Even though construction of the Willits bypass project is about 80 percent complete, according to what Caltrans environmental project manager Michael Bartlett told Willits News, local tribes are still trying to protect their cultural resources in the area.
Just last month, the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians withdrew from discussions about the “programmatic agreement,” which is meant to establish procedures approved by both the tribe and Caltrans for cultural resource management. In a letter dated September 2 Coyote Valley Chairman Michael Hunter listed the tribe’s reasons for withdrawing, among them were inadequate tribal consultation, not being able to agree on the standards by which sites were identified and protected, conflict over measures to compensate for sites that have already been damaged, and a lack of communication and good faith.
Willits News obtained a copy of the letter, which states in part: “We firmly believe that it would be an insult to both our heritage and our integrity to sign off on the proposed Programmatic Agreement and Post Review and Discovery Action Plan. These documents do not provide a genuine means for protecting our ancestral sites in the future, let alone compensate us for destruction and desecration we have experienced. For the past two years our Tribe has attempted to engage in genuine government-to-government consultation. In response, Caltrans has presented us with draft after draft of proposed agreements that fail to recognize any positions taken by our Tribe, instead tendering a document filled by Caltrans with blatantly self-serving provisions.”
The letter goes on to say that “Caltrans has used these negotiations as a ruse to delay implementing these important protective measures.”
From previous protests to stop or stall the Willits bypass construction.
Bartlett, who said the project is at 80 percent completion, also told Willits News that he expects ground-disturbing work to be completed this season. But until an agreement is signed by all, Caltrans is required to abide by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires Caltrans to consult with tribes and develop plans to avoid damaging cultural resources, but as ICTMN has reported previously, tribal officials say the system is toothless.
In its letter, Coyote Valley is requesting face time with Caltrans to discuss cultural resource sites, meetings the letter says haven’t occurred in months: “Caltrans’ failure to sit in a room with representatives of our tribe is insulting.”
Bartlett told Willits News the last such meeting happened in February, but conference calls have been held with Sherwood Valley, but the last one was several months ago.
Tribes remain upset that work continues while they are attempting to negotiate with Caltrans about how to identify and protect their cultural sites.
Bartlett told Willits News that an area for interpretive signage along the highway explaining resources recovered during the construction has already been developed, and they have submitted a proposal to interview tribal elders. Coyote Valley objects to this in its letter. They want not only financial compensation for damages—even though, as the letter points out, there is really no way to compensate for the losses—but also tribal control over cultural resources, as well as access to lands for plant management and other traditional activities.
“After the insincere, resistant, and aggressive manner in which Caltrans has engaged in government-to-government consultations with our Tribe, we cannot agree to Caltrans controlling the very anthropologists who prepare our ethno-history or interview our elders,” the letter explains.
The letter also says that if any signs are to be erected, they should read: “Here is the ancestral home of the Little Lake Pomo that our construction activities desecrated and destroyed.”