Systemic and widespread murder, land expropriation, forced sterilization, kidnapping and forced indoctrination of children via a residential school system that persisted for nearly a century, destruction of languages and outlawing of spiritual traditions, and commercialization and exploitation of ceremonies and healing practices, including by some of the people who labeled themselves “hippies” and appointed themselves as the vanguard of a “new age” — the genocide of indigenous people in what is now called “Redwood Valley,” as with first peoples everywhere, has taken myriad forms.
The name “Pomo” is an arbitrary classification for various regional indigenous people assigned by famed UC Berkeley anthropologist Alfred Kroeber. At the time of Euroamerican contact, one Pomo group inhabited and maintained the land now called “Greenfield Ranch”: 5,400 acres of breathtaking oak savannahs, oak woodlands, and riparian redwood groves centered roughly 10 miles west and north of Ukiah. In the early-1970s, the ranch emerged as a haven for Back to the Landers, refugees from urban life who declared their reverence for the earth, nature, and indigenous cultures.
Now, numerous Greenfield residents are at odds regarding the disposition of indigenous cultural artifacts that a former board member excavated in 1987 near the Greenfield Ranch House, a roughly 400-acre area that members own in common. It is an area of abundant springwater that is thought to be the site of both the Pomo village and, prior to that, one inhabited by the Coast Yuki. The subdivision consists of 130 landowners, including the original Back to the Landers or children thereof. Many residents contend the artifacts should be immediately furnished to the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, the only Indigenous group that has formally expressed interest in receiving them.
Others have taken the position that other Native people may have a claim on the artifacts, and that the Ranch Association ought to reach out to them, although no local rancheria other than Coyote Valley expressed interest when Greenfielders sent them feelers in the early-'90s. Still others believe Greenfield Ranch should keep the artifacts exactly where they are: the ranch property; still others, that they should be re-buried.
The controversy dates to 1987, when long-time Greenfield Ranch resident Mark Gary (a former California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection archeologist) conducted three digs — two on private property beneath Eagle Peak, and one on the ranch's common land. The excavation next to the ranch house yielded a uniquely high concentration of common artifacts: 202 arrowheads, scrapers, drills and knives, and seven banker boxes of so-called “lithic material” (such as grindstones).
The Northwest Information Center (NIC) in Rohnert Park, one of ten information centers affiliated with the California Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) in Sacramento, keeps an official list of archeological sites on behalf of the State of California. It is quite inaccessible, even to indigenous peoples, and mostly used by archeologists and land owners. Gary conducted the excavation precisely because it was a known archaeological site, classified as CA-MEN 1930.
Priscilla Hunter of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians had advised Mr. Gary against conducting the dig. At the time, she was a member of the Native American Heritage Commission. In the summer of 1992, she learned that Gary had maintained a private collection of the artifacts he recovered in the dig after Mr. Gary notified her that he was giving some to a display at Ukiah's Sun House Museum. In response, she sent a letter to the Board of Directors of the Greenfield Ranch Association in which she reaffirmed her disapproval of Gary's decision to excavate these lands, and asked that the artifacts be returned to indigenous people.
“Often Native American concepts of our relation with time and place are disregarded and misunderstood,” Hunter wrote. “Respect and knowledge of our 'past' history is essential to the definition of who we are. Therefore, we accord ultimate respect to our ancestors and that which they have entrusted us to steward. We have questions regarding the stewardship and curation of the artifacts excavated at Greenfield Ranch. We did not designate anyone to remove or possess these objects of our cultural heritage.”
She continued, “Repatriation of these objects would be in the mutual interest of our communities. It will foster a goodwill relationship between our communities and contribute to the cultural restoration that is owed Native American Peoples.”
Upon receiving Ms. Hunter's letter, the Greenfield Ranch Association formed an Artifacts Liaison Committee. Its purpose was to respond to the letter and attend to issues it raised. Its members included the now-deceased Mr. Gary and his wife, Deborah McLear-Gary.
On Oct. 30, 1992, the committee sent Ms. Hunter a letter stating, “We are aware that there is a proper protocol to follow, and we would appreciate it if you would notify the appropriate people.”
The committee sent Ms. Hunter another letter a few months later explaining that they were gathering input from various other tribes. The committee sent six other local tribes letters to gauge their interest in the artifacts. Only the Guidiville Band of Pomo — whose present-day homebase is in Talmage, east of Ukiah – replied. They were not interested in the collection.
Only Coyote Valley had expressed interest, and to this day Coyote Valley has refused to alter or withdraw its original 1992 request. One member of the Artifacts Liaison Committee who continues to live at Greenfield, Linda Gray, said in an interview that the Ranch Association did not follow through because they never received a written response to their letters from Ms. Hunter. But the Ranch Association also never offered to “repatriate” the artifacts in spite of Ms. Hunter's initial communique.
Passions often play out in a leisurely sort of way in California's North Coast. Even the most hotly-contested issues unfold at a pace all their own. In this case, the issue did not resurface until more than twenty years later. In June 2014, Greenfield Ranch resident Maria Gilardin – host of TUC Radio, and a long-time political activist – asked Ms. Hunter if she remained interested in the artifacts.
The Coyote Valley Pomo elder responded in the affirmative. Ms. Hunter told Gilardin to take the following message to the Greenfield Ranch board: “Coyote Valley would like to have the collection, would be honored to have it, and would take good care of it.”
On September 9th, the Greenfield Ranch Association board voted 6-1-1 in favor of “repatriating” the artifacts to Coyote Valley with no conditions. The lone no vote came from Scott Love, the Greenfield Ranch Association president at the time, who said in an interview that he believes a more inclusive process should take place before the Ranch Association disposes of the artifacts.
In the run-up to a subsequent meeting, Mr. Love canvassed other board members, and on October 18, they unanimously retracted the original vote on the grounds that it was procedurally incorrect. According to this edict, the September vote was improper because the issue was on the agenda as a presentation, rather than as a subject to be voted on.
The following meeting, in December 2014, lasted nearly six hours. By this point, the passions were full-blown. Many attendees, including Ms. Gilardin, made eloquent appeals in favor of giving the artifacts to Coyote Valley. Others – including Mr. Love and Linda Gray – spoke in favor of gathering input from other indigenous people before making such a decision. According to Gilardin, it was the most well-attended Greenfield Ranch meeting she has attended in her 16 years as a resident.
Since then, those most in favor of postponing a decision on the artifacts – Love, McLear-Gary, and Gray – have met with Sun House Museum Director Sherri Smith-Ferri, Mendocino College anthropology instructor and Mendocino County Museum exhibit curator Victoria Patterson, and two Yuki people who are enrolled in the Round Valley Tribes of Covelo to gather input on how best to proceed. In an interview, Patterson told me she advised that the Ranch Association convene a meeting of tribal historic preservation officers affiliated with local rancherias – including Sherwood Valley, Hopland, Coyote Valley, Pinoleville, and others — to help determine a course of action.
Mark Gary, who originally excavated the artifacts, later enrolled in the archeology program at Sonoma State University and intended to write a masters thesis about them before he died. His widow, Deborah McLear-Gary, has stated her interest in completing the thesis, which she has said was a great labor of love for her husband and may yield important historical information.
Many Greenfield member object to the notion that McLear-Gary's master's thesis trumps the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo's right to receive at least some of the artifacts, given that they were the only tribe that expressed interest in them when the Greenfield Ranch Association contacted various Indigenous groups the first time around.
One such Greenfielder is Jeffrey Blankfort, who produces radio programs on three stations (including KZYX) and is a well-respected authority on the Middle East, including the displacement of that region's indigenous people. “I do not recognize the Greenfield Ranch Board as having any say over the disposition of these artifacts, other than to turn them over to the indigenous people of the area,” he says.