For Immediate Release – Office of Self-Governance
“Yesterday marked the first step in the long road of ecological preservation of the marine ecosystem of the Smith River Rancheria Tolowa Dee-ni’ ancestral territory,” said Chairwoman Kara Brundin-Miller as the California Department of Fish and Game unanimously accepted the proposal of establishing Marine Protected Areas on the North Coast. “The Tribe has always cared for and has taken an active role in stewardship of our aboriginal lands; this process has given us the opportunity to collaborate with Tribal and State agencies to move forward on our goals of ecological preservation,” said Chairwoman Brundin-Miller. Prior to the June 6th Fish and Game Commission meeting the Northern California Tribal Chairman’s Association, NCTCA met and expressed their unanimity that tribes as a part of that body will not give up or negotiate sovereignty, and support each other in their own unique needs and efforts to exert their sover-eignty during this MLPA process.
The aboriginal territory of the Smith River Rancheria Tolowa Dee-ni’ encompasses 32 miles of the 42 Del Norte County coastlines and there were several proposed Marine Protected Area’s within the Tribe’s territory. Within the jurisdiction of the Smith River Rancheria there were two major is-sues the Tribe paid close attention to particularly, Pyramid Point. The proposed boundary lines of the MPA crafted by the Science Advisory Team did not take into consideration that the southern boundary line they proposed crossed over into Tribal Trust Lands, where the State of California has no jurisdiction for MLPA enforcement. The Tribe participated in the MLPA process and continually brought this to the attention of the Department of Fish and Game, DFG. This issue was addressed in the regulatory overview at the June 6th, Fish and Game Commission meeting. The recommenda-tion for moving the boundary northerly to the next set of rocks did not come from the recommendation of the Tribe, but from a Wildlife Enforcement Consultant that expressed enforcement would be hard due to the geography of the coast line as well as “avoid[ing] interaction with the Tribe,” said DFG staff Steve Wertz. The Commission accepted the recommendation to move the southern boundary north. The Tribe’s request was met, but not at the consideration of Smith River Rancheria’s stance of jurisdiction. “The Tribe is looking at this process as an opportunity to continue the education of Tribal law and rights and takes the commitment seriously of Fish and Game commissioners who acknowledged that Tribal rights of fishing, gathering, hunting and access not be compromised under this process,” said Chairwoman Brundin-Miller.
“This is only the beginning of a long process that the Tribe looks forward to in the idea that we will be able to engage in a conversation with the State of California that has been long overlooked,” said Chairwoman Brundin-Miller. Commissioner Jack Baylis made a commitment to partnering with tribes in this next phase of the MLPAI and the Smith River Rancheria has been preparing for these next stages. Since notification of this initiative the Tribe has been developing a long term plan, and implementing the structure needed to come to the table to be a partner in monitoring the MPA’s and the coastal ecosystem. The Tribe has a drafted MOU for co-management and has established a Fish and Game commission within their governmental structure and has become a Self-Governance Tribe though P.L. 93-638, as amended to help direct the focus of Tribal needs in this area.
The North Coast Study Region through Tribal participation has made an impact on the MLPA process. “Smith River Rancheria sent a consistent, firm message while retaining a professional demeanor which made this process a success for the Tribe,” said Russ Crabtree, Tribal Administrator. This is the first time in the process that tribal rights have affected the outcome of decisions made by DFG, and the Tribe feels that it is due to the commit-ment made by individual tribes in the region who invested their time as a Government, made a commitment to protect sovereign inherent rights, and to continue traditional practices of the ecosystem.
Submitted by Briannon Fraley, Self-Governance Director