Fort Bragg Pomo Tribe Seeks BIA Recognition

21 Jul

Fort Bragg Advocate-News
Thursday, July 14, 2011

With some Native American leaders praising and others criticizing a new marine life protection area compromise, Eric Hontou is part of a Pomo band who are feeling left out, as usual.

Hontou is part of the Fort Bragg-based Shebelna band of Pomo Indians, who are currently seeking official tribal status from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and are listed as an unrecognized tribe on federal and state lists. The tribe has put some new energy into the recognition petition effort, which it hopes can be turned in by the end of 2011.

The Shebelna never heard from the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative (MLPAI), and were even left out when tribes from all over California came to Fort Bragg to protest public-private initiative last summer, Hontou said.

“We didn’t even know about it.  I’m not sure why.  We are on the lists in Sacramento,” he said.

Indians could fish and gather in all new marine protected areas except marine reserves with a tribal identification card and fishing license under the proposal.  The plan was put on the table June 29 by the California Fish and Game Commission (CFGC).

“If they only let the recognized tribes fish… are we to lose our fishing rights for the next 50 years while our petition sits in limbo with bureaucrats who don’t want to recognize us anyway?” Hontou said.

“We have a beef with the Marine Life Protection Act,” he said.

Hontou admits he should have gotten involved in the MLPAI earlier, but has trouble finding the time.  As a practical matter, there are no new closures around Fort Bragg, with the nearest north of Ten Mile Beach, which Hontou said is a tradition gathering area.

“We are talking about poor people doing this for subsistence. We are talking about taking your kids out and learning to fish and gather, not just for Indians, but for everyone, this is something good.  People need to be connected to the environment, to live simply and learn subsistence,” Hontou said.

“Meanwhile, the fishing is truly being damaged by giant oil spills, nuclear disasters, big corporations dumping whatever they want to in the ocean, there is this naval testing, how is stopping us going to save the ocean?”

State leaders clearly had no game plan for dealing with special tribal rights when the public-private MLPAI process arrived in Northern California.  The first problem came when an approved closure in the Point Arena area had to be rescinded when it was discovered that Indians had been using the private property with permission for generations.

MLPAI leaders worked to determine who the native peoples were, where they lived and where they gather.  Indians were appointed to be part of the process at all levels of the MLPAI but the scientific panel.  While some Indians participated, others said none of this was the state’s business and claimed federal treaty rights.  The confusion upstaged unique collaboration that allowed stakeholders from California’s three northernmost counties to come up with a single map for new fishing restricted areas.  The state approved that map with little change on June 29, overlaying it with the special tribal use plan for licenses and identification card exemptions.

The CFGC voted 4-1, with Daniel Richards voting no.  Tribal members would need to carry identification from a federally recognized tribe, a valid fishing license and must be 16 years of age or older.  Tribes must also document current or historical gatherings and follow existing state regulations.  The preferred map along with two alternatives, will now undergo environmental review.  Whether recognized or unrecognized native people will cooperate with the documentation aspect is just one of the issues that will likely undergo more public discussion.  There will be several more opportunities for public comment before a final decision is made in early 2012.

Hawk Rosales, executive director of the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, was often critical during the process, but has praised the outcome on local radio and in the state’s press release.

“The approach we endorse is the result of a historic level of cooperation between the state and many California tribes.  We will build on these strong relationships together so we can achieve our shared goals of protecting marine resources and while at the same time honoring traditional ways,” Rosales said in a state press release.

Other native leaders remain unconvinced by the new state plan.

Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke told the Eureka Times-Standard he was disappointed by the commission’s decision because it did not include suggestions agreed upon by the tribe, the Northern California Chairman’s Association and the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council.  O’Rourke said the groups want access to state marine reserves as well, and the requirement of a fishing license to be waived.  O’Rourke, also involved throughout the process, told the Eureka newspaper the tribes will oppose the implementation.

The Regional Stakeholders Group included a Fort Bragg Pomo, Valerie Stanley, whose family lives on tribal lands that have been on the former Georgia Pacific mill site for nearly a century.  She is part of the Sherwood Valley Rancheria, a federally recognized tribe.

“We are all Pomo, no matter what name we use.  We could call ourselves anything we like.  The recognition isn’t based on names, but on facts about our ancestry,” said Hontou.  He has hopes that all Coastal Pomo will join the Shebelna recognition effort, even if they already belong to another tribe.

The Shebelna submitted a federal filing in 2006 that they intended to file for tribal recognition.  Hontou, who was born and raised in Fort Bragg, is currently working on the petition which he squeezes in between work hours.

“I think it would require less paperwork to prove the existence of space aliens than all what they want for tribal recognition.  I’m not a lawyer, but I’m taking a stab at it,” he said.

Quantifying whom, what and where the Indians are, and trying to get consensus from scattered and diverse natives, is something that has baffled more than just the MLPAI.

Historical accounts report trouble with the counting the Pomo and in determining just where they live and lived.  Hontou says the Pomo tradition of wandering between homes continues today, especially with the difficult employment situation that exits throughout Napa, Lake, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, where Pomo peoples have called home for thousands of years.

There were once between 8,000 and 12,000 Pomo, historical accounts report.  Although the 1990 census showed 4,900 Pomo, many are not immediately recognizable as such.  Hontou said he is about 3/8 Pomo Indian by blood.

“If our ancestors had not married white people, they wouldn’t have survived and obviously we wouldn’t be here today,” Hontou said.

Shirley Ann Harbor, tribal chairperson said her grandmother was among the Pomo who lived in Noyo Harbor before they were evicted to the bluffs.

“We learned to live as white people,” Harbor said.

Shebelna is an effort to resort to the original name of the Sherwood Valley, named for white settler Alfred Sherwood.

Harbor said the tribe hopes to purchase land if recognized and possible create a museum and cultural center.  There are no plans as yet for a casino.

Harbor said there are about 300 members scattered around the west, many of whom were raised on the Coast.

“Like anybody, people have to move away from here to find jobs,” said Harbor.

The status of the Shebelna petition and other information, including a July 2011 newsletter is available at

A Shebelna Tribal Reunion will be held August 13, at 1 p.m.  The reunion will be held at the Lions Hall, 430 E. Redwood Ave.
Author: FRANK HARTZELL Staff Writer
Date: July 14, 2011
Publication: Fort Bragg Advocate News (CA)

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Posted by on July 21, 2011 in News Updates


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