. Nature photographer Chris Hansen their reappearance in June. Around 10 of the elk are reported to be living in the wetlands as of this writing.
Tule elk are protected under separate federal and state laws, though they are not listed as endangered. Thus, CalTrans likely will not have to account for them in their mitigation schemes.
Recent days have also brought an increasing number of visits from a definitely non-native species, one who usually carry guns and are adorned in Navy Blue or beige rather than buttery-yellow. The California Highway Patrol has visited the site several times in recent days, most often apparently just to keep an eye on things. In one case, they snapped photos of member of the tree sit’s ground support crew and removed a sign that protesters had affixed to CalTrans’ No Trespassing sign.
The day before the CHP arrived to snap photos, at least three of their squad cars were observed in the parking lot of CalTrans’ brand-new office headquarters at 300 East Hill Rd in the early-evening hours It is certain that CHP officers are consulting with CalTrans officials on how to police the tree sit most effectively, and also that they will take part in an eventual effort to extract The Warbler from the tree.
For the first two weeks of the tree sit, relations between the Mendocino County Sheriffs and the tree sit were exceptionally cordial. Yet, on the morning that this edition of the AVA was headed to deadline, Sheriffs Deputies visited the site and issued an ultimatum to a young woman and man who have been camping at the base of the tree that they will need to leave or be arrested. The Sheriffs, too, snapped pictures. Rumors are now flying that CalTrans and cops are gearing up for something bigger.
Meanwhile, the tree sit continues to galvanize considerable support and generate publicity. As more than a few long-time locals have commented, this is the greatest level of coordinated opposition to the Bypass in the half-century since CalTrans first proposed it.
On Sunday, roughly 50 people turned out at Little Lake Grange for a discussion about the Bypass with Javier Silva of Sherwood Valley Rancheria and the Potter Valley Tribe. Silva was the founding director of the Environmental Department at Sherwood Valley Rancheria, located east of Willits near Highway 20. He put the CalTrans Bypass into a context of colonialism and genocide, which has put into place a society addicted to speed and based on exploitation and destruction of the natural world.
Redwood Valley Pomo elder Barbara Graumann expressed that she took part in the event as a show up support for Silva. “As an elder, it’s my responsibility to stand behind our young people when they are out speaking the truth,” she explained. “By standing behind Javier, I’m showing that I endorse what he’s saying as being true.” Graumann offered a prayer song to conclude the event.
Graumann’s daughters, Corine Pearce and Nicole Graumann, also shared powerful words explaining their involvement in opposing the CalTrans Bypass. Corine has been a regular and steady presence at the tree sit, also representing the movement to Save Little Lake Valley as part of the regional. She led a prayer song circle on the morning the Warbler’s Tree Sit began.
One of the likely reasons the police have not dealt with the tree sit in a more heavy-handed way is that it enjoys broad support from people in Willits. Willits City Councilwoman Madge Strong, for instance, has been a regular presence at many of the organizing meetings and has drafted a coalition letter to regional political officials urging their intervention to stop the Bypass. Several years ago, roughly 90 percent of businesses in Willits signed on to a letter opposing the Bypass.
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat will publish a feature story on the tree sit in the next few days, though the story of the tree sit yet to be picked up by any of the other dominant Bay Area media sources.
The CHP allowed the sign they took down from CalTrans’ No Trespassing sign to remain on-site. It reads:
Property of the People of California
* No Cutting Trees
* No Destroying Wetlands
* Sustainable Farming, Forestry, and Ranching Encouraged
* Responsible Hikers, Bikers, and Birders Welcome
* No Trespassing by Agents of State or National Corporations or Bureaucracies
“Live Free or Die”
Robinson Rancheria War
In October, I published an AVA piece called “The Disenrollment of Clayton Duncan.” In recent years, more than 3,000 Native people in California have been banished from their tribes. They are commanded to leave their homes and stripped of their benefits, often despite having deep ancestral ties to those people and lands.
As many traditional Native people have stated, tribal disenrollment is a consequence of more than 150 years of colonization and trauma, which have created deep divisions in these societies and disrupted traditional ways of resolving disputes. The governing systems the US federal government has imposed on Native people are set up to a significant extent to reward those tribal members who embrace the dominant system by seeking influence, power, economic profit or special status for themselves and their families.
On the other hand, people grounded in more traditional values of sharing and cooperation are all too often pushed to the side. In the case of tribal disenrollment, the tribal administrators who carry out these purges, as in the case of Robinson Rancheria in Lake County, can often do so to hoard casino money and consolidate political power.
This past summer, the Robinson Rancheria tribal council announced that they are disenrolling Clayton Duncan on a paper-thin pretext: He had misrepresented the fact that his children were also enrolled in the Navajo Nation in the early-1980s, they claimed, at the same time they were enrolled in Robinson Rancheria at the time Duncan was the tribe’s vice chairman. Thus, he should be banished from the tribe.
Duncan’s grandmother was largely responsible for establishing Robinson Rancheria. She was the plaintiff in the 1978 lawsuit Mabel Duncan vs. US Federal Govt. Clayton served as inaugural vice chairman of the Rancheria, working side by side with Bernardine Tripp, the first-ever chairman, to secure funding for nearly all of the Rancheria’s housing and infrastructure.
Clearly, Duncan was actually being kicked for being outspoken in opposition to tribal corruption. And Duncan isn’t the only one who has been thus dumped from the tribal rolls. Several other members of his family were banished from the tribe, in spite of their long-time role as leaders in it, after he spoke up in defense of Mildred Goforth, who the Robinson Rancheria tribal government disenrolled in 2010. Ms. Goforth is among last fluent speakers of the traditional Eastern Pomo language.
Clayton Duncan and several of the other disenrolled members have filed a lawsuit aimed at reinstating them and setting a legal precedent in tribal disenrollment cases. At a Ukiah fundraiser in December, Duncan raised nearly enough money to cover the lawsuit’s filing and deposition fees.
Perhaps owing to the extra pressure they have been feeling, the Robinson tribal council have been putting the screws to members of the Duncan family far more intensely in recent weeks. In December, they evicted Clayton Duncan’s daughter, Tanya, from her home on the reservation – a home that she had inherited from her grandmother.
Lake County Sheriffs armed with assault rifled joined tribal police offers in carrying out the eviction. Clayton Duncan arrived as the eviction was taking place and upbraided the police officers, who briefly handcuffed and placed him in a squad car, though they released him after a brief detention. They apparently thought better of actually booking the popular and well-known figure in jail.
Tribal administrators and the police carried out a far more violent eviction of Duncan family members two weeks ago, including Clayton’s brother, Doug. Terri Larsen of Lake County News filed this report on January 24th:
“It was a cold, rainy day on the Robinson Rancheria, January 23rd, when two Tribal Police Officers came to the door of Monica Anderson’s house on Quail Top Drive with assault rifles in their hands. Monica was being evicted because her husband belongs to the Duncan clan, a clan who Tribal leader Tracey Avila has spent the past year trying to eradicate from the Rancheria for no other reason than the patriarch, Clayton, speaks out against the wrongdoing he has witnessed there since Avila took control of the administration of the Robinson Band of Pomo people.
“I spoke with Monica in December, a week or so before Christmas, when she had first received the notice she would be evicted. She told me her story, a story that is becoming all too familiar. She has always tried to do the right thing for her husband Dwayne and 8-year-old son Daniel Duncan. She worked hard and enjoyed her life on the rez in her federally funded HUD townhouse. Her job as security at the Robinson’s Casino was good enough, until one day she was fired, because she refused to change her statement regarding Tracey Avila assaulting a casino customer.
This was the beginning of the end of her current life for Monica. A cousin of Avila, Monica became a pariah because she refused to lie, and because she loves her husband, who happens to be a Duncan.”
“ Douglas Duncan, Clayton’s other brother, showed up in traditional costume and handed the tribal police officers a copy of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, stating he was there to perform a religious ceremony to bless the house and the grounds. The tribal police did not interfere with the ceremonies that were held in the backyard and front of the house. As it became clear that their patience had run out and they were ready to come in, the group of about 20 Pomos gathered in the living room of the house in a circle, Doug was singing and keeping time with a clapper stick.
“Everyone was peacefully singing, when the tribal officers came up the front porch steps and took the locked steel screen security door off its hinges and entered the house. The two tribal officers entered first, with Captain Chris Macedo, Undersheriff Patrick Turturici, two deputies in body armor as well as a half dozen deputies close behind. DA Don Anderson stayed outside the property.
“The two tribal officers went upstairs first, the Pomos were still singing and chanting their prayers in a circle in the living room. They cleared the upstairs, making sure no one was there. Then they entered the living room and walked into the center of the circle. They walked up to Dwayne Duncan and asked him to leave. He asked the officer if he could finish the song, and they said no, that it was time to go. They put a tie wrap around his wrists, and he stood there, arms at his sides, offering no resistance, still singing. When they had the tie wraps on his wrists they tried to move him out of the room.
“At this time the Pomos moved in closer and closer, closing the circle with their bodies, arms to their sides, encircling the officers and Dwayne, still singing. They could not move forward. After several minutes of trying to push through them, the Sheriffs moved in, circling the group, grabbing people by their shirts, pushing and pulling others, generally trying to move them out of the room forcibly.
“They moved as one mass, swaying back and forth, Pomos, deputies and tribal police all in a flowing mob. Eventually they swerved towards where I was standing on the couch videotaping the entire event. They all fell forward, knocking me backwards and the couch I was standing on backwards. This created a safety zone for me, as the bottom of the couch was now up in the air, protecting me from the ensuing chaos. By this time people are screaming, the one deputy was throwing people around the room, I saw him push a woman flat on her back.
“Doug Duncan allegedly hit one of the officers with his clapper. He got taken down by at least three officers, I found myself face to face with Captain Macedo as he was knocked down by Doug in the melee. One of the Sheriff deputies had Doug in a choke hold on the floor. His fine traditional regalia was strewn all over the living room floor. Captain Macedo stated he saw Doug Duncan hit Lt. Chwialkowski with the clapper he had been using to keep the time. I did not witness this, although later on I did notice a welt and scratch on the forehead of Lt. Chwialkowski. Doug was hand cuffed and taken out of the building. The Sheriff’s deputies were the aggressors, as they moved unchecked throughout the room, grabbing and throwing people down, wrestling them to the ground. Screams permeated the room, and more than one were taken away without doing anything. One of the tribal police officers went to great lengths to pick up the feathers, beads, and sacred items that fell off Doug as they took him down.
“Captain Macedo told me this morning that their role is to intervene when laws are broken as well as to protect the tribal officers. “Public Law 280 grants the Sheriff’s Office with lawful jurisdiction on the rancherias. We have been going out there as long as they have existed. We are not taking sides in this, they had a lawful [tribal] court order signed by a [tribal] judge. Once they circled the officers who were trying to take Dwayne out of the house, they [the tribal officers] were being threatened, they were the victims of false imprisonment, and at that point they were breaking the law, so we stepped in. Commander Irwin made the decision to affect the order, and we had to be there to support them.”
“I watched as Pomo after Pomo were grabbed, tie wrapped and taken out of the house. A total of 7 were taken away, including a pregnant woman. They were booked at the Hill Road Facility, Doug and Nina Duncan both have felony charges.
“The scene continued outside and was still going on when I left, but by this time there were twice as many deputies, and even Lakeport PD and the canine crew had shown up, it was a regular circus. Move along folks, the show is over…and who pays for all these resources? The taxpayers of Lake County.
“Douglas Duncan was arrested and transferred to the Hill Road Correctional Facility. He has been charged with a felony charge of FORCE/ADW NOT FIREARM: GBI LIKELY which means assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury. Captain Chris Macedo states he witnessed him assaulting Lt. Chwialkowski, claiming Doug hit him in the head with his clapper he used to keep time. Doug claims he was pushed backwards, then he fell forwards, with his clapper hitting the officer. He was singing as he went down. He also was charged with 2 misdemeanors, and has a bond of $30,000. Nina Duncan was charged with attempting to remove a firearm from a peace officer along with other misdemeanor charges. She has a $15,000 bond.”
Making this story even more compelling is the fact that the Duncan are descendant of one of the only survivors of the 1850 Bloody Island Massacre. Lucy Moore was six years old at the time that the US Amy murdered survived by breathing underwater through a tule reed. Clayton and Doug Duncan are her great grandsons.
Against the backdrop of Robinson Rancheria’s all-out war on his family – and, by extension, the legacy of that family in the region – Clayton Duncan took the time to post a message of solidarity with The Warbler’s tree-sit on Facebook last week.
“I support whats going on at Willits by the protesters, as you call them,” he wrote. “I call them children protecting their mother. CalTrans need to find another way. Slow down, work with the first people, respect them. The ancestors are watching. All of you that make these ugly decisions against our Mother — where is your integrity? Didn’t your parents teach you about the connection between you and the earth? And that what you do to her, you do to all of us? When you have no respect for the earth, we know you have no respect for Wa Hud De Ka (our father). Need to fix that… Stay with it, people. Ancestors are with you.”
Kendall-Jackson: A Legacy Continued
Wine Country’s most rapacious destroyer of oak woodlands and mountain ridges is at it again, this time in southern Mendocino County. In December, Kendall-Jackson quietly announced it is buying 877 acres of chaparral and oak forest on Pine Mountain in southern Mendocino County, about seven miles northeast of Cloverdale.
Kendall-Jackson has led the charge across the last two decades as well-endowed vineyard owners have plowed down thousands upon thousands of acres of oak woodlands and oak savannahs in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. The company’s rack record includes converting a number of hillsides to moonscapes in Anderson Valley, pioneering the efforts among large wine corporations to decimate the coniferous forests of the Gualala River watershed and replace them with grape stakes in chemically sterilized soils, and sparking an effort to ban cutting of oak trees in Santa Barbara County.
About 100 acres of the Jackson’ new property were already cleared by the previous owner. The Jacksons plan to clear another 180 acres. If allowed, they would capture all the water for their steep-slope vineyard blocks from Pieta Creek and some of its feeder streams.
Pieta, which enters the river about where Frog Woman Rock stands, is historically one of the Russian River’s more important steelhead spawning and nursery creeks. If I’m not mistaken, this would be the highest-elevation vineyard ever planted in Sonoma or Mendo Counties — roughly 2,800 feet up. You can find what I wrote about Kendall-Jackson a few years ago, at the time of Jess Jackson’s death, in the AVA web site archives.