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Protecting the sacred Medicine Lake Highlands

President George Bush issued an executive memorandum in September 2004
requiring all federal agencies to respect tribal sovereignty,
self-determination and the government-to-government relationship as they
make decisions. Prior to issuing this memo the president in 2002 reaffirmed
the Clinton order on this subject for the Bush administration to follow.
Given such a directive, it would seem that Gale Norton, secretary of the
Department of Interior, should have notified the Pit River Nation by now of
her decision to terminate federal support of the Calpine Energy
Corporation's proposals to mine geothermal energy in the sacred Medicine
Lake Highlands in northeastern California.

Since the 1980s the Pit River Nation, along with other Indian nations, has
called upon each administration to eliminate governmental support for these
projects, which would desecrate this highly spiritual and unique cultural
region. The Clinton administration, after reviewing numerous environmental,
cultural and financial reports, decided to support Pit River in the
protection of the Highlands against Calpine. However, the current
administration has failed to honor its commitment to Pit River and has
given Calpine the green light to begin its projects. In fact the Bush
administration cited Vice President Dick Cheney's energy policy in making
its decisions. In response, the Pit River Nation has filed federal lawsuits
and instituted an aggressive advocacy campaign in an attempt to permanently
stop these projects.

Establishing a geothermal energy project in the sacred Medicine Lake
Highlands is analogous to extracting natural resources on the grounds of a
cathedral, mosque or temple. Setting up and conducting mining activity in
such places of worship without the approval of the faith-leaders and
followers would be considered sacrilegious and would not be tolerated by
many in America, including those in the current administration. However,
when it comes to Indian nations and their sacred places, it is most often
deemed acceptable to allow mining and other pollution-generating activities
to occur in spite of American Indian opposition.

The Pit River Nation has urged the federal government to respect tribal
sovereignty, self-determination, the government-to-government relationship
and the tribal laws of He-We-Sis on this issue. Yet when recent federal
administrative meetings have been convened, the outcome has always been the
same: the Indians come out on the short end of the stick.

The president claims to understand sovereignty and respect it, and has gone
so far as to issue an executive memo on the government-to-government
relationship to federal agency officials. Now let us see if these
presidential words translate into departmental actions that will protect
the sacred Medicine Lake Highlands from the proposed geothermal mining
projects and other pollution-generating activity, or whether we'll get more

In November 2002, Rebecca Watson, assistant Interior secretary, said
geothermal development in the Medicine Lake Highlands would "help the
nation take steps toward increasing domestic energy supplies, particularly
from renewable sources." The Pit River Nation says that there is too long a
history in the U.S. of indigenous peoples sacrificing their rights and
cultural traditions for the short-term gains of extractive industries. This
history remains very much alive. The sacred Highlands must be protected and
this dispute is an opportunity to turn a corner in the struggle to affirm
indigenous peoples' rights in America.

The current administration continues to back Calpine in spite of the
company's established record of insensitivity and disrespect for American
Indian cultures, energy price fixing, financial-fragility and investor
divestment. According to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission report of
January 2004, Calpine, in September 2001 through October 2002 and possibly
longer, reported false information, including price and volume information,
concerning natural gas cash transactions to certain reporting firms and
reported certain actual trades at false prices and/or volume, as well as
trades that did not occur. As a result, the Commission found Calpine in
violation of Section 9(a) (2) of the Commodity Exchange Act and ordered the
company to cease and desist from violating this law further, pay a civil
monetary penalty of $1.5 million to the commission at the U.S. Treasury,
and cooperate fully and expeditiously with the commission and its
enforcement division in all matters related to the order.

In response to the apparent illegal manipulation of natural gas prices by
energy companies, California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante has filed a lawsuit
against dozens of natural gas generators and traders and two industry
journals, alleging they conspired to publish fraudulent information
contributing to the energy crisis in 2001. The Lt. Gov. believes the
natural gas industry is manipulating the market the way Enron did.

Earlier this year Calpine failed to sell bonds and loans that it valued at
$2.35 billion on the New York Stock Exchange, raising questions about the
company's future, which was devastating for the company. "We view the
failure of this deal as a significant negative," said Merrill Lynch stock
analyst Elizabeth A. Parrella. Like many other energy producers and
traders, Calpine became a fallen angel in the wake of Enron's collapse and
the California energy crisis.

In March 2004, KLD Research & Analytics, a firm that provides social and
environmental ratings of U.S. corporations to investors, supported the
Indian tribes opposing geothermal power-generating projects proposed by
Calpine in the Medicine Lake Highlands. Calpine's continuing pursuit of
these projects against the wishes of Indian people has prevented KLD from
including the company on its Domini 400 Social SM Index. The index consists
of 400 diversified equities that pass a broad range of social screening
criteria. Mutual funds and managed accounts replicating the index hold over
$1.7 billion in assets. KLD believes that protection of American Indian
spiritual lands and cultural practices takes precedence. In Calpine's case,
the Medicine Lake issue is the deciding factor keeping the company off the
Index. KLD sees its continuing support of American Indian interests as an
important part of its role in communicating the standards of mainstream
social investors to corporations and the general public.

In June 2004 the Calvert Social Index removed Calpine from its Social Index
for the same basic reasons. In 1999, Calvert adopted an indigenous peoples'
rights screen in recognition of the importance of the survival and security
of indigenous peoples around the world. Calvert evaluates how companies
impact the environment and indigenous peoples. Many untapped resources of
the world are located in traditional homelands of indigenous peoples.

In September 2004, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the Senate's only
Indian member, introduced the president to a group of tribal leaders at the
White House stating that Mr. Bush "wasn't going to be about hollow
promises." Given that Sen. Campbell, chairman of the Senate Committee on
Indian Affairs, participated in a hearing regarding American Indian sacred
places and accepted testimony submitted by Pit River Nation Chairman Gene
Preston on this issue, perhaps the president will also embrace the needs of
the Pit River people on this issue and call on Norton to finally pull the
financial and authoritative plug on Calpine once and for all. It is the
right thing to do.

Mark LeBeau is a member of the Pit River Nation and also has blood ties to
the Cheyenne River Sioux people. LeBeau is an advocate for the protection
of the sacred Medicine Lake Highlands and other lands with spiritual and
cultural significance to indigenous peoples. He can be reached at