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Cultural Genocide Disguised As Marine 'Protection'
by Dan Bacher
Wednesday Oct 21st, 2009 1:23 PM
We must resist government efforts to deny indigenous people their fishing rights, whether it be on the Colorado River Delta or California's North Coast.
Cultural Genocide Disguised As Marine 'Protection' - from the Colorado River Delta to the North Coast

by Dan Bacher

I wrote the following article for Counterpunch in April 2007 when I covered La Otra Campana (the Other Campaign) of the Zapatistas in Mexico. Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas organized a "peace camp" from February to May of 2007 to defend Cucapa Tribe members on the Colorado River Delta against a Marine Protected Area (MPA) like the ones Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's head oil industry lobbyist and corporate "environmentalists" are installing on California's North Coast through the corrupt Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process.

In the 2-1/2 years since the article was published, an alliance of Schwarzenegger, corporate environmentalists and the Resource Legacy Foundation have pressured the California Fish and Game Commission to ban the Kashia Pomo and other Indian Tribes in Sonoma and Mendocino counties from sustainably harvesting seaweed, abalone and mussels from inter-tidal zones as they have done for centuries. The advocates of "no take" marine zones under the MLPA never showed any respect or consideration for the fishing rights of federally recognized tribes including the Kashia Pomo.

The process has now moved to the section of the North Coast from Point Arena to the Oregon border. Fortunately, a broad coalition of grassroots environmentalists, Indian Tribes, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, divers and cities and counties has formed to resist the fast-track MLPA process of Schwarzenegger, the worst Governor for fish and the environment in California history.

We must resist the gross injustice already imposed upon the Kashia Tribe, as well as upon all of the seaweed harvesters, fishermen and abalone divers that were removed from their traditional harvesting areas in Sonoma and Mendocino counties by the politically stacked August vote of the Fish and Game Commission. At the same time, we must prevent the MLPA initiative's plans for cultural genocide - "green" genocide as veteran environmental leader John Lewallen calls it - from succeeding on the North Coast north of Point Arena.

Like the indigenous and non-indigenous activists from all over the U.S., Mexico, Latin America and around the world that successfully defended the Cucapa Tribe against attacks by the Mexican government in 2007 and helped assert their right to fish for corvina on the Colorado Delta, we must resist plans by Schwarzenegger and corporate interests to impose no fishing zones without any respect for the people and cultures of the North Coast.

As Lester Pinola, past chairman of the Kashia Rancheria, said in a public hearing prior to the Commission August 5 vote, “What you are doing to us is taking the food out of our mouths. When the first settlers came to the coast, they didn’t how to feed themselves. Our people showed them how to eat out of the ocean. In my opinion, this was a big mistake.”

Ironically, the same Governor that is riding the out-of-control bulldozer of the MLPA process over the fishermen, tribes and communities of the North Coast has presided over the unprecedented collapse of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species on the California Delta. While claiming he is "protecting" the marine ecosystem while removing seaweed harvesters and fishermen from the water in traditional areas, he is constantly campaigning for a peripheral canal and more dams that will push salmon and other imperiled fish species over the abyss of extinction.

Even more ironically, Schwarzenegger has installed Kathy Reheis-Boyd, the executive director of the Western States Petroleum Association, as the chairman of the MLPA Ribbon Task Force that is now developing the no take zones for Southern California. What the heck is an oil industry lobbyist doing on the head of the state body that aims to remove fishermen and seaweed harvesters, the strongest opponents of oil drilling, from our coastal waters?

There is nothing "green" or "environmental" about Schwarzenegger's fast-track MLPA process, since its proponents have gone out of their way to take water pollution, oil drilling, proposed wave energy projects and water diversions, the primary threats to fishery restoration, off the table when developing so-called "marine protected areas." However, this conscious decision by the Governor to allow other human activities in "marine protected areas" and to prohibit only fishing may change soon, due to "informal legal advice" regarding the MLPA provided by State Attorney General Jerry Brown (

The Governor's MLPA process is nothing other than classic corporate greenwashing, a bad substitute for desperately needed fish restoration measures imposed at the expense of Indian Tribes, seaweed harvesters, fishermen and divers.

Weekend Edition: April 21 / 22, 2007

Defending the Fishing Rights of the Cucapa Tribe

Zapatistas in the Colorado Delta


Since February 26, the Cucapa Tribe in El Mayor, Baja California has organized an historic Zapatista peace camp to defend their fishing rights against harassment and intimidation by the Mexican government on the Colorado River Delta.

The idea for the camp originated during a visit by Subcomandante Marcos, spokesman for the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation), to El Mayor during the Zapatista "Otra Campana" (Other Campaign) in October 2006.

"We have decided to send an urgent message to the Mexicans and Chicanos north of the Rio Grande to come in order to maximize the number of people here, create a safe space, and protect the Cucapa and Kiliwa community during the fishing season," said Marcos, also known as "delegado zero," in announcing the initiation of the camp after a meeting with the Cucapa and Kiliwa community leaders.

In February, the Cucapa community issued its call to action. "You are no longer being asked to stand in solidarity with the indigenous people of Mexico. Now you are being asked to stand to play an integral role in a bi-national effort that will no longer consist of only resisting but also helping these communities exist and live as they have for thousands of years," said the tribe.

The 304 member Cucapa Tribe said the camp aimed to "help reestablish the networks and relations that existed before borders separated families and communities, and to help expose these atrocities to a world that has avoided looking at the price of its excess, comfort and luxury."

Although the peace camp got off to a slow start, the momentum built in March as the Cucapa and supporters constructed a fishing camp, secured buyers for the fish (corvina), purchased a refrigerated trailer and netted fish in defiance of federal fishing regulations that require permits in a "marine protected area."

By the end of April, the camp had achieved its goals. "The camp is almost over, but it has been extremely successful," explained Cesar Soriano from the Banda Martes in Los Angeles. "The main goal of the Cucapa to fish without government harassment - was achieved."

"The camp also achieved its second goal, to organize direct support from people from both sides of the border," said Soriano. At different points during the camp, activists from Mexico City, Australia, El Salvador, and American Indian nations, as well as from San Diego and Los Angeles, showed their solidarity with the Cucapa. Many Zapatista solidarity groups from throughout California and the Southwest organized fundraisers for the Cucapa struggle.

Subcomandante Marcos and 10 Comandantes from Chiapas, en route to the Cucapa Camp in April, were also welcomed by the O'odham Tribe and friends in the state of Sonora.

"The Cucapa are doing the same thing they have been doing for 9,000 years," said Marcos, as quoted by Brenda Norrell in Narco News on April 10. "The Cucapa and other Indian people called for this camp in defense of nature so they can fish without detentions or being put in jail."

Caravans from Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and other California cities have gone to the camp to support the Cucapa when they fish during the high tides. While some accompanied the fishermen and fisherwomen on their boats, the others stayed on shore to watch out for federal soliders coming to cite or harass the Cucapa. The last high tide that the Cucapa will fish during will be from May 10-May 16, 2007.

For over thousands of years, the Cucapa people lived on land surrounding the Colorado River and its Delta where it empties into the Sea of Cortez. The tribe, in what is now the southwestern United States and north end of Baja California, lived off harvesting the native fish and plants of the river and Delta.

However, fish catches by the Cucapa and other tribes plummeted in recent decades as agribusiness in California and Arizona and thirsty Southern California cities diverted the entire flow of the Colorado without regard for the indigenous people below the U.S.-Mexico border. With only a trickle of the river ever reaching the once fertile Delta, catches of corvina, totuava (a giant seabass like fish that is now protected) and other species of fish declined dramatically.

Rather than addressing the problems of massive water diversions and fishing by corporate commercial fishing fleets that caused the fishery and ecosystem to decline, the Mexican government, under urging by corporate-funded U.S. conservation groups like Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund, declared the traditional area of the Cucapa and Kiliwa people "an ecological reserve."

They transformed the waters that for thousands of years sustained indigenous people into the "Biosphere Reserve of the Upper Gulf of California" on June, 10, 1993, because it was "in the public interest," according to the government's National Commission of Protected Natural Areas website.

"The website also noted that 77 percent of the people who live and around the reserve rely on fishing for their livelihoods, so it is unclear which public interest the fishing ban in the protected area serves," said Kristin Brucker, in the Narco News Bulletin, October 22.

According to Brucker, "The problem isn't that the Cucapa and Killiwa don't want to preserve endangered fish and dolphins. They point out that it is in their very best interest to protect the species they rely upon for their livelihood and they want very much to be custodians of the river and its fish as they have for generations."

Hilda Hurtado Valenzuela, the secretary of the Cucapa fishing cooperative, stressed that the Cucapa was not responsible for the overfishing, even though they bear the brunt of its consequences.

Armed federal soldiers (federales) have patrolled the reserve and accosted the fishermen since the marine protected area was established. In October, the community had approximately thirty outstanding warrants for "illegal" fishing in their attempt to survive, practicing the same traditions as their ancestors.

Hopefully, the success of this camp will send a strong message to the Mexican government and U.S. "conservation" groups that so called "bio-reserves" and "marine protected areas" cannot be imposed upon indigenous people and other family fishermen without resistance.

The problems that the Cucapa Tribe faces in Mexico parallel the situation in California where well funded "conservation" groups, in collusion with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, are attempting to kick recreational anglers and family commercial fishermen off the water through the institution of "marine protected areas," even though massive de-facto reserves and some of the strictest fishing regulations in the world are already in place.

The "marine protected areas" constitute a major case of "green washing" where the main problems responsible for fishery declines in California - habitat destruction, water quality decline and global warming are avoided because to address these problems would require dealing with major corporate interests responsible for fishery declines.

Just like the Cucapa and other tribes have been completely excluded by "conservation" groups and Mexican government from any input into the institution of the bioreserves, the California Indian tribes have to date been completely excluded from a privately funded "stakeholders" process to push through the MLPA (Marine Life Protection Act) initiative.

And just like the ecosystem of the Colorado River Delta has been destroyed by water diversions and pollution, the California Delta, a nursery sustaining a wide variety of species along the California Coast, is threatened by a food chain collapse caused by massive increases in water diversions by the state and federal governments.

For more information about the Cucapa Camp go to

Dan Bacher can be reached at: danielbacher [at]