- Anderson Valley
- Mendocino County
by Will Parrish, September 21, 2011
If you’re a First Nations tribe in Lake County, California, United States of America, you can provide 100 painstaking pages proving under the federal government’s own property laws that you own a piece of land, and the Board of Supervisors still vote against you on grounds of “protecting private property.”
It happened on September 6, 2011 in Lakeport — a date that will live in infamy in the oft-bloody annals of regional aboriginal-settler relations.
The land at issue is an island known traditionally as Elem Modun, now commonly referred to as Rattlesnake Island: the cultural and spiritual center of the Elem Pomo, who have lived in and around southeastern Clear Lake for at least 10,000 years. For 6,000 years of those years, if not far longer, Rattlesnake Island has been a burial grounds, site of several villages, and ceremonial area for the Elem. Archeologists have dated artifacts on the island to 14,000 years old, some of the earliest documented evidence of human occupation in the western hemisphere.
Both the 56-acre island and the 50-acre Elem reservation lie slightly southeast of that now-stagnant, once-thriving former resort town along the Highway 20 corridor, Clearlake Oaks. As I described in a piece for the AVA three weeks ago, entitled “The Struggle for Rattlesnake Island,” the island was essentially stolen in 1877, when then-California Governor William Irwin issued a land patent for the island to a pair of wealthy San Francisco-based entrepreneurs, Richard S. Floyd and Thomas P. Madden, who had a burgeoning interest in real estate around Lake County at the time.
Floyd and Madden represented the island as being “uninhabited,” thus giving the illegal land patent a fig leaf of legal propriety. The federal government’s 1834 Indian Non-Intercourse Act proclaims that aboriginal land title can be extinguished only by an act of Congress – thus rendering the State of California’s land patent illegal.
Wealthy Bay Area wireless electronics magnate John Nady purchased this title in 2004 for $2.5 million. He has since sought to build a large vacation home and a caretaker’s home there. In 2005, the Lake County Planning Commission voted unanimously to require that Nady conduct an Environmental Impact Review (EIR). Nady filed an appeal of decision with the Board of Supervisors, and that eventually brought us to two weeks ago, as the Supervisors convened at their Lakeport chambers to rule on the appeal.
The Supervisors’ Rattlesnake Island deliberations actually began on August 16th, but they carried the proceedings over to the September 6th meeting after public comment at the first session exceeded more than five hours, and still not everyone was finished speaking.
Mercury Poisoning: A Modern Face of Genocide
Very close to the Elem’s Clearlake Oaks reservation homes is a small lake of sulphur-infested waters left by a mining company. It is a pit hundreds of feet deep which lies above the level of Clear Lake less than 200 feet from the shore, thereby contaminating the lake by seepage. All around this contaminated water lies a stripped and barren land, plundered for mercury, much of it to supply the second World War.
Operated by Bradley Mining Company, the Sulphur Bank Mine was in open-pit operation that produced tons of mercury-rich ore from 1927 to 1957. Today, the 120-acre site is a dead zone of barren earth, reeking ponds and a few small twisted trees struggling to survive in the toxic soil.
Severe mercury poisoning can result in kidney failure, nerve damage and ultimately, death. Symptoms include tremors, blurred vision, slurred speech, staggering gait and extreme emotional instability that sometimes leads to violence. Although no government or state agency has made a concerted attempt to study the impact of mercury and sulfur poisoning upon the health of the Elem, it is well known that they are collectively in terrible physical health.
Elem children had to to walk right past the mine tailings pond every day as they went to school. Many of them played in the abandoned mine site, not knowing the damage it would later cause them. The Elem continued to gather fish for subsistence living in their ancestral section of Clear Lake, as they had for thousands of years, until the State of California issued a health advisory warning people not to eat fish from Clear Lake in the 1976.
But there’s another, arguably even more insidious dimension to the Elem’s methyl mercury nightmare. In 1971, the Bureau of Indian Affairs had obtained funding to build the Elem’s first houses on their reservation. Until then, they had lived without running water or electricity, and without modern houses.
There was a major problem with how the federal government went about building the homes, however: They used the nearby mine tailings as fill beneath the homes. The Elem were literally living on piles of toxic mercury and sulfur until the Environmental Protection Agency finally removed the houses and cleaned up the area. At one point, the EPA ranked the area surrounding their reservation as the third highest priority toxic clean-up site in the entire country.
I’ll provide greater coverage of the Elem’s efforts to deal with the legacy of the mine next door to them a future edition of the AVA. Suffice it to say that the current socieconomic and environmental conditions in which the Elem live make their bid to regain Rattlesnake Island all the more compelling. The Elem regard the island as a place of healing – something they desperately need.
To put it mildly, the conditions in which the Elem now live stand in glaring contrast to those being enjoyed by John Nady, a Bay Area entrepreneur with a variously sordid history.
Who Is Nady?
In the early-1970s, as the Elem were locked in a struggle to prevent the large forest products and real estate corporation Boise Cascade to subdivide Rattlesnake Island, John Nady was a frustrated young rock ‘n’ roller in the East Bay, playing guitar in various fledgling bands by night, working as an electrical engineer by day. He had graduated second in his class as an undergrad in electrical engineering at CalTech, before earning a master’s degree at UC Berkeley in 1968. He had arrived in the US at the age of six, a Hungarian immigrant whose family was staunchly anti-Soviet.
Much like another Hungarian emigre based in the California East Bay at the time, nuclear weapons physicist Edward “The Real Dr. Strangelove” Teller, Nady was strongly at odds with the left-wing ferment then taking hold in the area in which he resided. He has identified himself as a lifelong conservative Republican.
Nady helped create a wireless microphone for one of his bands, then parlayed that invention into Nady Systems, Inc. of Emeryville. By 1982, Nady Systems’ compound annual growth rate was 139 percent. By 1987, 73 of the Billboard top 100 touring musical acts were using the Nady Systems microphone, from Bruce Springsteen to the Rolling Stones to Prince.
A significant fortune in hand, Nady sought to expand his reach within the music industry, not only developing all manner of new wireless devices widely adopted by musicians and church services, but also buying up and developing rock ‘n’ roll night clubs throughout the Bay Area: The Omni in Oakland, The Stone in San Francisco, and One Step Beyond in Santa Clara.
Nady’s initial impetus for buying The Omni in 1985 — located at 4799 Shattuck Ave., in the Temescal district on the east side of town – was to provide a venue where his own band could regularly perform. Amid the increasing commercialization of many rock’n’roll genres in the 1970s, Los Angeles night clubs adopted a practice called “pay-to-play” whereby musicians had to promise to sell a certain number of tickets in exchange for performing at the club. Those who couldn’t sell enough tickets paid the difference in cash. It was Nady who brought this controversial practice to the Bay Area, implementing it at each of his clubs and almost instantly making his name a swear word among working class and anti-commercial musicians throughout the region.
Nady had already earned a less than flattering reputation around the Bay Area music scene, owing to certain aspects of his personality, as reflected by his long-running nickname of “Captain Nasty.” At his pay-to-play venues, if a musician was unable to sell enough tickets or didn’t have enough cash to cover costs, Nady’s people would repossess the musicians’ gear – a common practice among pay-to-play venue owners. By one account, a group of musicians organized a boycott of Nady, his clubs, and his products in the early-1990s, although the extent of this boycott could not be confirmed at press time.
By the 1990s, Nady’s fortune was easily worth tens of millions. He purchased one of the East Bay’s most ostentatious private dwellings, the Sweetland Mansion in Piedmont. It is a 45-room Norman-style building with dining room for 100 guests, as well as a small stage and theater that seats 200. The home cost approximately $5 million at the time of the purchase, and it would be worth perhaps more than $10 million today.
The Nadys – John and his wife, Toby – are among the wealthiest couples in East Bay, but they have nevertheless been the subject of complaints by two separate tenants concerning gross exploitation and fraud. On at least three occasions, the Nadys have rented out a “recording studio” in a large building they own in Oakland, with several adjoining studios and rooms. The unwitting musician tenants say they discovered after already signing a binding agreement with the Nadys that the facility is not sound-proofed, with loud bands practicing in the building, and that the roof is badly leaking. Once the tenant discovers these defects, Nady’s attorney harasses the tenant into not breaking the lease.
In one case, Steve Massey of Massey Plugins in Oakland says he leased the studio from Nady in hopes of it becoming a sort of research and development lab for the musical gear his company develops. It wasn’t until after he had signed a lease agreement with Nady that he discovered the space was actually unusable for music recording. “We’re being bullied by the Nady general counsel into either taking the lease or be in breach of contract (with damages up to $19,800 to cover full term of the questionable lease, plus other miscellaneous legal fees),” he noted in a letter posted on the internet in 2003. The two parties later reached some sort of settlement in exchange for Nady’s breaking the lease, on terms favorable to Nady.
Bay Area musician and music teacher Aaron Seeman, who has a modest following along the west coast as Duckmandu, encountered many of the same problems when he rented the space from the Nadys. In a letter to the the couple he sent this past winter, he wrote, “I now have no savings and am deep in debt. Setting up the space at 1145 65th street has cost me over $8,000 in build out, some of which Toby Nady had initially said she would cover. The first and last plus deposit were $7250, some of which I hoped to recoup when I rented the rooms. The model for this new space was to have a community of musicians, artists, and others who contribute to the rent. Without permission to have subletters, without heat in the performance space, and with the noise of bands practicing, I cannot make use of the space in the manner which we agreed upon. If I cannot recoup my losses, I will be financially ruined and homeless. I sincerely hope the Nadys do not wish to destroy me financially and emotionally.”
Seeman is still seeking redress from the Nadys. He says he has lost all of his savings and is now deeply in debt. He is considering filing a joint lawsuit along with Nady’s previous tenants, although they lack the means to hire an attorney and would need to find one willing to work on contingency.
A general character profile of the East Bay entrepreneur emerges from this sketch of his various ventures in the music industry, which helps explain the sense of entitlement and profound lack of respect for the Elem that he has brought to bear concerning Rattlesnake Island.
In 2004, shortly after Nady purchased Rattlesnake Island, the Lake County Community Development Department (CDD) erroneously granted him a permit to built a septic system despite his not having conducted an archeological inspection, which the California Environmental Quality Act mandates take place in potentially archaeologically significant areas. The County quickly revoked Nady’s permit. A few months later, Nady began excavation work on the septic system anyway. The Board of Supervisors called a special session with Nady to ask him to stop the work. He told them “No.” The Supervisors were forced to initiate legal proceedings a few days later, with County Counsel sending him a Cease and Desist order.
According to the Elem and their allies, Nady has conducted at least 7,960 feet of scraping, grading, and trenching work on the island without bothering to obtain any permits, including 1,328 feet of roads, 4,316 feet of foot paths, 1,826 feet of water pipe trenches, 498 feet of power line trenches. Nady openly admitted at a public hearing that that he “cleaned stuff off the island,” much of this “stuff” was historically significant artifacts of the Elem’s habitation of the island in the period since the 1800s. Elem Tribal members have complained numerous times to the County Community Development Department, which has so far declined to follow up on the matter. Nady has repeatedly threatened to sue them.
Nady could not be reached for comment on this summary of his professional and personal history as of press time.
The Environmental Impact Report
The highlight of the Lake County Supervisors’ August 16 session was an extensive PowerPoint presentation by Jim BrownEagle concerning the Elem’s aboriginal rights on Rattlesnake Island, focused primarily on why the island ought to be returned to the Elem on legal grounds, but which also presented reasoning concerning why Nady should be required to conduct an Environmental Impact Review. The authoritative overview was based on a nearly 100 page essay that Liam Griffin, an attorney and Lake County native, completed as his dissertation at the University of New Mexico law school in 2005. The essay cites a plethora of case law and provides a detailed overview of Elem traditional occupancy of Rattlesnake Island. It concludes that the most expedient means for the island to be returned to them, as US law requires, would be an eminent domain action sponsored by the US Congress. Nady would be compensated at market value for loss of his property.
Dozens of people testified at each of the meetings in support of the Elem, including representatives from several other Pomo bands and California Native Nations. Many of them expressed that they, too, regard Rattlesnake Island as sacred based on their own traditions and beliefs.
The more compelling issue of aboriginal land title notwithstanding, the most immediate matter at hand was whether Nady is legally required to submit an EIR. Under the California Environmental Quality Act, if legally recognized experts disagree about whether adequate study has been undertaken regarding various categories of potential environmental harm, including harm to so-called “archeological resources,” a project developer is required to undertake the EIR.
Nady’s hired anthropologist, Lake County Planning Director Rick Coel, and a county archeologist named Tom Bates all agreed that Nady’s study of potential archeological resources, for which he claims he spent $30,000, was adequate. The study consisted of drilling around 170 20-inch-wide holes throughout the .2 acre building site in an ostensible effort to locate Indian artifacts below the surface.
Lake County archeologist John Parker, who has worked with the Elem for more than four decades, and who conducted by far the most detailed archeological field investigation of Rattlesnake Island to date, strongly asserted that this form of investigation is inadequate. In fact, as Parker noted, Nady has continually thwarted the county’s efforts to allow an archeological investigation that would actually be meaningful, being that he refused to allow that any artifacts be removed from the site and studied in a certified laboratory, as is the widely recognized professional standard in such instances.
Parker certainly qualifies as an “expert.” He has been a registered professional archeologist for roughly 40 years running. He doubtless possesses more knowledge of Rattlesnake Island than anybody else in his profession. Parker’s disagreement alone should have been enough to trigger an EIR, as Fifth District Lake County Supervisor Denise Rushing pointed out.
Nady was also required by CEQA to invite an American Indian monitor to be on hand during archeological studies at his building site. Elem representatives universally testified that he failed to notify them. All things being equal, it seemed to be an open-and-shut case. Nady should have to file the EIR.
It was clear throughout that Team Nady’s primary tactics were to cast doubt on the personal character of Jim Browneagle, so as to subvert any sympathetic feelings the Supervisors developed for the Elem, and to portray the EIR process as excessively burdensome. At one point in the August 16 meeting, in attempting to explain why the cultural resources discovered on Rattlesnake Island do not qualify as “significant” under CEQA, Nady attorney Frederic Schrag compared the significance of the artifacts that had been discovered at the proposed building site to that of a 70-year-old Coke bottle.
Toward the beginning of the September 6 proceedings, Nady himself spoke at length. A long, lanky man of 62, Nady’s lips were curled down into an indignant frown for most of the meeting, matching his taut face and corrugated forehead. He claimed that contrary to his various documented refusals to collaborate with the Elem, that he had reached out to the Indians from the beginning. In what he claimed was a one-hour phone conversation with Jim Browneagle, he claims he went out of his way to establish a rapport with the Elem cultural leader, even inviting him to come “jam” some time – i.e., play musical instruments together (Browneagle is a long-time bassist).
Instead, Nady said, Browneagle and other Elem have led a campaign of “vitriol” against him. “If you just google ‘John Nady Rattlesnake Island,’ you know what I’m talking about,” he said. As a final insult, he said, Browneagle accused him at a public forum of being party to “cultural genocide.”
The following is the closest thing to a working definition of “cultural genocide” under international law, in Article 7 of a 1994 draft of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:
“Indigenous peoples have the collective and individual right not to be subjected to ethnocide and cultural genocide, including prevention of and redress for:
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources.”
Browneagle’s characterization of Nady’s actions seems to be on firm ground.
Nady’s other hired legal gun was Sacramento attorney Diane G. Kindermann, who specializes in helping large developers skirt around state and federal environmental regulations. As her web site biography puts it, she typically hires herself out to “private development, mining, agricultural and other land owner interests.” Kindermann gave a detailed PowerPoint presentation concerning provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act, which occurred in multiple segments throughout the meeting.
Board Chairman Jim Comstock seemed helpless throughout much of the meeting as he made repeated half-hearted efforts to speed things along. Yet, as Nady’s attorneys pontificated across a series of monologues that often lasted as much as 20 minutes, a number of audience members felt obliged to respond. Comstock allowed them to, often with seeming reluctance.
When it came to the issue of tribal monitors being present during grading and excavations, as required by CEQA, Team Nady claimed that they had invited Elem representatives to be on hand but that they had not . Batsulwin Brown, whose father is Jim Browneagle, who was vice chairman of the Elem during the time of Nady’s archeological studies, informed the Board that Nady refused to have members of the tribe present during any grading activities
“I was told by [County Archeologist] Tom Gates that [Nady] did not want any Indian from Elem on his land,” Brown said. “I requested a monitor during the 10-minute meeting the tribe held with Tom Gates. He said Nady would not allow anybody from elem to be present.”
He said that extremely abbreviated session with Gates is the only time the Elem were ever consulted about the artifacts on the island. Brown has also made clear that the Elem consider the place where Nady plans to build his home to be a specific ceremonial ground.
Following a break, Schragg attempted – as he had throughout many among his series of pontifications – to establish that the Elem had “abandoned” Rattlesnake Island by the time the State of California issued its fraudulent patent for it, also taking the opportunity to ramp up his personal attack on Browneagle. He tried to convey that Browneagle had falsely claimed at the previous meeting that an 1870s “ghost dance” ceremony had occurred on Rattlesnake Island.
“We’re all under oath here. There’s a record being created, and the record is being created of facts, and we have to confirm if the facts are accurate or not. That’s why I raised the issue — and I will raise it again — about Jim Brown’s credibility. He’s made a lot of allegations that simply are not true, and if those allegations are going to be a basis for your ruling in this matter, you’d better make sure whether the facts are accurate or not. And that’s what I’m trying to address here. For example, Jim Brown told you two weeks ago that Elem was the location of the 1872 Ghost Dance ceremonies, implying that the 1872 Ghost Dance ceremonies took place on Rattlesnake Island. I told you earlier, he kept using the word Elem interchangeably with the mainland and Rattlesnake Island.”
Actually, Browneagle never stated that the ghost dance took place on Rattlesnake Island, only that it took place in Elem territory – although it’s true that the island has been part of Elem territory for over six millennia.
Schragg next accused Browneagle of misrepresenting a historical document pertaining to the size of the Elem’s territory in his presentation to the Supervisors three weeks prior. He continued: “Alright, I have other examples of rebuttal to things Jim Brown said, but unless you want me to go through them, I just have one more thing to say about that… and that is a deposition of CM Crawford that was taken in the federal lawsuit in 1939-1949… It was a suit brought by the United States on behalf of the Elem to determine if the Elem had any rights to title of the island, and the court judgment was that they did not, but that they did have title to the Elem Rancheria. And this deposition of CM Crawford, he was born in 1860, he was a district attorney of Lake County, and he says that he hunted and fished on RI since he was a kid, and that would be the years 1870 to 1879, and throughout that period he saw no Indian habitations on the island. The island was four-fifths dense brush and forest and only one-fifth could there be any habitation. He very well knew what Indian habitations looked like because he was raised among them.”
Schragg had managed to talk for several minutes about the Elem’s so-called “abandonment” of Rattlesnake Island without once mentioning that hundreds of their people had only recently been massacred, that they withdrew from the island in the context of a campaign of genocide.
Finally, Supervisor Denise Rushing intervened. Rushing, who hails from Blue Lake, represents the sprawling fifth district of northern Lake County. She has the kind of resume you’d only find among elected officials in a place like northern Lake County or the Humboldt and Mendocino coasts. She has been chairperson of a solar energy development firm and worked as a permaculture design consultant. She was previously vice chairperson of the local Sierra Club branch.
“I’m not sure I’m following your point,” Rushing stated matter-of-factly.
“The point is that Rattlesnake Island was abandoned…”
Rushing wasn’t having it. She interrupted, “You’re saying that people under genocidal pressure abandoned Rattlesnake Island? That happened all over, but you’re not saying they never inhabited it? And you’re not saying it’s not sacred to them? You’re just saying that they didn’t stay on it?
Schragg had to concede the point, though he immediately changed the subject back to Browneagle. “That’s right, and Jim Brown was trying to make the point that the Indians always used Rattlesnake Island. They used it in 1980 and they used it in 1990 and had a wedding there and so on and so on. And if they did so at those times, it was without permission of the land oweners. That’s the other point I’m trying to make, is that they had abandoned the island, and the lawsuit… Jim Brown has said that the lawsuit was determined only on the testimony of the attorneys. And that is not true. The deposition is right here to show there is somebody testifying in that lawsuit that the Indians had abandoned the island that would make way then for a federal land patent to be issued to non-Indians. Alright. Um, and incidentally, Boise Cascade owned this island prior to 1975, and my understand is that Boise Cascade offered to sell the island to the Elem tribe at that time free and clear at a discounted price of less than $50,000, but the Elem walked away from the offer.”
In his closing remarks, Browneagle responded that “I don’t need three attorneys to manipulate what I want to say.” He also remarked, “This [vote] is an embarrassment to your own planning commission who made the recommendation; so it’s saying to them they’re not anybody. We need to stay together and make sure our laws are there for all of us, not just those that have the attorneys and money to manipulate.”
Liam Griffin, the attorney whose dissertation formed the basis of Browneagle’s presentation three weeks before, had the following historically informed response to Schragg’s remarks in an e-mail he sent to me last week:
“It is interesting that this attorney relies on the term “abandonment” to assert how the tribes rights were lost. Using this terms clearly demonstrates that the Elem *had *made prior use of the island. ‘Something’ made them suddenly stop using this emerald gem in the middle of the lake, and at the center of the Elem culture. Here’s how I propose that happened:
Captain Richard S. Floyd and Thomas P. Madden had already started snatching up land around the lake as early as 1870. In fact, Floyd had already kicked the native people off the Kono Tayee landing and established his rancho there. Most lake residents lived in peace and respect of their native brethren, but in our early society, where a man saw others reluctant to act, they praised men who acted. He sought to set up boat rides for his guests to various points with the steemer ship he ran on the lake. Years later in my youth, significant evidence was found of the cultural importance of the Kono Tayee site to the local tribes, despite Floyd’s efforts to erase it. And Rattlesnake Island was not Floyd’s only target, they also got Koi and Kamdot islands as well, all in the same patent as the one granted to them for Rattlesnake Island. These guys had to rid the other islands of their native inhabitants as well, and had no qualms about it. It was strictly business, and indians were bad for business.
“Can you call it abandonment if the people are momentarily displaced by force? I don’t think so. This was early Clear Lake, a place so full of resources, that the islands were perfect places for a tribe to set about the daily task of living on the lake in safety and security. I think it is true that there were times when white men took over the islands in the lake, but white men were not accustomed to living that way, and needed regular intercourse with other whites. The indians simply moved back onto them when the occupation was over.
“The beauty of Nady’s attorney’s brilliant argument is that it fails the legal standard for abandonment. Even common civil law abandonment requires something more than mere absence of use, it always requires an examination of “affirmative intent”. However, when the term abandonment is applied to native americans, it takes on a MUCH more complex character, and requires ‘clear and adequate proof’ of the fact. If it is to be argued that a tribe abandoned an acknowledged site, then only congressional act could revert it to private ownership. Then, abandoned lands can only revert to federal
public land, and do not become land to be granted by the State of California to brutal opportunists… Nady’s attorney would have been safer to say “NEVER”, just like they did in the 1949 case decided by Judge Lemmon. But to do so would have required that the attorney ignore all the evidence of the long-term habitation of the site, which is now far too deep to ignore.”
With the so-called “closing arguments” of Nady’s attorneys finally completed, the Supervisors finally made their closing remarks and cast their votes. Denise Rushing went first, noting that Nady should be required to file an EIR on the grounds that experts disagree. She also emphasized that the island is sacred to the Elem, calling it “a travesty of western jurisprudence” that no law exists whereby it is possible to stop a project on grounds the site is sacred to an Ameican Indian culture.
Next to weigh in was Rushing’s antithesis on the board: Supervisor Rob Brown, a rancher and bail bondsman from Kelseyville who is perhaps best known in the local press for having uncovered an industrial-scale marijuana growing operation across several acres of his 300-acre bison ranch. The ranch was allegedly being tended by “Mexican nationals.” But Brown is better known around those who follow Lake County politics as the leading spokesperson for a bloc of three conservative supervisors currently on the board.
Brown announced his intention to “boil down” the nine hours of preceding testimony, by stripping any of the distracting “emotional” content from the discussion at hand. He then did exactly the opposite, making an emotionally charged appeal to uphold the sanctity of John Nady’s private property rights.
“What this has turned into is a referendum on righting a wrong that was committed 150 years ago, and that’s not what this is about,” he said. “This comes down to private property ownership. Someone owns this property. I get it. Private property ownership is not based on seniority. If you own that property today, it’s the same as if you owned it 10,000 years ago. Whoever owns it right now owns that property. And that’s the way it is. I think everything has been done. I’ve been trying to rack my brain to find a project in the 12 years I’ve been here that has been under this close of scrutiny, and I can’t think of one. This is a house someone’s going to build here, it’s not a WalMart store or somethin’ like that. This has been taken very seriously by us and very seriously by our planning commissioners… This mitigation monitoring plan far exceeds anything we’ve asked for in EIRs in any other project. I think an EIR in this case – I’ve said this before – is code for ‘stop the project.’ That’s what it boils down to. Nobody wants to find anything or discover anything in an EIR. It’s meant to delay a project. Although people are justified in being upset about what happened 150 years ago or 200 years ago or whatever, none of us have anything to do with that. Someone said earlier that we came from another place. We didn’t. I’m just as much of a Lake Countyian as anyone else in this room. My grandsons are fifth generation on the land that I live on. So, I get that. That land wasn’t inherited. It was sold off, and I actually bought it back from other people because I do understand how someone feels attachment to a land. We’ve only been here eighty years, still my land. I’ve earned it, and I think Mr. Nady has earned his. And I think he has a right to build his home on a piece of land he has an attachment for.”
Next up was Supervisor Jeff Smith, a director of the Clearlake Chamber of Commerce. He sided with Supervisor Brown but added little, other than to say that an EIR would simply lead to further intrusive archeological studies that would further damage Rattlesnake Island’s otherwise pristine environment further – a strange parody of environmentalist reasoning. The tally stood at 2-1, Nady in the lead.
Tony Farrington, a member of the Lake County Democratic Party whose district includes Lakeport, cited the Nady team’s failure to consult with the Elem about the archeological findings on the islands as his main grounds for denying Nady’s appeal. He stopped short of saying the project should be canceled altogether, as Rushing had more or less done, thus implying that he may have favored the project if it had followed a different procedure.
A familiar pattern had emerged among those supporting Nady, who seemed more interested in discrediting the significance of the Elem’s prior occupancy of their land than in actually weighing in on the subjects immediately at hand. If a supervisor asserted that their own family has lived for a long time in Lake County, and that this longevity is equivalent to being “native” to the area, you knew they were about to vote in favor of granting Nady’s appeal.
As he prepared to cast the deciding vote, Board Chairman Jim Comstock started out thusly: “My family’s been living in Lake County for 150 years. You can’t get more native than that!”
It was clear where this was going. Elem supporters began storming out of the room. “You suck!” one shouted. “You’re an embarrassment!” another called out.
The Resistance Continues
Within days of the Supervisors meeting, a broad coalition supporting the Elem’s efforts to regain Rattlesnake Island announced a campaign to compel musicians to boycott Nady products. Prganizers are planning a protest at Nady systems’ Emeryville headquarters on October 10th, which is observed throughout the United States as Indigenous People’s Day – a counter-celebration to Columbus Day. It will coincide with the annual Alcatraz Sunrise Gathering at the site of the 1969-1971 American Indian occupation of the fabled island, with those who successfully occupied the Sogorea Te sacred site outside Vallejo – and gaining a cultural conservation easement administered by local native people – this year being honored.
For his part, Nady told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat he intends to begin construction of his home by next summer. However, the Elem are planning to file a lawsuit.
After the meeting, Batsulwin Brown had the following to say when asked what he would like to share with people who support the Elem’s struggle to regain Rattlesnake Island:
“I would definitely encourage people both outside of our county and inside our county to research some of the history and look at some of the documents that we have pertaining to Rattlesnake Island, to really understand where the tribe is coming from,” he said. “We definitely support people who have earned the right to own their land. But, we have to look at how this land was taken from the tribe, because of a supposed clerical error – and look at all the injustices that have come to the tribe because of the loss of this land. Again, if you look at the 18 unratified treaties of California, the whole Lake County basin was going to be established as a reservation for the Pomo people and the Native people of California, and that treaty was hidden. It’s well known that that treaty was hidden for over 55 years from the tribal people, and we had no idea this had been done until we had mining people come and actually claim the land that we were on right now, on the mainland, saying they had documentation that they owned the land. They were trying to remove our people from the rancheria we’re currently on. So, again, I really encourage people to take a look at what was done to the tribal people here, how we were deceived by the same agencies that were supposed to be protecting our interests, protecting our land, protecting our rights – those things weren’t done on our our behalf. We’re getting more and more documents basically justifying our case and our claim to land that we have never given up.”
For more information concerning the campaign to return Rattlesnake Island to the Elem, visit www.elemmodun.org . The web site contains more information on the boycott against Nady.
Corrections from the August 24th Anderson Valley Advertiser story “The Struggle for Rattlesnake Island:
- The article indicated that Rattlesnake Island’s “eligible” status for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places does not yet provide it with special protections under federal law. In fact, its having been determined eligible for inclusion gives it the same protections that it would have if it were actually on the National Register.
- The Vallejo massacre did not occur on Indian Island in Koi Pomo territory, as the article stated, but rather on Buckingham Island in Kamdot Pomo territory.
- Wounded Knee Deocampo is Tuolumne Me-wuk. In the original piece, his last name was mis-spelled as “DeCampo” and he was referred to as “Coast Miwok.”
- The article characterized Glen Cove outside of Vallejo as a Miwok sacred site. It was actually by multiple tribes, but Karkin Ohlone and Patwin would be a more accurate description of who was buried there than Miwok.