Local voices rise against Rainbow Gathering — protest at Janesville Chevron at 4:30 p.m. today

This is the law enforcement response to the Rainbow Gathering as of Thursday, June 20, when officers reported they have yet to issue their first citation.

Many Lassen County and Susanville residents vehemently and noisily oppose the Rainbow Gathering, and a “peaceful and respectful” protest will be held at 4:30 p.m. today, Friday, June 21 at the Chevron Station at the intersection of Highway 395 and the Janesville Grade. Lassen County District 5 Supervisor Jason Ingram said he will haul out his Blackstone and serve free smash burgers to all protest participants.

This year’s annual Rainbow Gathering, that could attract as many as an estimated 10,000 participants, is being held on the Plumas National Forest, just below the top of the back side of Diamond Mountain along Indian Creek.

“The Rainbow Gathering is a non-commercial back-country camping experience where we practice how to live in peace with people from many cultures, beliefs, traditions and backgrounds … Feel free to arrive a few weeks early to create the gathering and/or stay a few weeks late to clean it all up,” according to the gathering’s Facebook page.

Rainbow Gathering campsites in the trees well off the road.

So why all the uproar?
It would be easy to say conservative communities such as Susanville and others in Lassen County oppose the “gathering of the tribes” held annually since the early 1970s simply because it attracts a bunch of drugged out, long-haired, counterculture, hippie zombies to our area, and, truth be told, some county residents may suffer a bit of that cultural bias.

But despite that cultural turbulence, opponents express very real and serious concerns, beginning with the inappropriateness of the site. The Plumas National Forest refers to the gathering as an unpermitted “incident” which thousands of people may attend. Several other locations picked by the gatherers failed to be selected, and the PNF site became the advertised venue just a few days ago. Opponents said there is still time for the gatherers to secure an appropriate location.

Lassen County District 5 Supervisor Jason Ingram, who also serves as a volunteer firefighter, said one of his main concerns is public safety. He points out should a fire break out in the midst of thousands of people camping many miles back in the woods along dirt roads, they would have no means of escape. And should another fire break out, again endangering our communities in Lassen County, firefighters probably would be unable to respond. He said the fire risk to our local communities that have suffered catastrophic losses due to wildfire the past few years is all too real.

More campsites well off the road.

Ingram, one of the loudest opponents of the gathering, also criticizes the lack of law enforcement by many Plumas National Forest officers who are already present at the scene. As of Thursday, June 20, officers from the PNF said they have not issued a single citation to any of the participants for many alleged violations. More than a dozen law enforcement officers at the scene Thursday were busy posting no parking signs along the road.

Tiny Indian Creek is supposed to provide water for up to 10,000 Rainbow Gatherers?

Thursday, June 20, local rancher Joe Egan, Ingram, and a small group of helpers disabled a water distribution system providing water from Indian Creek to gatherers — an action they allege is an illegal diversion that could carry as much as a $25,000 fine. While Egan acknowledges he does not have an adjudicated water right, he does have a right to the water as part of his PNF allotment where as many as 1,600 cows graze downstream.

During a Thursday morning Zoom call with PNF officials during which Egan expressed his intention to remove the diversion, he was promised support from law enforcement as he took the diversion down. But officers at the scene declined to do a civil standby and suggested if there was a confrontation, he should call 911. Patrol Captain Canuto G. Molina (USDA, US Forest Service and Forest Service logos on his business card) said he would not go with Egan to the site of the diversion because he  “could not take sides.” Molina knew Egan was coming and asked, “Are you the rancher?”

Local rancher Joe Egan pulls a water line out of what he alleges is an illegal diversion of Indian Creek.

As the water diversion was disabled, Rainbow Gathering participants called the water in Indian Creek public water on public land that they have every right to use. They alleged removal of the diversion was a criminal violation, and they said it may result in civil legal action.

According to a June 20, letter from the Maidu Summit Consortium, the group said it had not been consulted or participated in any conversation with any group regarding the gathering on its ancestral homelands.

“As traditional stewards of these lands, we have a sacred responsibility to protect and preserve our cultural sites, sensitive areas and gathering spots for future generations … We have not consented to nor blessed this event in any form. Any social media posts to the contrary are false,” they wrote, asking for an environmental impact report, a consultation to ensure the protection of historical properties, recognition and respect for their sacred sites, ensure any human remains or cultural artifacts are handled in accordance with regulations and that the USFS develop a plan to prevent and mitigate fires during the gathering.

Local rancher Richard Egan and Rainbow Gathering participants discuss the diversion of water from Indian Creek.

“We will not stand idly by while our lands are desecrated and our people are further traumatized. We demand justice and reparation for the loss caused by past events,” they wrote.