Posted by: kbvale | July 8, 2009

California Central Valley Tribal Environmental Justice Project

The Central Valley Tribal Environmental Justice Project is a collaborative effort between the eight valley Councils of Governments (COGs) to develop a report containing tribal input on transportation, cultural preservation, participation in decision-making and environmental justice as part of the region’s Blueprint process. At the three workshops have been an assortment of tribal members (with over 45 tribes represented) and representatives from local COGs and County Association of Governments (CAGs).  A diverse array of topics have been covered, from cultural resource mapping to government-to-government cooperation, but the underlying topic for this group remains to be fleshed out: how to create more structural tribal involvement in local government.  Now, with the workshops completed and the foundation laid, eight meetings will occur via the internet among workshop participants where a more concrete format for participation and recommendations can hopefully be envisioned.

With these meetings still to occur, the tribal participants have already made several concrete recommendations and requests for the County officials of the region.  Among them are the following:

  • Creation of an educational or information-sharing system between tribal and non-tribal people; maps are too risky, but increased and established consultation may be the solution.
  • Tribal issues of transportation and resource access/preservation which are exacerbated by their isolation in rural areas must be addressed by planning officials.
  • There must be a proactive approach to tribal involvement in government planning and actions.
  • Tribes need expert help and new ideas to address the specific issues that affect them, such as health concerns and resource preservation.

On the flip side, the COG and CAG representatives at the workshops made requests to the tribal people, the most important being intertribal communication and collaboration to allow for easier coordination with non-tribal entities; while some of such networks do exist in the Central Valley, the meetings of this collaborative are the first substantial interface for interaction between the tribes and regional government officials.

An example of a more established system is in place in the San Diego area, with tribes organized into a Regional Transportation Authority that places representatives on the board of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).  While San Diego differs greatly from the Central Valley in the fact that their county comprises the region (establishing a regional government through SANDAG) and that most tribes are Federally recognized (unlike in the Valley where, for instance, Kern County has NO federally recognized tribes), the principles of their model are things we should strive for in this region.  Namely, they have given tribal representatives authority in the regional planning process, and have taken proactive steps to ensure their input in decisions which may affect their land, lives or other resources.

It’s time the tribes of the valley get a voice in the governing structure that effects their people, regardless of Federal recognition or any other barriers to more inclusive participation, in an attempt to right the historical wrongs committed against them.  They need protection from people seeking to exploit their sacred plants and artifacts, the ability to preserve their land and resources, and an established means of influencing government decisions that affect their ability to live their lives as they deem culturally appropriate.  While the first step was taken in these meetings, much more is to be done to establish a regional governing structure that allows for more structural participation of tribal representatives.

For more information, visit the project’s website at http://www.catribalej.com

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