Maidu leader urges Caltrans to ‘do the right thing’
According to Morales, wherever one finds artifacts, there’s always a possibility of finding burial sites. While he’d prefer the bones of his Native American ancestors remain undisturbed until the creator returns at the end of the world, he recognizes the pace of progress cannot be stopped, and so he wants Native American monitors to be present during all stages of the project to ensure the protection and preservation of any artifacts and to allow Native Americans to handle any uncovered remains with the proper dignity and without desecration.
“What Caltrans is doing is completely and entirely wrong,” Morales said. “They know it. The damage has already been done between Herlong and Milford. We can’t change that. But we can do the right thing from here on out as the project moves from Milford to Sunnyside Road. That’s all I want. I want Caltrans to do the right thing.”
Morales said he’s frustrated because the workers on the job site do not have the authority to make decisions regarding the monitoring conflict.
“I keep telling them I need to talk to a decision maker,” Morales said. “There’s no point in talking to someone who can’t make a decision. I keep asking them to send me a decision maker.”
Susanville Indian Rancheria Environmental Manager Tim Keesey also expressed some concerns regarding the monitoring issue.
“Whenever there are ground disturbance activities, we want monitors, whether it’s in an identified site or not,” Keesey said. “We’ve heard of some instances of ground disturbances without a monitor. We’re not happy about it, but we’re trying to work it out with Caltrans.”
Morales and Keesey both said it’s impossible to know what was buried underground thousands of years ago by simply looking at the surface today.
“No one knows what’s under the ground,” Morales said. “No one knows. No one can tell. They’ve dug 150 trenches for culverts so far and moved tons and tons of dirt. Those ditches are 4 to 4 feet deep and 10 to 15 feet long. No one knows what was down there, and that’s why we need the monitors. The Maidu people didn’t bury their dead on top of the ground; they buried them underground near where they lived. Tell me how can an archeologist look at the top of the ground and tell me there’s nothing buried down there? They can’t. Until Caltrans knows what’s under the ground, they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. The way they’re doing it, they’re just digging it up and then covering it up as fast as they can. As quickly as they dig the ditches, they fill them up. That’s disrespectful, and it’s wrong. I’ve been telling them about all the artifact found in the project area outside the sites for three years now. Where you find artifacts, you might find burials. I’ve got a big stack of letters I’ve sent to Caltrans.”
In a March 1 letter to Morales, Susanville Indian Rancheria Chair Stacy Dixon, Susanville Indian Rancheria Cultural Technician Melany Johnson, Washoe Tribe Chair Waldo Walker, Washoe Tribal Historic Preservation Officer William Dancing Feather and Washoe Tribe Language Program Coordinator Lynda Shoshone, Caltrans Project Archaeologist Susan Oilar described the project and set up a meeting in Susanville with the Native American community and Caltrans staff.
According to that letter, Caltrans had identified “15 previously recorded archaeological resources requiring evaluation,” and “In addition, monitoring will be used to enforce the Environmentally Sensitive Area boundaries during the two construction seasons and to document construction activities.”
That’s the hinge of the disagreement — Caltrans said it has hired Pacific Legacy, a Cameron Park archeological consulting firm, to deal with the monitoring issues. Ironically, Morales and his grandson, in fact, are both employed by Pacific Legacy as Native American monitors for the project.
But Morales said it’s important Native Americans be responsible for the monitoring because they know things about their culture anthropologists will never know. Because they have that knowledge they can recognize things an anthropologist will never recognize.
For example, Morales said he even knows exactly which Maidu families lived in what areas along the path of the project. He knows the tools they used, and he knows the location of their roundhouses and many burial sites. He said no anthropologist can ever know as much about his people as he knows.
Caltrans Senior Branch Chief Over Environmental Tom Balko said his office was drafting a letter to Morales to address his concerns. He said Caltrans has had to mesh a number of factors when spending the taxpayer’s money, including scheduling, budgeting, costs, environmental concerns and construction — all the while providing a good end product for the citizens of California.
Balko said one of his goals was to “bring all three tribes on board and create a partnership. We want to make sure we’re covering all the bases.”
Representatives from the Washoe Tribe did not return calls asking for comment on this story.
Caltrans Project Manager Derek Willis said this was a very expensive project and one of the issues was the cost of the project versus the need for monitoring. One of the hard decisions was determining the “level of engagement” of the Native American monitors.
Balko said the Native American monitors would be present at five especially sensitive locations, and Pacific Legacy would assume responsibility for monitoring during the rest of the project. He said the consultant now monitors all ground disturbances almost full time.
Willis said there’s a lot more monitoring going on during the project than Caltrans anticipated.
“We know we could run into sites at any time,” Willis said, “and there’s the potential to find other things. We have a procedure to allow the treatment of sites as they’re found, and hopefully we’re not going to be just disking things … We're doing it all up front, and we’re trying to engage the Native Americans as much as possible.”
Pacific Legacy Archeologist Lisa Shapiro said, “Ron Morales is a respected elder. He has very strong opinions. He has very strong opinions about the project that he has expressed to Caltrans. Monitoring is happening. The difference is Ron wants to see more monitoring than Caltrans originally planned for. That’s it in a nutshell.”
Shapiro said Caltrans retained her company to assist with the project, but she said Caltrans is responsible for consultation with the Native American groups. She said she thought Caltrans was making a “very strong effort” to address all the concerns of everyone involved in the project.
“We’re happy to work with Caltrans,” Shaprio said, “and provide services when requested.”
Morales said the Maidu people built permanent sites all along the project area. He said they lived near the tree line where the mountains fall toward Honey Lake. He said the large number of bedrock mortars in the area suggest large villages of Maidu people collected acorns from beneath the oak trees and seeds from the grasslands stretching out toward Honey Lake and ground them for food. At the water line, Morales said his ancestors hunted mud hens and other waterfowl. The highway project runs between the tree line and the shore of Honey Lake.
When Morales walks along side the highway project, he discovers artifacts. And where there are artifacts, there may be burials. So Morales said it’s not just five or ten or 15 sensitive areas that needs to be monitored — it’s the entire project.
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