Thursday, August 31, 2006

American Indians to be Part of Hetch Hetchy Talks

Considering the importance the valley had to the Indians and the way in which it was lost to them, this is the absolutely right thing to do.

An excerpt

American Indians now included
Published: August 25, 2006


Native Americans once used the Hetch Hetchy Valley as a trading spot between tribes and as a place to collect rare plants that were used in sacred ceremonies.

The valley now sits below 117 billion gallons of water at the bottom of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

Not only did Native Americans have no say in the construction of O'Shaughnessy Dam, "they weren't even considered United States citizens until a year after the dam was built (in 1923)," said Sonny Hendricks, an elder with the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians.

But natives' voices are being heard now that talk has turned to removing the dam, said Ron Good, executive director of Restore Hetch Hetchy, the Sonora-based group leading the effort to drain the reservoir.

"It's very important to us that the Native American point of view be included in this discussion," he said.

In its Hetch Hetchy Restoration Study released last month, the California Department of Water Resources lists the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk as a stakeholder in the valley's future.

"We do have a deep interest because native tribes have used this area for thousands of years," Hendricks said.

Last year, state officials met with about 20 Native American representatives, including Hendricks, at the Tuolumne Rancheria.

Those at the meeting were adamant that tribes should be involved in the decision to drain and manage the land. Opinions ranged from returning full tribal ownership of the land to maintaining the valley as a national wilderness area open to the public, the state's report says.

According to the report, seven prehistoric archaeological sites were recorded around the edge of the reservoir in 1951 by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

Forty years later, an additional 10 sites were recorded by National Park Service archaeologists when the reservoir's water level fell to its lowest level since it was flooded.