River Views

The first white people to settle this place alongside the Albion River were treated with kindness by the Pomo who periodically camped on a portion of what came to be called the Macdonald Ranch. Those campsites dated back hundreds if not thousands of years. Despite the mutual friendship of the settlers and the Pomo, the local logging company and railroad drove the Pomo from this part of the Albion. Twentieth century loggers destroyed all but a handful of native artifacts up and down the Albion.

Everyone makes mistakes. One can only hope the mistakes will be rectified sooner rather than later.

In mid-September this paper ran an article about the proposed coastal trail on the Georgia-Pacific mill site in Fort Bragg. The gist of the article concerned Pomo archeological sites on the mill site and that the Northern Pomo may not have been properly consulted regarding the coastal trail’s planning.

I noticed a couple of glaring inaccuracies within the story. It claimed the Mendocino Indian Reservation operated from 1853 to 1860 when the true dates are 1856 through 1866. The article also asserted the reservation’s boundaries extended from Noyo River to Westport. In reality the northern boundary was Ten Mile River. These might seem insignificant errors, but in 1853 there weren’t enough Anglo-European whites on the Mendocino Coast to make a single community let alone request or man a reservation. The bottom line of those mistakes: my skeptical antennae rose to alert stage.

The problem with the September article is its one-sidedness. A more complicated story lies underneath the obvious.

The September piece didn’t dig deep enough to tell readers about Arcadis BBL Inc., the company, with a billion dollars in gross revenues, employed to study sediments at the G-P mill site. Arcadis subcontracted archaeological work to Garcia and Associates, from the Bay Area. The City of Fort Bragg now relies on a single archeologist who replaced Garcia and Associates in 2009. This brings us back to a rather confusing error in the September piece which states, “An archeological study by CalTrans found 22 archeological sites with northern Pomo’s human and cultural remains…” The archaeologist in question did work for CalTrans for 18 years, but is now self-employed. The confusion stems from the fact that Fort Bragg received a $750,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration funneled through CalTrans to the city for the coastal trail project.

A further problem with the September article is a lengthy paragraph that appears to be cut directly from an archeological report about the Fort Bragg mill site. The paragraph contains no attribution, no hint as to who wrote it, no contextual link. The plot thickens here. The Sherwood Valley Pomo claim that the City of Fort Bragg failed to follow correct and timely nation-to-nation protocol in communicating with them, thus violating Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. One might say hurrah for an American Indian tribe that can hoist the white people’s government on its own legal petard. However, the National Historic Preservation Act also establishes rules to protect historic archeological sites from plundering. These rules make it unethical, perhaps illegal, to release to the public specific reports about archeological sites. So who released the confidential archeological information that went into the September article? It wasn’t the archeologists and it wasn’t the City of Fort Bragg.

Still, it’s hard to forget that the predecessor in interest to Georgia-Pacific and the Union Lumber Company was the mill of Alexander Macpherson, constructed in the 1850s on the Mendocino Indian Reservation without permission from the US government or the Pomo.

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