Press "Enter" to skip to content

‘Destroying The Beauty Of Our Place’

Last week's AVA featured the first part of a story regarding opposition by members of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians to the enormous Spanish wine corporation Codorniu's proposal to deci­mate one of their sacred sites, located just outside the northwest Sonoma County town of Annapolis.

The land in question is located amid a complex of 3 documented ancient village sites that the Kashia inhab­ited prior to the arrival of European and Euro­american colonizers. Until recently, the Native inhabitants of the area still used this land to continue to practice their tra­ditional way of life, as you will read below.

The land is mainly a redwood forest, slowly recover­ing following several clearcuts across the past 150 years. Codorniu wants not just to clear-cut more than 150 acres of this land, but also rip out the roots and virtually drench the resulting barren land with chemicals so as to destroy the remaining microbial life. As part of that process, the wine industry giant would deep-plow the ground with deep vertical forks attached to giant bull­dozers. It's difficult to think of greater harm that could be wrought on a Native people's sacred site than this.

In stark contrast, Kashia Pomo elders and traditional­ists Violet Parrish Chappell and Vivian Parrish Wilder are seeking to convert the land into an educational center to teach Kashia Pomo culture. To find out how to sup­port them, see the bottom of Part Two below.

Part 1 of this story left off with details of the dis­pute concerning whether and how Codorniu – working through its Napa Valley subsidiary, Artesa – would “mitigate” their destruction of the archaeological find­ings on this land. Part 2 picks up with an interaction with Parrish Chappell and Parrish Wilder concerning the ecological fate of their ancestral territory. – WP


“The replacement of Indians by predominantly European populations [has been] as much an ecological as a cul­tural revolution, and the human side of that revolution cannot be fully understood until it is embedded in an ecological one.” — William S. Cronon, Changes in the Land

Tradition is deeply a part of the way Violet Parrish Chappell and Vivian Parrish Wilder carry out even day-to-day conversations. As the oldest of her sisters, Parrish Chappell acts as the Kashia's traditional historian – a position given her by her mother. However, as her mother requested her, she always invites Parrish Wilder to be part of any conversation she has regarding tribal history, so as to contribute her own recollections periodically.

Periodically, Parrish Chappell will turn to Parrish Wilder in the midst of a conversation and speak to her in the traditional Kashia language, sometimes as if seeking her help to find the right words in English to explain the meaning she is attempting to convey. In their meeting with me, the conversation sometimes turned to extended interactions concerning the history of their landbase's natural environment.

“The land over here means a lot to us and they're planning on destroying it,” Parrish Chappell says. “They're trying to tame it, taking away all of the things there. Gosh, that's terrible, you know, what a spiritual place and they're putting in to where they can get the people drunk on it.”

“Like those people having big drunk parties in Fort Ross,” Parrish Wilder adds. To many American Indian traditionalists, alcohol has been an instrument of genocide often every bit as lethal as the Euroamericans' shots, shells, and smallpox blankets. Their utter indignity over the possibility their sacred land might be developed into an alcohol farm is a consistent theme of the conversation.

“How can they destroy a beauty?” Parrish Wilder muses. “How can they take away the beauty of the land? How can they destroy the things that grow from our use?”

“Destroying the waterways and the plants and the land. Ah, sheesh!”

“I remember a lot more trees getting cut in the '50s, '60s. Big trees! Oh, I used to hate to see that! All my mom would say is, 'Oh my! Our health is going. Our healthy oxygen is being cut.' And we'd stand there and my god, we'd barely go up that little hill there. The roads weren't even paying then. And the dust would fly, get all over your clean clothes. The wind is blowing. They were all cut down here by the river, they would go down here to the mill... It's not like it used to be here. I don't see any robins here, do you?”

“I see a couple that come in.”

“I only see the black ones.”

“Of course, you got the big logging trucks coming through here!”

“I only see one eagle, down there where the old road ends by Mrs. Walton's stable. What a beauty. Looking like that one up there.”

Parrish Chappell points to an eagle on a mantle. Their home is adorned with similar totems throughout. We are seated at a long rectangular table, in a house roughly at the center of the Stewarts Point Reservation. Even as we talk, the sound of a chainsaw hums in the background.

Parrish Chappell continues, “They're taking the homes away from the animals, cutting the trees. Sometimes you would see the animals down there by the river, drinking the water. You don't see that anymore. Used to be there in the evening. Oh, we seen a porcupine going this way by the water tank!”

“Really? When was that?”

“About two months ago!”

“Going down here, scaring them away, scaring those loggers from their area probably.”

“A fox we saw, too. Pretty soon we'll have the brown bears coming in. Oh, what a change from the '30s, '40s. This road here down by the river, that used to be a big area with redwoods and ferns. That's how it used to be. Then they cut all the redwoods. They would send them up to Hopp Ranch. But they used to have a picnic table. All along there were a big growth of redwoods. I remember we used to go walking down there in the thick redwoods. The Lady's slippers [orchids] were so thick in there.”

“Oh, so lovely!”

“Destroying the beauty of our place.”

Will It Go Forward?

It remains to be seen whether, under increasing pressure, Artesa will persist in its plan to develop the vineyard. Since 2008, the market for high-end wine has been severely glutted in particular, with countless Sonoma and Mendocino growers having to sit on their grapes or sell them at an unprofitable price. Moreover, in May, Friends of the Gualala River ramped up their campaign to halt the project by mailing an appeal to the current Codorniu CEO, calling on him to pull the plug on the project.

The letter was signed by a coalition including numerous national and California environmental organizations. The letter “cite[s] unacceptable impacts of the project due to irreversible loss of redwood forest and soils, impacts on recovery of severely threatened steelhead trout, Coho salmon, rare wildlife species, river flows, and water quality,” as a prelude to it states on the FOGR web site. A number of new clips concerning the downturn in the regional wine market were attached to the letter, in an effort to persuade the Codorniu brain trust to see the economic folly in carrying their plan forward.

The letter has resulted in considerable publicity on behalf of the struggle to prevent the Fairfax conversion. An Associated Press story on the topic by a writer named Jason Dearen hit the wire a few weeks ago. The opposition of Kashia traditionalists is becoming an increasing embarrassment for Artesa.

According to Chris Poehlmann, "This is a great opportunity for Artesa to rise to a higher level of responsibility on behalf of their industry, by backing away from a project that clearly has serious drawbacks.”

Some local residents are not sanguine about the possibility that CAL FIRE will turn down the vineyard conversion, nor even that Artesa will withdraw due to economic or public relations considerations. Jamie Hall, another FOGR members, who lives immediately next door to the site of the Artesa development, says he and his wife will have to move for health reasons if the project is approved, being that he is already having a terrible physical reaction to the vineyards that do exist.

“They get out there in moon suits with tanks,” he says. “I get a headache just from the Sulfur. When I drive through the Dry Creek Valley, by the time I get to Healdsburg, I have a huge headache. To have the whole property next to me basically devastated – if that happens, we'll be history here.”

It might be said that Hall's displacement would be reminiscent of the Indians who once lived here.

One Annapolis resident who has worked closely with Parrish Chappell, Parrish Wilder, and other Kashia traditionalists is Randy Sinclair, who moved to the area 22 years ago. Sinclair, who is battling prostate cancer, originally moved to Annapolis to get away from exposure to herbicides such as that to which he was subjected at his previous residence in Oregon. He is of native Modoc descent on his mother's side and says he decided to “adopt” the Kashia as a sort of extended family.

For instance, last year, the members of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative committee announced last year they were closing off access to a section of coast where the Kashia had traditionally gathered fish and sea vegetables. In response, Parrish Chappell and Parrish Wilder called for a blessing ceremony to take place at the site. Roughly 150 people attended, and the gathering received considerable media coverage. The response by the state agencies to the political controversy stirred up was immediate.

“After the blessing ceremony, tribal elders off Stewarts Point (Danaka) on April 30, were the first tribe to successfully petition the Fish and Game Commission to allow traditional tribal gathering in a marine protected area,” Dan Bacher, an organizer against the MLPA Initiative recalls. “Their victory paved the way for the Yurok and other North Coast tribes to ensure that traditional gathering was allowed in marine protected areas in the unified North Coast proposal under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) proposal.”

The struggle to maintain tribal access to the ocean has been dealt some setbacks since, but Sinclair sees how the MLPA experience helped energize Parrish Chappell and Parrish Wilder .

"The older generation of Kashia has come back,” he says, “and they're praying and hoping that the younger generation – the next group of kids coming up — listen to them to learn the language to understand the ancient ways, to honor the planet, to love the planet, to be open to everyone, to every way of living, to share those ideas that the planet is sacred and unless we take care of it, we'll be screwed. The earth is the source of everything, and it's crazy and sick not to take care of the environment – as in the ancient way.”


Their Own Words

Last year, Parrish Wilder and Parrish Chappell published an article regarding the Artesa project in an edition of the Sonoma County Gazette. It remains their most complete statement of opposition to the Artesa forest-to-vineyard conversion, as well as a powerful testament to the potential importance of the educational center they wish to open in its place.

They stated,

“Where we used to live, no one can see anything now. It is time we open our mouths. Those vineyard people are interfering with our ancestors' area.

“Wherever our villages were, wherever we picked our food, those places are blessed places. When we had to live in two worlds, we had to get along with people we did not know. We had to live with white men who took the land away. We coped with it.

“Mom taught us good things, how to get along with different races of people. She taught us how to get along in the world. She told us, "You are going to go out and educate others about us." We don't think that others will ever completely learn about the spiritual part of an Indian. That is deep. But we want to explain why it is important to Kashia Pomo.

“That patch over there — Artesa land in Annapolis — that is a blessed place for us. We went there as kids. We picked berries there with our mother. We picked berries for necklaces. There is another place over there where there is a lot of Manzanita, and that was really important to us. We made spoons from that and also awls to make baskets. These are the things we grew up with. We dedicated our trees not to be cut. The trees in the forest are blessed. The Redwoods give us good medicine from the sap that hardens. It was used for anemia. The young shoots are used for colds. Bark dolls are made from Redwood.

“Everything out there is used for something.

“The reason we are against the disturbance in Annapolis is that place is alive. It is a dedicated area. It is a special area. If they do something wrong there, things are not going to go right. Who will believe us? We are speaking from the viewpoint of Kashia. We have to talk from the viewpoint of our spiritual leader, what we were taught. The non-Indian may not understand — there are things that we Indians can't touch but can see. Good teachings are spiritual.

“We are disturbed by all the things that are happening around us. We can't go to some beaches to harvest food, we can't pick huckleberries any place we want. We can't find good sedge to make baskets because the best place was ruined by Lake Sonoma. We know that there is sedge on that place over there [Artesa land]. Baskets were our cooking pans and used to store things like acorns. That is important for kids to learn. It would be a good place to teach the kids how to make baskets.

“Religion was all our life. We'll tell you why. There were no man made conveniences here. Everything was from the creation. That is why we take care of it. That is what the leader did, she taught us to take care of the food, the water. We took care of the trees. They will disturb the places where we prayed. The spirits are still there. We say, gee, now they are going to disturb Indian land, dig up the guts of people. They are coming into our religious life.

“The idea that these sacred places could be fenced off is not good. We don't go for that. You don't have to dig it up. We know that whole area is a village site. All these places were occupied and used by our people. The whole place is one.

“It was not so bad when the land was used for sheep grazing, but here they are going to flatten the land — land which would be better used for education, where our children and neighbors can learn about our ancestors and their way of life.

“It is a blessing to pick food. It is a blessing to roam around. The creator wants us to take care of this place.”

* * *

For more information on stopping the Artesa “Fairfax” conversion, click here. Contact the author at


Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *