Jeffrey Amato/
Medicine Lake in California is sacred to many tribes, the Pit River Tribe of Northern California among them.

Calif. Sacred Sites Bill Would Boost Protections but Exclude Some 50 Tribes

Marc Dadigan

About an hour north of San Diego near the Pacific Coast, Panhe is an ancient village site where the Acjachemen Nation still gather to hold ceremonies, share stories and walk among trees brimming with the voices and histories of their ancestors.

The creation area of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians is where, according to tribal oral tradition, “Earth and Sky came together to form the world”, and tribal officials have said it’s the spiritual equivalent of the Luiseño Wailing Wall or Dome of the Rock.

Both tribes have recently staved off development projects that threatened to desecrate these places, but only one of them would benefit from a bill circulating in the California state legislature that would boost protections of sacred sites and amplify the voices of tribes in the state’s environmental regulatory process. But because the Acjachemen are, like nearly 50 California tribes, federally unrecognized, the bill would not apply to them.

Assembly Bill 52 would clarify and bolster the tribal consultation requirements for specific development projects under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). It would lift federally recognized tribal nations to the same status as other government entities and require developers to consider the modern day cultural and spiritual value of sacred sites rather than simply the amount of archaeological artifacts in the area.

“The premise that one culture’s sacred sites and historical landmarks aren’t given the same value as another culture basically amounts to cultural imperialism,” said Assemblyman Mike Gatto. “California has the most tribes in the nation, and we need to treat these areas with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

In this June 10, 2010 file photo, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto talks after his swearing in at the Assembly at the Capitol in Sacramento, California. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

However, many tribal officials are concerned that the bill narrowly defines California Indians as members of federally recognized tribes when the California Native American Heritage’s consultation list, which is used by state agencies, currently includes about four dozen historical California tribes that currently don’t have federal recognition.


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