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People Who Belong To The Land

Violet Parrish Wilder & Vivian Parrish Wilder; The Artesa Site

According to Violet Parrish Chappell, 82, traditionalist and historian of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians, her people's name – their real name, not the arbitrary handle imposed by the white man's society in the 1870s – has always been Wina∙má∙bake ya: “People Who Belong To The Land.” To be exact, the land to which the Wina∙má∙bake ya belong spans the coast and hills at the mouth of what is today known as the Gualala River, located just outside the town of Gualala, reaching as far south as the area below the mouth of the Russian River, also extending roughly eight miles inland.

The name reflects the integral relationship of the Kashia to their landbase. It is a relationship that manifests in ritual and religious practices, as well as materially in traditional land stewardship practices developed over the course of exceptionally long land tenure. Unlike the people of European origin who have supplanted them in the area, the Kashia long ago attained an intellectual apprehension that they are part of the natural order, rather than apart from or superior to it.

According to the traditional Kashia worldview, whatever happens to the land also invariably happens to the people.

This perspective is worth bearing in mind, because one of the greatest instances of harm ever wrought on the Kashia's ancestral land is on the verge of occurring. A pair of extremely large wine corporations have proposed what would be the two largest forest-to-vineyard conversions in the history of the State of California, which would take place right in the heart of the people's ancestral homeland, just outside the small northwestern Sonoma County town of Annapolis, which is located about 85 miles north of San Francisco, just below the Mendocino County line.

By far the larger of the two is Premier Pacific Vineyards' (PPV) “Preservation Ranch,” a proposal to deforest more than 1,700 acres of redwoods and Douglas firs across dozens of ridgetops on a 20,000-acre parcel near the far northwestern boundary of Sonoma County. Perhaps even more mind-boggling is that this project is that it is being funded principally by the California Public Employees Retirement System (CALPERS), which has invested more than $200 million in PPV since the company's founding in the early-2000s.

The smaller of the two projects – which would nonetheless be the biggest forest-to-vineyard conversion ever in the state – is being proposed by the Spanish wine corporation Codorniu, acting through its American outpost in the Napa Valley, Artesa. The company proposes to clear roughly half the forested acres on 324-acre parcel located on a broad ridge just southeast of Annapolis.

In addition to clear-cutting the redwoods, Premier Pacific and Artesa would rip out the trees' roots, chemically sterilize the land, and deep plow the land with vertical forks prior to installing their vast rows of premium grape varieties – chiefly, Pinot noir. The Gualala River watershed, already horribly damaged following decades of destructive timber harvests in the region, would only be further decimated, the likelihood of fish ever returning to the river in larger numbers having grown far dimmer. The land would be irrevocably transformed.

“These vineyards are really nerve-racking when I think of it,” says Parrish Chappell. “Our ancestors, they lived off that land. Everything you see in the woods is not there to be destroyed or cut down to make money on.”

Owing to its specific location, the Artesa project is of particular concern to Parrish Chappell, her sister, Vivian Parrish Wilder, and other among the band's traditional people. The parcel is located on land they say was once part of an important Kashia village. The claim is borne out by a wealth of archaeological and anthropological evidence dating from he early 20th century. During their environmental impact studies concerning the project, Artesa has discovered numerous artifacts at the site, despite employing what some professional archaeologists say are deliberately haphazard methods of study.

Given the land's sacred or holy status to their people, however, Parrish Chappell and Parrish Wilder (no relation to the author) assert that it should be under the care of the Native peoples. Rather than being turned into yet another Wine Country vineyard, they are determined for the land to become an educational center that promotes and extends traditional Kashia culture.

“There's so many things that we can do [with an education center]!” Parrish Chappell says. “Not only the Indians, but the outside world. They need to learn about us. They need to pay respect to our people.”

In a more just world, Parrish Chappell's vision would seem perfectly reasonable and easy to accommodate. Yet, in the Euroamerican social context that has usurped her people's way of life, whereby land use is organized according to the imperatives of an international economy of capitalism, and whereby the profit motive — rather than the well-being of the land itself – ranks as the central objective, that vision will doubtless prove extremely difficult to realize.

Family Lineage

Throughout their lives, Parrish Chappell and Parrish Wilder have been at the forefront of efforts to preserve and extend their people's traditional ways. Many generations of their family have been keepers of traditional knowledge, knowledge that previous generations of Kashia elaborated and perfected through oral traditions, and that they also codified as “law”' in ceremonial/ritual forms.

The two elders' mother, Essie Parrish, was a widely renowned Kashia Spiritual Leader and historian, who worked with members of her tribe and professional academics alike, to pass on her people's traditional knowledge. Parrish, in turn, was raised by her grandmother, Rose Jarvis, also a Spiritual Leader and widely acknowledged historian of the Kashia. Jarvis remained alive throughout much of Parrish Chappell and Parrish Wilder's childhood, imparting as much knowledge as she could during their time together.

“Our great grandmother never stopped talking about the old days,” Parrish Chappell says, “because it was important for us.”

Throughout the mid-20th century and into the late-'70s, the cultural and religious life of the Kashia revolved around Essie Parrish to a remarkable degree. She was acknowledged as her people’s “dreamer” at age six, given her great ability – affirmed by those who knew her – to prophesy and interpret dreams.

In part, Parrish is a historically significant figure because she broke precedent by opening the tribe's ceremonial roundhouse to outsiders for the annual White Deer Dance and Strawberry Festival, which set her on a course toward numerous later collaborations with white scholars and supporters. One of those profoundly impacted by Parrish during this period of her opening up to members of white society is Peter Schmidt, now a professor of anthropology at the University of Florida. Schmidt was attending Santa Rosa High School in the early-1960s when Parrish approached the local Quaker group of which he was part, asking for physical help with constructing a traditional Indian circular building, or roundhouse, at Stewarts Point, which would serve as a cultural and religious center.

As the group was constructing the building, Parrish opened up regarding some aspects of her sacred spiritual knowledge to members of the group.

“This was her first moment of her determination to share these sorts of sacred experiences,” Shcmidt says. “I think it was complementary to her later work in collaborating with academics. It affected me profoundly.”

Ironically, nearly a half-century later, Schmidt's stature and knowledge as an archaeological authority — a field of endeavor he decided to pursue partly due to his experiences with Essie Parrish – have made him one of the Kashia traditionalists' key allies in their bid to prevent development of the Artesa vineyard on their sacred site.

During the mid-20th century, the prevailing wisdom among archaeologists and anthropologists on university faculties was that the study of California. Parrish changed that via her collaboration with anthropologist Ray Oswalt in the creation of a Kashia Pomo dictionary. Parrish went on to work social scientists to make over 20 anthropological films documenting Pomo culture and ceremonies. She was also a leading member of the group that convinced the US government to turn over a former CIA listening post in Forestville to Pomo people for the creation of Ya Ka Ama Indian Education Center in the early 1970s, a facility still in operation today.

As these various activities indicate, Parrish sought relentlessly to teach both her own people and her people's supporters about Kashia culture. She taught at the reservation school, educating Kashia children in language, law, religion, and culture. She instructed her daughters to fulfill a similar function; like her mother before her, Parrish Wilder is a teacher at the Kashaya elementary school.

“I teach in the school so I can teach about our old ways,” Parrish Wilder explains. “I teach them things about the ancestral lands and the names we have for the areas. I do the best I can, considering not much of it's taught in their homes.”

She continues, “That's why it would be good to if we had that land over there [motions toward the Artesa property], because that would be a good place for teaching people around our area about our ways, the uses of medicinal plants, how we used the different things that grow there, and the importance of the old village site there. It would be a good place for that, not only for our younger Indians, but all the people around us here.”

Artesa's Terroir

In the world of premium wine that Artesa is embedded in, the value of a place is based on rather narrow criteria. It is not based on the ecological functions of the place, not on whether the place contributes to the health of the water or the air, not on its spiritual significance, not on the meanings of the place to the people who live there, nor any of the other things that matter to people like the Kashia. Rather, a place's value is based on the French-derived notion of terroir: roughly, the idea that every bottle of wine exists to serve via its flavor as an expression of the place – mainly, soil and climate – where it grows.

Though the idea represents a fundamental inversion of physical reality, it has become increasingly popular with American wine aficionados.

In the late-1990s, vintners declared northwest Sonoma County the “new terroir” for pinot noir. According to these vintners, the gold ridge soil of the area combined with the coastal influences of the climate extend the growing season, thus making for a complex – and, potentially, highly marketable – wine. Developers began buying up land and planting vines.

The first to do so on a large scale was the multi-national wine corporation Kendall Jackson. Reveling in its accustomed role as the wine industry's greatest frontier prospector, KJ purchased roughly three hundred acres of old orchard land outside Annapolis and converted it to premium grapes. About a dozen, mostly small, vineyards have opened since then.

The rush to develop new vineyards, most involving wholesale removal of existing forest land, has prompted opposition from local residents, most notably – as I described in my profile of Artesa in the June 16 Anderson Valley Advertiser – from the groups Friends of the Gualala River (FOGR), a small non-profit group that runs on the strength of a handful of volunteers who live in Annapolis and Gualala, as well as the Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club.

As FOGR's literature opposing the new rush to develop vineyards in the area points out, the vineyards have almost exclusively developed along two of the Gualala's primary tributaries, the Wheatfield and Buckeye Creek forks. According to the California Department of Fish and Game, those two forks historically supplied 48 percent of the water to the Gualala Estuary. In 2008, the Wheatfield Fork ran dry for the first time in recorded history, mostly likely due to dewatering by irrigated grape plantation.

“The rush to develop premium grapes here is like the allegory of the blind men and the elephant,” says Annapolis resident Chris Poehlmann, a long-time FoGR member and the group's current president. “We see it as a complex watershed, and the developers see are a lot of potential winegrape parcels.”

Notably, Artesa's decision to go to such extreme lengths to develop a pinot noir vineyard outside Annapolis was made during the height of the premium grape rush, which statistically peaked in the late-’90s in terms of the number of vineyard acres being planed, tapering off noticeably after the Silicon Valley bubble burst in 2002.

At the time, Artesa was already in the midst of a buying spree, having purchased several hundred of acres of new vineyards across Napa and Sonoma Counties in the late-'90s and early-'00s. One of these wine-grape plantations, a 90-acre plot entitled Ridgeline Vineyards, ironically trumpets its history as a sacred site by that location's band of Pomo Indians, essentially presenting them as a makeshift vineyard mascot for marketing purposes. The vineyard is located high above the Alexander Valley floor; ironically, not far from where they are proposing to develop the “Fairfax” site.

“The first resident of what is today known as Ridgeline Vineyards (Oak Mountain),” the Ridgeline Vineyards web site reads, “were a tribe of Native Americans referred to by white settlers as 'Pomo Indians' but who referred to themselves as Mahokama. The Russian River which the Mahokama people depended on for much of their subsistence runs right past the base of Oak Mountain and Ridgeline Vineyards. The Mahokama called the river, 'Shabaikai' or 'long snake.' The numerous natural springs that feed our vineyards were also used by the Mahokama for medicinal purposes.”

Archaeology vs. Native Epistomology

One of the great challenges for any native person attempting to work within the Euroamerican legal framework in defending their traditions is that they must confront, as sociologist Valerie Kuletz calls it, “the vast gulf between Western scientific knowledge systems, epistemologies, and expression and Indian ways of knowing and forms of expression.”

Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the so-called "lead agency" that reviews the environment impact of development projects must conduct a cultural resource studies to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. Various other federal and state laws attempt to address cultural protection. According to these laws, Indian cultural resources, including sacred sites, if found, cannot be destroyed without considering the alternatives.

Yet, even if these laws do make room for consideration of native heritage, the knowledge hierarchy on which such legal constructs are based necessarily rank traditional Indian knowledge below that brought to bear by Western science. Indians must prove their claims on Euroamerican scientific terms, even in cases of “proving” their people occupied a particular piece of land for thousands of years, prior to Euroamericans' arrival. And even if an archaeological site is demonstrated to be historically significant, the lead agency can still opt to approve a development there, provided it mitigates the project's archaeological impact in various prescribed ways.

Even with the regulatory system inherently tilted in their favor, the efforts by Artesa and the CEQA lead agency involved in the project, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), to document the archaeological resources at the proposed vineyard conversion site have been shoddy at best, according to critics. It seems, from the perspective of some onlookers, that the shoddiness is a deliberate attempt to silence opposition to the project.

Not only do traditionalists such as Parrish Chappell and Parrish Wilder assert that a village site was located on the site of Artesa conversion, but so do some of California's most famed anthropologists. As the famous UC Berkeley anthropologist Samuel Barrett documented in his study of the Pomo in 1908, the area surrounding Annapolis is one of the most extensive historical settlement areas of the Kashia. Peter Schmidt, the professor of anthropology and archeology at the University of Florida who worked with Essie Parrish as a teenager, noted in regard to the century-old study, “Barrett's description of [the villageMa'kawica] places it in the zone of the Fairfax Conversion.”

Even so, in CAL FIRE's July 10, 2002 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) "environmental checklist," prepared for a pre-timber harvest inspection of Artesa site timber, the agency checked the box for "no impact" to significant cultural/historic resources that are either listed or eligible for listing under the national or California registers of historic places. Remarkably, the check-box for "disturb any human remains..." was also checked "no impact." At that time, the first of several archaeological studies had been prepared for the project site as part of the environmental review process.

One persistent critic of vineyard developments who is not surprised by this dismissive approach on the part of the regulatory agencies is James BrownEagle, a traditionalist and elder of a different band of Pomo Indians, the Elem Pomo of the Clearlake region BrownEagle, who, like Parrish Wilder and Parrish Chappell, comes from a long line of spiritual leaders, has dedicated his life to practicing and renewing his people's traditional ways of existence.

BrownEagle, a radio programmer of “Tribal Voices” on KPFZ in Lake County, has seen vineyards spread across regions that are sacred to his people in recent decades. One such vineyard now looks out across the Elem Pomo reservation. He worries that the vineyards will soon spread up into the place of his people's creation story, Mt. Konocti. Owing to vineyard development in recent years, three grape farms now surround the base of the mountain, in the Clearlake Oaks area.

Already, members of the Elem Pomo who conduct traditional ceremonies such as rights of passage and renewal must trespass to read the top of Mt. Konocti, it being saturated by private properties.

In the early-'00s, a particularly egregious vineyard development adjacent to Clear Lake called Snows Lake enraged local residents. More than 800 acres of vineyard were installed. A large area of oak woodlands was decimated in the process, much of it containing documented Elemo Pomo artifacts. It was only after Lake County officials became afraid of a lawsuit that they started to comply with CEQA requirements to document these archeological sites.

“We have consistently not been contacted for any of our rights and protection of our Cultural Resources,” BrownEagle says, “and the only time this actually happened was because of Snows Lake and the negative impact on the county is the only reason they complied! So until the local county governments are concerned over a possible law suit, they do not work with the tribes.”

The same dynamic has applied. In the case of Sonoma County. The 1989 Sonoma County General Plan (Goal OS-9)* requires review of such projects to "Preserve significant archaeological and historical sites, which represent the ethnic, cultural, and economic groups that have lived and worked in Sonoma County." Yet, so far, the County has been missing in action, not even endeavoring to apply its 2006 Timber Conversion Ordinance that ostensibly restricts the extent and type of logging that forest conversions on land within the county are allowed to undertake. It has instead deferred to the CAL FIRE at every step.

In 2002, Friends of the Gualala River (FoGR) took the litigation route, challenging the Artesa timber harvest and conversion plans on scientific grounds, citing major deficiencies and flaws in their environmental assessments, then filing a lawsuit against CAL FIRE for failing to require an Environmental Impact Report for other forest conversions for vineyard projects in Annapolis. The lawsuit was successful, and in September 2004, CAL FIRE initiated a “scoping process” for an EIR on Artesa's "Fairfax" conversion in Annapolis.

As part of their grudging draft Environmental Impact Review, Artesa brought in two separate archaeological experts to assess and re-assess new findings of multiple archaeological sites. In stark contrast to the original claim that no significant archeological resources were present, the draft EIR determined that multiple individual archeological sites within the project area, some of which contained "specimens between 5000 and 7000 years old,” and which were eligible for inclusion in national and state registers of historic places.

The EIR also acknowledges that the vineyard project area is "very possibly the Kashiaa Pomo village Kabatui" where "human remains may be present," and which contains rich archaeological areas that are eligible for listing in the National Registry of Historic Places and the California Registry of Historic Places.

With that in mind, not every representative of the Kashia Pomo who has examined these project is ready to cast them aside entirely. Kashia Band of Pomo Indians Vice Chairman Reno Franklin, who also acts as the group's State of California-recognized Preservation Officer, says Artesa has been extremely proactive in addressing the concerns he and other designated representatives have expressed on behalf of the tribe.

“I almost hate to say it, but they've been very transparent and cooperative during this process,” Franklin says. “They initially did some archeology that was really shoddy. We complained, and they've been responsive. Whenever we ask them to avoid an area because we've found cultural resources there, they've done it.”

For their part, Artesa's spokespeople claim that they scaled down the acreage of their original proposal from 171 “after the company discovered that the site was home to archaeological resources from a former Kashia band of Pomo Indians village.” They failed to note, however, that their original proposal was actually to develop only a little more than 100 acres, and that they increased the proposal total only after submitting their first draft EIR in 2004.

Franklin says that while he is “definitely not pro-winery,” he is not opposed to Artesa Fairfax conversion – nor the Premier Pacific Vineyards conversion – as long as it is “done in a responsible way that's respectful of the cultural resources within the plan.”

Moreover, contrary to the opinions of Parrish Wilder, Parrish Chappell, and even CALFIRE, Franklin dismisses the notion that a village was located on the flat ridge of the Artesa property as “mumbo jumbo.”

“I tell you, we've crawled over every last piece of that property,” says Franklin, who has been invited to review the site as a tribal representative multiple times by CALFIRE, in each case accompanied by a designated tribal elder. “There are cultural resources nearby, and there are cultural resources within the plan, but it's not being proposed on top of a village.”

Parrish Chappell and Parrish Wilder stridently disagree with that perspective and approach. They insist that the area was formerly a village site, and they say they know. “The idea that these sacred places could be fenced off is not good,” they stated in a letter published in the Sonoma County Gazette last year. “We don't go for that. You don't have to dig it up. We know that whole area is a village site. All these places were occupied and used by our people. The whole place is one.”

Moreover, Schmidt and others note that the methods the project developers have used to examine the sites archeological traits leave much to be desired. In one case, the company that contracted to conduct an archeological investigation of the site initially set out to use a backhoe to dig out sample artifacts in random locations on the property, then stopped, their report said, after releasing the futility of this approach.

“From a profession perspective, this is a bizarre incident and one that undermines the credibility of those engaged in the assessment process for this property,” Schmidt wrote in a letter to CALFIRE. “It is an embarrassment because it constitutes such a significant methodological blunder; it was also witnessed by local people who expressed their alarm over such an extraordinary 'survey method'.”

Schmidt also notes, “It so happens that Annapolis is a rich and hugely significant historical zone. It is perhaps one of the most extensive settlement areas associated with the Kashaya Pomo... “It is puzzling why there should be resistance to a rigorous scientifically reliable assessment program, when only such a program can satisfy major questions about a property located in a highly sensitive cultural resource zone.

Drawing on his professional experience, Schmidt wrote in one of his letters to CALFIRE that such a rigorous assessment would necessarily entail the following: “sub-surface sampling on a 10 m grid using a device such as a bucket auger, supplemented with shovel tests when sub-surface indication are found, is called for. Finally, these methods alone must be supplemented by remote sensing that is easily executed in the field. The use of a magnetometer would ensure that fire cracked rock, hearths, and other fire-altered earth and artifacts may be easily located.”

As Schmidt acknowledges, however, even to enter into a debate about “mitigation” of a sacred American Indian site misses much larger, more pressing question. Namely, from a Kashia perspective, how can a sacred site be “mitigated” when it is being developed into a vineyard at all.

“To say that their mitigation in any way ameliorates the impact on a sacred site is a piece of tomfoolery,” he says. “It's a lie.”

Part 2 next week.

For more information on stopping the Artesa “Fairfax” conversion, visit Friends of the Gualala River. Contact the author at

One Comment

  1. John July 14, 2011

    Time to gather and plan for the next Redwood Summer. Seems we should not let a few large rich foreign owned corporations rape, pillage and plunder our children’s legacy.

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