Natives opposed to trails through sacred sites

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LIVERMORE, Calif. – The East Bay Regional Park District and the Livermore Area Recreation and Parks District have considered a trail that would run across the top of Brushy Peak, a landmark and a sacred site to local Native people.

Brushy Peak is a 1,702-foot landmark which links the San Francisco Bay Area, the California Delta, and the Central Valley. This area was home to the Ohlones, Miwoks and Northern Valley Yokuts, who traded, socialized and held sacred ceremonies in the area.

The infamous Mexican bandit Joaquin Murietta often retreated to the outcrops of Brushy Peak. In the 1890s and early 1900s, the area was also a place of celebration for local ranch families and San Francisco Bohemian club members.

According to the East Bay Regional Park District, Brushy Peak was first identified as a potential park by the LARPD in the 1970s, and that agency acquired 507 acres as parkland in 1994. In 1997, an agreement between LARPD and the East Bay Regional Park District pledged cooperation in the further acquisition, planning, and protection of Brushy Peak Regional Preserve.

In 2002, Park officials considered a land-use plan that would serve to construct a trail straight to the top of Brushy Peak. The plan would complete a variety of different multi-use trails and footpaths.

The measure met with immediate disapproval from the Native community, who feared desecration of sacred lands. Local Native people do not feel as though the lands are going to be protected with the introduction of these trails.

The proposal of the paths has never sat well with Don Hankins, Plains Miwok, assistant professor at California State University – Chico’s department of geography and planning.

“They shouldn’t put the trails in because Brushy Peak is part of our creation story. It is a place our healers have gone for generations to help in healing ceremonies. There is also a solstice site complex that is associated with these areas.”

In 2002, Hankins and other tribal members offered comments against the initially proposed land-use plan. The tribes soon thereafter received word that the parks received the comments but were proceeding forward as originally planned.

In 2003, tribal members met again with park officials in hopes of obtaining a compromise. The officials said they would instead run a lower trail between the upper and lower peaks of Brushy Peak. Hankins was not completely satisfied.

“It wasn’t ideal, but if they run group-led tours through the saddle, maybe we could live with that.”

Hankins sent follow-up letters to re-inquire about the trails, but received no response. He was hopeful that the entire project was abandoned and become a dead issue.

In 2008, Hankins learned that the park services were still planning to proceed as originally planned. Park officials had obtained permits from the Fish and Wildlife Service to build the trails.

Billie Blue Elliston, Ione Miwok, is a local Native who is opposed to a trail to the top of Brushy Peak.

“There should not be a trail there. It should remain scared. Tribal people still want to use it for their ceremonies. I think it will cause a lot of destruction to the site. A tribal person may be doing their ceremonies and a tour would walk right through it. Ceremony is important, not only for yourself, but for the history of your tribe, for your family and for future generations to come.”

In July, tribal members were asked to meet with park officials to further discuss the paths. The issue was discussed and a seven-member board has agreed not to build the last leg of the trail to the top of the peak.

The only technicality of the issue is that the trail still exists in the master plan.

Park officials have mentioned that it is more of a formality than anything else. Officials also noted that many items in master plans exist that are never completed.

But the uncertainty of the matter still doesn’t sit well with Hankins.

“They decided no trail to the top, but they are still going to have the loop trail. We would ideally like the trails located south of the lower peak which would be out of the areas we are most concerned with.

“We do not even have the legal status to change anything. We are looking to see if there is anything under preservation of historic sites that may have been overlooked. I basically told them that they are acting no different than the early Spanish colonists or Americans that were perpetuating genocidal acts against our culture. This is the last nail in our coffin.”