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by Will Parrish, March 21, 2012
An expedition of Lake County-based Anglo-Irish settlers landed ashore Rattlesnake Island, just offshore the Elem Pomo Indian Colony in Clearlake, this past Saturday — St. Patrick's Day – and christened it New Ireland. Despite the satirical act's pointedly white supremacist rationale, it was performed in solidarity with the Elem, for whom the 56-acre island has been the political and religious center for more than 6,000 years.
Jeff Ott of Glenhaven, spokesperson for the New Ireland group, provided this legal rationale for “stealing” of Rattlesnake Island from current paper titleholder John Nady, an exorbitantly wealthy East Bay inventor and entrepreneur: “we Irish are White/European people, and in the United States private property is based on the age-old legal principal 'White makes might makes right.' We are stealing [Rattlesnake Island] because we feel like it.”
In just the last few months, Nady has run roughshod over regulations governing developments in archaeologically sensitive areas, even receiving a special exemption from normal grading regulations to begin developing his vacation home and related structures. In a press release, Ott pledged that his group would evict “the criminal Dutch settlement” on the island (Nady is Dutch-Hungarian), then negotiate its return to the Elem, who are the land's rightful owners even under the US federal government's own property laws.
As Ott's scourging of Nady's “ownership” of the island underlines, the American juridical system's handling of Rattlesnake Island has played out like a cruel joke.
On March 16th, the day prior to the New Ireland action, the parties in a lawsuit concerning Nady's development appeared in Lake County Superior Court. It was the latest episode in what is likely to be a long legal battle over Lake County's failure to require that Nady file an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) on his project.
Following oral arguments, Judge Richard C. Martin rejected Friends of Rattlesnake Island's request for a temporary stay of the construction project, essentially upholding Lake County's decision to let Nady carry on with off-season construction at the site, even with the Friends group's lawsuit still pending. The next hearing on the case is likely to occur in May.
In the course of the hearing, Nady attorney Frederick Schrag referred to members of the contingent opposing the development as "those Indians.” The judge apparently did not recognize the term as a racial epithet, though it elicited gasps from some of those in attendance.
While racism of the relatively overt type has come into play, more than a little pathological narcissism seems to be at issue vis-a-vis Nady's insistence on building on Rattlesnake Island. Nady is among the wealthiest people in the California East Bay. He could build his vacation home virtually anywhere. Yet, he has fought tooth and nail to be able to develop it on one of the most important sacred places to First Nations people in all of California.
Nady even sued Friends of Rattlesnake Island and its attorney, Rachel Mansfield-Howlett, seeking 10s of thousands of dollars in damages because they allegedly violated court rules by seeking to conduct a “trial by ambush.” Judge Martin denied Nady's motion at the hearing this past Friday.
“We are considering whether to file an ANTI-SLAPP suit against Nady'a malicious actions against Friends, which are disallowed under CEQA,” Mansfield-Howlett stated via e-mail. “The County also joined the suit for dismissal and sanctions, which is completely unfounded and illegal too boot.”
Despite his aggressive approach to building on the island, and although Lake County officialdom has gone to extremely inordinate lengths to support his project, Nady often likes to portray himself as the victim of aggression. This past December, roughly 100 people marched from Oakland's Grand Lake Theater to Nady's sprawling home in the hills of Piedmont to protest the commencement of building activities on the island. A group of high school boys, friends of Nady's daughter, followed the protesters shouting taunts like, "Don't come into our neighborhood. He made his money, he can spend it any way he wants."
Nady used similar rationale in a letter to the Piedmont Patch newspaper a few days later. He complained that “a small activist group, not representative of all Native Americans of the region, has continued to press their cause, resorting to outright lies and slander, and now escalating to personal attacks with their marches on my business and now my home. When is enough enough?”
Apparently, it didn't strike Nady as ironic that he would complain about people coming to “his home,” when he is in the process of desecrating land the Elem have used as their home for several millennia. He even attempted to demonstrate that he knows better what is in the interests of “the Elem tribe as a whole” than, say, the Elem's traditional cultural leadership: people who have kept their traditional way of life alive, in spite of ongoing genocidal pressure, to the present day.
“We are exploring ways, with Native Americans, on how they can still show respect for the island's history with occasional ceremonies on it, and the like,” Nady wrote. “The confrontational and hostile methods of these activists is only slowing down and even preventing such an understanding and agreement, to the possible detriment of the Elem tribe as a whole.”
One person who has taken great pains to attempt to demonstrate to Nady the is archeologist Leigh Jordan, coordinator of the Northwest Information Center (NIC) at Sonoma State University: one of eleven information centers affiliated with the State of California Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) in Sacramento. Jordan has taken a particular interest in Rattlesnake Island during her tenure at the Center, which has an agreement with various regional counties – including Lake County – to provide independent assessments on whether development projects accord with the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) governing archeological sites.
Soon after Nady purchased the island in 2004, she hosted a one-day workshop at the Center concerning Rattlesnake Island, which was attended by everyone from private archeological consultants to State Parks officials to then-Lake County Community Development Director Penelope Shipley.
Jordan attempted to work with Nady . “He was not an easy person to work with,” she recalls. “He was very volatile and at the time very dismissive about what we told him in terms of applicable laws.”
She recalls that she talked with him several times, including in person, with the conversations usually lasting one or two hours. “He had a point of view where it took a lot of talking about to teach him it was not right. I think he has just pushed forward in that same way with everything and everybody since then.”
She emphasizes that the main point of the entire dispute involving Nady is preservation of the entire history of the region, which is the heritage of everyone who lives here. The kind of history that exists at Rattlesnake Island provides people with a sense of belonging, and the ability to respond to the living communities that continue to exist in these areas is crucially important.”
As for Ott, his group's occupation of the island ended at around 3 p.m. on the afternoon of the 17th after a group of Lake County Sheriffs arrived at Rattlesnake Island by boat, upstaking the Irish flag. Ott's full statement upon landing at the island was as follows:
“Let it be known on this day, March 17, 2012, in the Year of No Lord, this island is claimed in the name of the Irish people. Any and all claims and titles to this island or properties found wherein are now and forever the property of the Free Irish People. Henceforth t his island will be named New Ireland. Notification of this claim has been delivered to the United Nations Security Council. Any free Irish men and women who have abstained from drinking spirits, and who have abstained from white supremacy for a period of no less than 17 years, are immediately eligible to claim citizenship of the nation of New Ireland.
“Any non-Irish people who have either paid poll tax on the island, or whose great great great grandfathers, or whose great great great grandmothers have voted or danced on this island are automatically deemed citizens of New Ireland. Let it be known on this day, March 17, 2012, in the Year of St. Patrick, the Dutch Snake is now forever driven from this land, never to return.
“Let it be known that as of April 4th, 2012, in the year of St. Patrick, this new nation of Ireland, New Ireland, does officially declare war against the fiefdom of Nady and the United States Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] until such time as the Dutch settlement is permanently abandoned and the devilish pit mine is permanently plugged, the fish of these waters are safe for consumption by women who are with children, these two enemies will be hunted down to the four corners of this black earth."
For background on Ott's reference to the EPA, which destroyed a staggering amount of Elem artifacts in the process of cleaning up mercury contamination at the site in 2005, see the February 22 AVA article “A Travesty of a Mockery of A Sham.”
Elem traditional Cultural Leader Jim Browneagle quipped soon after learning of Ott's plan to carry out the action: “I'd much rather negotiate with the people of Ireland than with the United States government.”
Support for the Elem traditionalists' struggle to prevent Nady's project, and ultimately to regain Rattlesnake Island, is also growing in other, less theatrical quarters. Roughly 100 people attended a March 9th Ukiah fundraiser to support the Friends of Rattlesnake Islands lawsuit. Another fundraiser will take place in Lower Lake on March 31st from 1-4 p.m. at Lower Lake Museum's Weaver Auditorium, 16435 Main St. Another is likely to take place on the Mendocino Coast in the next few months.
The lengthy Ukiah fundraiser featured Power Point presentations from John Parker, a leading archeological authority on local prehistory; Morning Star Gali, an international sacred sites activist and member of the Ajumawi band of Pit River Tribe in northeastern California; and Elem Pomo traditional Spiritual Leader Jim Bronwneagle.
Gali's presentation, “Respecting Sacred Places and Protecting Human Rights,” especially put the struggle for Rattlesnake Island in a broader context concerning the rights of Native people. She noted that under the definitions used by the United Nations, 80 percent of the world's remaining biodioversity and 90 percent of its cultural diversity are located in Indigenous Peoples' territories.
With regard to upholding the rights of First Nations people, she said, “At stake is nothing less than the ecological integrity of the land base and the physical and social health of Native Americans throughout the continent.” Gali spoke briefly about the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that the United Nations adopted in 2007, noting that much of what Nady has done – and what Lake County has sanctioned – are illegal under international law.
For example, Article 19 of The Right to Free Prior and Informed Consent states: “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representatives institutions in order to obtain their free, prior, and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.”
The title to Rattlesnake Island Nady now holds was obtained fraudulently in 1877 when property speculators from San Francisco laid claim to the island using the Homestead Act. Legally speaking the Elem, as “aboriginal title holders” of the island, could only have given up ownership through a treaty or by an act of Congress under the 1834 Indian Non-Intercourse Act.
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I received a Homeland Security Investigations and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) database of people arrested during Operation Full Court Press, the joint agency marijuana eradication program that seems to have targeted undocumented people with little or no criminal history every bit as much as it did marijuana growers.
Of the 131 people listed on the spreadsheet, 58 were arrested either solely for being undocumented immigrants or for being an undocumented immigrant who committed a minor violation (such as driving without a license). Contrast that with 40 people who were charged with any kind of narcotics violation, including marijuana cultivation, transportation, or sales. A good chunk of the remainder had charges brought against them for being an “alien in possession of a firearm.”
I do still plan to write a follow-up on Ramiro Hernandez Farias' case very soon, which will include more detailed analysis of this data and the circumstances of all the individual people arrested.