In which we discuss the Terra-Gen Wind Energy Project and the Destruction of Sacred Sites or You Can't Mitigate The Destruction of Sacred Sites Deal With It
Y’all, it’s been less than two months (57-58 days), depending on when you skim/read this, since the City of Eureka returned Tuluwat to the Wiyot Tribe. Less than a week (3-4 days) since Native American Heritage Month. Less than 20 minutes since I got an email from someone wanting me to come and speak at their event and teach them about California history and cultural revitalization. Less than thirty seconds since I grabbed a trail mix from my pantry and hunkered down in front of this computer and started reading about all this
Humboldt Wind, LLC (Terra Gen)
What the WHAT?
Look in case you didn’t know (or you don’t live in Humboldt County, or you live in Humboldt County but you don’t get the news or you get the news but you don’t really remember it because lately there is TOO MUCH NEWS) let me sum up:
Humboldt Wind, LLC (Terra Gen - who in all the documents people are always referring to as “the applicant”) wants to build a 47 wind turbine monstrosity on Tsakiyuit (Bear River Ridge) and Monument Ridge near Rio Dell and Scotia. This is a sacred place for Wiyot peoples and contains several culturally significant resources and archeological sites. The Wiyot Tribe opposes the project because it would destroy these sites and resources. There are other concerns that have been expressed by community members that include “hey, nobody wants to destroy a Wiyot sacred site” and also “we don’t want to kill a bunch of animals or destroy a bunch of plants.” Apparently the location site is “so close to an important bat migration hotspot. Every fall, thousands of hoary bats descend upon Humboldt Redwoods State Park, exhibiting a “swarming” behavior that appears to be unique to this region.”
Humboldt Wind, LLC/Terra Gen (“the applicant”) believes that “The Project’s benefits outweigh the significant unavoidable impacts” because the wind farm will be “sufficient to power 70,000 households” and “would displace emissions of approximately 384,068 metric tons per year of carbon dioxide.” Also there’s gonna be a lot of money saved (through local grid improvements) and a lot of tax revenue (for over 30 years) and science.
No really, I read the appeal letter. It basically ends with a paragraph that’s like “and science! Science, science, hoary bats, science. This is science. Science is science and science. Do it for SCIENCE.”
I’m going to post here the entirety of “the applicants” “Benefits to Knowledge Base.” explanation that was included in the appeal:
The formation and operation of a Technical Advisory Committee would allow the scientific community to study specific populations of bats known to occur in the region, including the hoary bat, and understand population trends in general, as well as the impacts of the Project on the population. A similar level of scientific knowledge would be provided for avian species. This will contribute to the greater scientific knowledge base and support future environmental analyses and mitigations.
This is basically saying “everytime one of these goddamn Hoary bats flies in to one of these things and dies they will let the scientists study it and then we can learn more. Same for all the dead birds! YOU’RE WELCOME SCIENCE.”
Look, the Wiyot Tribe (as well as several environmental groups, community organizations and other community members, oh and the city of Rio Dell) oppose this project. So I feel like that’s it right? We’re done here. Cool. We’ll go find a better project.
Now “the applicant” is appealing to the Board of Supervisors of Humboldt County to approve the project even though the Planning Commission voted to not approve the project.
Which brings us here.
My open letter to the Board of Supervisors about the proposed wind turbine project on Tsakiyuit (Bear River Ridge) and Monument Ridge near Rio Dell and Scotia.
Dear Board of Supervisors:
What the WHAT? Is this where we are, really? I’m supposed to come before you and so humbly explain why building a giant frigging wind farm in the middle of a sacred site for Wiyot people is a bad idea? Why it’s spitting in the face of relationships with Indigenous peoples in Humboldt County? Why it’s outdated and short sighted and also why it basically is a giant fuck you to everyone in this county who is doing the hard work of actual reconciliation and collaboration with tribes? Also have you read this appeal letter, it’s bananas. It’s a joke. I look forward to staged dramatic readings of it with Patrick Stewart in his best Hamlet’s Ghost Dad voice.
ATTENTION PEASANTS! Humboldt Wind, LLC hereby appeals the November 21, 2019 decision of the Planning Commission of the County of Humboldt to deny its application for a Conditional Use Permit and Special Permit for a wind energy project (the “project). TO BE OR NOT TO BE!
Lately, when I try to use my oh so measured approach with people, reasonable people, about why we can’t (shant?) build a giant wind turbine installation on a sacred site inevitably they look at me and they go “Cutcha do you just want us all to die?! We are in a climate crisis! We have to do something! WIND OR DIE!”
I get it. We are in a crisis. There’s not enough rain, the fish are endangered, the dams are failing, and we’re starting to see massive storms, erosion, an increase in temperature, oh and the whole thing is on fire. This dumpster fire is a literal fire.
So yes, we are in a crisis. And the writing is on the wall. All that stuff that settlers did when they came rushing in to California had lasting consequences for future generations (that’s us, we are the future generations). They blew up mountains and pushed tons of dirt into the rivers and willy nilly cut off streams because they wanted gold. They HAD to have it. It was gold or die! Everybody needed the gold. Capitalism! Money! It was good for the county! If everyone was making money then they’d pay more taxes! Imagine their appeal letter: Sorry we blew up that mountain, we understand there are “significant unavoidable impacts” on the environment and people but you know… it’s just tribes.
At some point, there was also some guy who went you know what’d be dope. Pouring a bunch of mercury into the water so we can get at flecks of gold. Chisa Oros writes in her amaze-balls thesis that:
sediment gathered was treated with methylmercury, also called mercury or quicksilver, in order to gather the gold bits and separate the lucrative product from other minerals the miners did not have interest in. The mercury, a highly toxic metal, was washed away or discarded on the banks of rivers or outside the mines in large pits (10).
So yeah, miners and mining companies at one point had to realize “oh, we’ve poisoned the water and fish. That sucks, those are some “significant unavoidable impacts” that we will mitigate later.” (As far as I know they didn’t go “but now you can study all the dead fish! And we’ve created an opportunity for ongoing studies of the impact of mercury in water to the fish for the next 10,000 years! You’re welcome science!)
Eventually there was company (applicant?) who went “we should cut down all the trees! WEEEEEE. Oops, now all the soil is eroding and everything sucks, also oxygen. Unavoidable impacts are tough.”
Then came the companies who were all “you know what would be a good idea, building a bunch of giant dams to make electricity” and then all the fish started dying and everyone was like “oops, sorry, that actually does affect the ecosystem and stuff. Who knew that long term having these dams would cause so much damage that we would be endangering species in the river and the ocean. Orcas are starving because salmon are dying. The water is warming. But we have electricity! Also now you can study the starving Orcas more closely because they can’t swim away because they are starving. You’re welcome science!”
This problem is not a new problem, it is a settler colonialism problem, it is a problem where we continue to repeat the same tired arguments (“it’s better for the economy” “we need energy now” “it’s just ONE sacred site” “I mean it’s just Indians…”) and then expect different results.
You’re not going to save the world by denying the sacredness of her.
We are in a crisis. A crisis that was made, founded, built, and upheld by settler colonial arrogance, greed, and willful ignorance. You don’t get to have that excuse any more. Not when despite hundreds of years of attempted destruction of our ways of life, of massacres and murders, of assimilation, removal, and termination, we are still here. We will still come to your meetings and stand in front of your boards and say to you “This is sacred. We know this to be true. We are telling you this is not the way.” And we carry on our sacred relationship to these lands and we are still willing and able to protect and fight for the relationship because we know, we absolutely know, that we will not solve this problem through “mitigation” and “unavoidable impacts” we will solve it with relationship, reciprocity and respect.
Know this: Indigenous peoples are 4% of the world’s population, live on 22% of the earth’s surface -- an on that land is 80% of the planets remaining biodiversity. (Sacred Land Trust)
Our knowledge of place is thousands of years old. Our ability to manage in a way that centers land, life, and futures is what will solve this problem. We are not coming to the table just to be heard, we are coming to the table because we know something has to be done. We’ve been doing it. We’ve been doing it despite all the ways that law, policy, the state, the federal government, and companies have tried to keep us from building, re-building and centering this relationship. Now that it’s becoming obvious how important Indigenous scientific environmental knowledges are, it’s your turn Humboldt County, it’s your turn to sit back, listen, and build something better, something that is actually going to solve this crisis.
Our sacred sites are not designated lightly. The power of these parts of the earth, the movement and monument that are these places, this thousands of years of knowledge and relationship is not built, maintained, or severed lightly. This is not an easy thing to do, to build a sacred relationship. And I would say that the Wiyot saying no to this project is also not done lightly. It is not done with flippancy. It is not done with malice.
This is about reverence. A reverence that reverberates through time. A revereance that exists to this day despite genocide, removal, relocation, and termination. Continuing to participate in the ongoing attempts to sever this relationship between Wiyot peoples and their sacred places is the continued willful ignorance, it is carrying on a legacy of genocide, a legacy of destruction.
As we sit in our big fancy chairs and read the reports, listen to the testimonies, move through the appeal letter (try not to laugh at the part where they are like “there’s gonna be SO MUCH SUB DIVIDING IF YOU DON’T DO THIS YA HEAR ME! SUB DIVIDING!”) we need to remember that we are at a precipice of history and the future, standing somewhere in between, where we can either build something meaningful and new or repeat and uphold a system that caused this problem in the first place.
We are in a crisis. This crisis will continue if we cannot re-build our relationship to these lands, these more-than-human relatives, these fish, flora and fauna, in real ways.
It's just a no.
We have to find a better project.
If you’d like to come and show support for the Wiyot there is an upcoming important public meeting with the Board of Supervisors on December 16 beginning at 9 a.m. at the Adorni Center. As I’ve been told by people smarter than me: “People gotta show up. They gotta speak and use their two minutes.”
More articles if you want to read more about the issue:
Also here is a link to the Humboldt Wind site that contains the Draft and Final EIR.
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, volunteer Executive Director for the Native Women's Collective and is currently re-watching My Name is Earl...
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