Tribal Council Organizing a Force to Help Protect Reservation Lands and People
By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune
The budget numbers cited in this article were changed following a Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012 Hoopa Valley Tribal Council meeting. The budget for the Citizen Corps was cut to $60,000.
Office of Emergency Services (OES) Director Rod Mendes has been put charge of organizing a new force to help protect the Hoopa Valley Reservation.
The force, which was originally referred to as a “National Guard” by Tribal Council members and “Mindich Marines” in budget documents, will be called the Hoopa Tribal Citizen Corps (HTCC).
“We’re trying to work at reducing threats to tribal members when they’re in the back country, outside of the populated areas of the reservation,” Mendes said.
The Tribal Council pulled $149,000 from discretionary funds, the Lucky Bear Casino, and Bureau of Indian Affairs compact funds to help pay for the HTCC, after months of incidents caused by non-tribal members trespassing on tribal lands.
In one incident, Hoopa wildlife researchers were counting Pacific fishers in the Mill Creek watershed, when they discovered a 2,000 plant marijuana plantation. Hundreds of gallons of banned rat poisons and other chemicals were also found there.
Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey, whose department assisted Hoopa Tribal Police in shutting down the plantation, said, “We didn’t identify any suspects, but based on what they left behind we’re assuming they were Mexican nationals.”
Mendes said, “Drug cartels on this reservation? There shouldn’t be any. None. But we’re allowing it by not providing enough resources to deal with the problem.”
A growing number of tribal members say that they feel they’re in danger from armed growers when gathering or hunting on the reservation.
Norma McAdams said, “I have two sons who work for Forestry, and they’ve both been shot at while on duty.”
Forestry Department Manager Darin Jarnaghan said, “In terms of people being in threatening situations, it’s mainly been surprise encounters where we were just doing our job. The majority of our run-ins occur at night with the Wildlife crew.”
Wildlife crews often work night shifts when certain species are active.
Forestry Department workers said the problem isn’t only with illegal marijuana plantations, but also with trespassers collecting other resources from the reservation, including timber, mushrooms, and deer.
Aaron Pole said, “The scariest are the marijuana grows, because they have a lot of money and resources invested in their crop.”
“One of my favorite pastimes was walking up the creeks with my fishing pole and exploring, and I wanted to take my kids to do that,” Pole said. “But now, I don’t ever want to take my kids up there because I don’t know what we’ll find. I don’t want to put my kids in harm’s way.”
Jarnaghan said that what used to be timber lands are slowly being converted to agricultural plots.
Jarnaghan said, “If you look at a satellite image, you can see Hoopa with its managed forests, and all around you can see the dots of development with multiple structures on them becoming more prevalent on our south and west borders.”
An incident in October, where four tribal members were hunted through the woods by armed men, showed that a line on the map and a tribal prohibition won’t stop marijuana growers.
On the evening of October 14 and early morning of October 15, four young men from Hoopa were on an outing in the woods eight or nine miles up Mill Creek Road when they stumbled across an illegal white plastic irrigation line that stretched as far as they could see.
Within minutes they were being hunted through the woods with gunshots ringing in the air. The ordeal lasted more than four hours.
They were eventually rescued after they texted a friend, who relayed the messages to Hoopa Tribal Police.
One of the men, who asked that his name not be used, said, “I hope we can get the community to think about taking back our land. There is no reason people can’t go out in the mountains to hang out, gather, and hunt.”
Hoopa Valley Tribal Councilmember Augie Montgomery said, “I do intend to be adamant in trying to clean up our mountains for our tribal members. We need to take back our reservation instead of feeling like we’re walking on eggshells.”
The Tribal Council’s preliminary budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 has just over $149,000 earmarked for the new force, added into the OES budget.
The OES Director is drafting a plan, and it will be submitted to the Tribal Council for their approval when it’s done.
“It’s in the infant stages,” Mendes said. “My vision isn’t that this is going to be a military group, and it isn’t going to take the place of the police.”
“I don’t see us getting into gunfights out there, but I do see them making contacts and reporting back to law enforcement authorities,” Mendes said.
Mendes said that the HTCC would share the mission of the national Citizen Corps organization, which is a national organization coordinated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
There are five main programs administered through Citizen Corps: Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Fire Corps, Neighborhood Watch, Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), and the Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS).
“There are opportunities for grants, and there are other funding opportunities we’re looking into,” Mendes said, “We may end up with deputized or cross-deputized individuals, depending on how this goes.”
Mendes said he hoped to initially have two to four uniformed individuals patrolling the back country as part of the force.
That could easily change, however, based on directions from the Tribal Council.
Tribal Council Vice Chairman Byron Nelson Jr. said, “Because of how severe the terrain is out there, I don’t think it’s logical to go with ground vehicles before aerial surveillance. Aircraft could call-in and direct vehicles.”
Nelson said that there was an opportunity to lease a local aircraft, and that discussions needed to take place on what was the most economical way to patrol the reservation.
“What money we do have has to be used as efficiently as possible,” Nelson said. “But something is needed.”
Mendes agreed, “Our people have got to be safe, and they need to have someone looking out for them.”