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Davis vetoes sacred sites bill

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. ? Governor Gray Davis vetoed a bill on Sept. 30 that sought to give tribes a larger voice in sacred site protection. The bill, SB 1828, sought to protect or mitigate damage done to sacred sites by public agencies.

The bill was partially written at the behest of the Quechan Indian Nation who have tried to stop a proposed gold mine by the Reno, Nev.-based Glamis Corporation, near the Indian Pass area ? a place the tribe considers sacred.

After vetoing the bill, however, Gov. Davis expressed support for the Quechan tribe in their quest to protect Indian Pass.

"I am particularly concerned about the proposed Glamis gold mine in Imperial County, and I have directed my Secretary of Resources to pursue all possible legal and administrative remedies that will assist in stopping the development of the mine," said Davis in his official statement after vetoing the bill.

"We are disappointed that the bill has been vetoed but heartened that the Governor has unequivocally stated in his veto message that he is committed to defeating the mine," said Quechan Nation President Mike Jackson.

Gov. Davis, a Democrat, touted the recently signed SB 483, which required mining operations on or near Indian sacred sites in the southern California desert to be completely filled for reduction of environmental damage.

SB 1828 was notable for creating strange political bedfellows that included liberal Democrats such as author and California Senate President John Burton, D-San Francisco, and conservative Republicans such as Assemblyman Bill Leonard, R-San Bernardino, who felt it was a protection of religious rights.

The sacred sites protection legislation had the support of 50 California tribes but was opposed by business interests who claimed that the bill gave too wide a leverage and could provide the legal means to grind statewide development to a halt.

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The tribes, meanwhile, including the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, who have also fought to save the area around their sacred Great Oak from a utility power line, countered that only about 75 acres statewide would be effected.

At Quechan, however, the state's expressed interest in preventing the gold mining operation was tempered by news from the federal government. Just a few days before the Davis veto, the federal Department of the Interior gave the green light to a "validity exam" for the Glamis project.

This move by the federal government, while far from a direct approval, would move the mine one step closer to reality and any federal decision would outweigh that of the state of California.

Quechan officials say they are displeased with Interior for two protocol concerns.

The first is that the tribe was not consulted in a government-to-government fashion before the decision was made and found out about the Interior decision in a press release.

The other reason the tribe is upset is that the Interior decision was made on California Indian Day, a day in which all tribal governments statewide are shut down.

"Interior's action was premature ? and a slap in the face of the state legislature, the U.S. Senate and the tribal government," said Courtney Coyle, the Quechan tribal attorney.

Calls to the Interior Department were not returned by press time.