Last Wednesday, July 8, dozens of federal, state and local law enforcement agents, including officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), orchestrated a six-hour raid on two marijuana-growing operations on Pit River tribal land in the Northern California town of Alturas.
Officials confiscated 12,000 marijuana plants and over 100 pounds of processed marijuana, according to a press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
At the time, Pit River tribal authorities were reluctant to talk to Indian Country Today Media Network, although one tribal council member said he was unaware of any raids on their property. But now, the Pit River Tribe is talking, and it is fuming. “We are very disappointed with the decision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as the lead federal agency, to descend on sovereign land with an army of nearly 50 law enforcement officers,” said Tribal Chairman Mickey Gemmill Jr. in a detailed press release. “That the BIA would take such a disrespectful approach to an Indian tribe on its own land is a serious assault to the tribe’s right to self-governance.”
The tribe claims that federal agents destroyed patients’ plants and seized confidential patient information. What’s more, people got hurt, according to Gemmill. “This action was especially appalling given that some tribal members were subjected to excessive police force, severely injured and arrested during the search,” he said.
The raid seems to have come as a complete surprise to Pit River tribal members. According to the press release, the tribe has been completely compliant with California laws governing the cultivation, distribution and use of medical marijuana. In fact, it goes on to say that the tribe went above and beyond what was required by law: “Each medical marijuana plant is assigned to a particular patient, with each plant bearing the identification of the patient for whom it is cultivated and a unique serial number to ensure that each plant can be tracked. Again, these provisions go far beyond anything required by California state law, and are modeled after the more robust regulatory schemes in other medical marijuana states.”
A statement from U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner claims that the grow operations far exceeded legal cultivation limits. “The volume of marijuana that the XL facility alone was capable of producing, estimated at approximately 40,000-60,000 plants, far exceeds any prior known commercial marijuana grow operation anywhere within the 34-county Eastern District.”
Gemmill could not be reached to comment on Pit River’s association with the XL Ranch and Alturas Indian Rancheria in Modoc County where the raids took place. But in the press release, the tribe claims it “has no affiliation with the Alturas Indian Rancheria and is not cooperating with any marijuana cultivation being conducted on the 20-acre Alturas Rancheria.”
The Pit River Tribe is a federally recognized Indian tribe of 11 autonomous bands of Indians with tribal lands in Shasta, Lassen, Siskiyou and Modoc Counties.
Lynn Armitage is a contributing writer and an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.