News From Native California Volume 31, Issue 3 - Page 34

In addition to issues of water quantity, water quality is also of grave concern. Employees of the Yurok Tribal Environmental Program have found abandoned grow sites littered with hundreds of capped buckets of human sewage. Rather than construct latrines, many grow-site occupants defecate into the creeks and tributaries of the river. Accord- ing to YTEP, levels of E. coli have been dangerously high this past summer, and human feces has been caught in fish traps in the river. Chemicals such as pesticides and insecticides are also likely finding their way into the water. The impacts that these chemicals are having on the salmon and our own bodies remain unclear. While additional marijuana-related research is needed, it often presents myriad constraints on tribal employees and departmental budgets. Marijuana cultivators clear cut forested lands. This increases erosion and sedimentation rates while also eliminating habi- tat for many species. And given that many of these marijuana operations are found in biologically sensitive areas, a number of endangered species are at risk, including the Pacific fisher, the Humboldt marten, and, most recently, the northern spot- ted owl. Illegal marijuana cultivation is associated with the use of chemicals. Ecologist Mourad Gabriel is a prominent scholar on the environmental impacts of marijuana, focusing on the impacts of rodenticides. Rodenticides cause massive internal bleeding when consumed. More than 80 percent of deceased Pacific fishers recovered in northern California have been exposed to anticoagulant rodenticides. However, the problem is not only the accidental consumption of poison; growers inten- tionally poison animals as a preventative measure against crop disruption. For example, Dr. Gabriel documented a site where hotdogs stuffed with carbamate insecticide were hanging from a tree. A dead fisher was found less than twenty meters away. Environmental destruction represents a profound violence to indigenous cultures. While in Western traditions, nature and culture are seen as ontologically distinct, for Native communities an attack on our environment is also an attack on our culture and our community. Our cultural practices are directly tied to the health and vitality of our landscape. But marijuana cultivation has brought violence to our communities in other ways as well. There is a palpable sense of fear that did not exist before. Certain roads are now deemed dangerous and not to be traveled, even in broad daylight. Cultural practitioners have 32 ▼ N E WS F ROM N AT IVE C AL IFO RNIA received threats and intimidations of violence after acciden- tally stumbling on grow sites while gathering medicines or basket materials. This type of direct violence hearkens back to the miners of the Gold Rush who would slaughter entire villages of Indian people. During the Gold Rush era, singing, dancing, and practicing one’s culture was often answered with violence. This pattern is repeating itself as our gather- ers and basketweavers are held up at gunpoint. Therefore, for indigenous communities, there is no distinction between social justice and environmental justice. Social justice cannot exist without environmental justice. An assault on our envi- ronment is an assault on us. Additionally, the Green Rush is producing another wave of land dispossession in Indian Country. Properties—often intended for marijuana cultivation—are now being sold at exorbitant prices. The Yurok Tribe, as well as individual tribal members, is often unable to purchase back ancestral territory because either lands are sold on the black market to other marijuana cultivators, or because marijuana cultiva- tors are able to offer amounts far surpassing the asking price. Of course, it is difficult to ascertain the amount of land and money involved in black market transactions. However, numerous Yurok tribal members are aware of black mar- ket land sales occurring within reservation boundaries and ancestral territories. Real estate companies in the area, tribal members suggest, are also catering to the needs of mari- juana cultivators despite Yurok tribal law. While cannabis culture often proclaims its ties to environmentalism and rejection of capitalism, in reality the marijuana industry, like other commercial agriculture industries, is incredibly extractive. Its supposed connection to environmentalism proves to be precarious. Many tribes in California are currently pursuing or considering involve- ment in the marijuana industry. While marijuana may pres- ent a unique opportunity for economic development and can serve as an important declaration of tribal sovereignty, all tribes must remain wary of the potential environmental impacts. For these tribes, my questions would be: Where is your water coming from? Does the water you need for your marijuana operation directly result in decreased river flows? Is it having an effect on salmon runs? We must remain vigi- lant that our economic needs do not drive us to accept the destructive ideals of capitalism; we cannot become people who thrive at the expense of our neighbors.