River Views

On October 28th I attended a presentation by archeologist/historian Thad Van Bueren at the Kelley House in Mendocino. If you missed it and are curious about the early history of this County I’d recommend Mr. Van Bueren’s book, Belonging to Places: The Evolution of Coastal Communities and Landscapes between Ten Mile River and Cottoneva Creek. Despite the lack of brevity in the subtitle and the focus on the area from Ten Mile River to Rockport, there are very readable, well-researched passages about the earliest of Mendocino County residents that cannot be found anywhere else. The list of bibliographic references lets the most scholarly reader know that Mr. Van Bueren has done his homework.

Mendocino County has long been a locale of displacement. Nowhere is that more true than on the Mendocino Coast. White settlers and lumbermen took/stole the hunting and fishing grounds of the Pomo within a handful of years, decimating the indigenous population in the process. Now, well-heeled retirees buy up land that sat vacant for more than a century. For instance, the area known as “South Caspar,” is chock-a-block full of houses (some with high, locked gates) when 50 years ago it was nothing more than a windswept and/or foggy field, where a sparse herd of sheep grazed. If the Pomo, who currently appear to be on the verge of filing a lawsuit over tribal relics on or near the proposed coastal trail within the old Georgia-Pacific mill site in Fort Bragg, had been organized when development was first proposed for “South Caspar” perhaps that over-populated, over-priced enclave could have been stopped aborning; for as sure as the sun sets in the west, there were and probably still are Indian middens as well as arrowheads and scrapers scattered just beneath the surface throughout the area.

Here we need to take a step back to Mr. Van Bueren’s archeological and historical studies. Long ago the Pomo (not a tribe, but a group of people identified by linked, though diverse, language) expanded their territory west from the environs of Clear Lake, displacing the Yuki (they called themselves Ookotontilka) from their campsites and villages along the Mendocino Coast. Though the Pomo were, in general, one of the more peaceful groups of American Indians, the archeological record shows them to have been more exploitative of natural resources than the Yuki, depleting food sources as their population increased. It’s instructive to note, for example, that the Pomo had no known ocean-going watercraft, no canoes for travelling the east-west running rivers of the Mendocino Coast.

Mr. Van Bueren’s studious, methodical approach to such matters stands in contrast to the broad-brush approach attributed to Talisha Melluish in an October 17th article in the AVA. That article misidentified Talisha Melluish as the Historic Preservation officer of the Sherwood Valley Pomo. Hillary Renick actually holds the position. Ms. Melluish, in a letter to the United Nations Special Rappoteur on Human Rights stated: “We have continued to use and occupy these lands as we have since time immemorial.” Immemorial means a time that extends back beyond memory, record or knowledge.

If the current stalemate over the coastal trail project in Fort Bragg does end up in court it will be interesting to see the result. Ms. Renick, the Historic Preservation Officer for the Sherwood Valley Pomo, also has a law degree from the University of Oregon and is a board member of California Indian Legal Services. The City of Fort Bragg contracted much of the archeological work performed on the Georgia-Pacific mill site and the proposed coastal trail to Thad Van Bueren.

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