Officials representing three Lake County Indian tribes and county officials Monday signed a first-of-its kind local agreement aimed to improve protection of tribal artifacts and cultural resources within the ancient Clear Lake basin.
The pact, driven by a state law enacted last year, calls for the tribes to be consulted about proposed development projects in their geographic areas before government agencies decide what type of environmental review is necessary.
“The intention is to protect sacred sites,” said Dino Beltran, a member of the Koi Nation, a landless tribe that once inhabited the southeastern Clear Lake area.
The agreement is one of several collaborative efforts underway to enhance preservation of the remnants of tribal civilizations around the lake and its surrounding basin, which a state archaeologist estimates has been inhabited for at least 13,000 years.
Indian artifacts and archaeological sites are strewn across Lake County due to the abundant hunting, fishing and gathering opportunities historically available around the lake, which naturalists estimate at more than 2 million years old.
“It’s amazingly rich,” said Breck Parkman, senior archaeologist with the state parks department. It’s nearly impossible to stand on a piece of land in the county that doesn’t have some archaeological artifacts, he said.
To help preserve those resources, leaders from three of the county’s seven tribes on Monday signed an agreement that essentially codifies a 2014 state law that went into effect in July. AB 52 called for tribes, upon their request, to be consulted an earlier step when dealing with any proposed development within their historic homeland. It also created a new category — tribal cultural resources — under the California Environmental Quality Act, the law that guides development oversight.
The pact comes as the county and tribes also have been working together to reduce thefts of artifacts, a rampant, statewide problem that parks officials say was worsened by the drought. Receding waters, especially around reservoirs like lakes Oroville and Folsom, subjected once submerged ancient cultural sites and artifacts to looting, Parkman said. It also was a problem during the 1977 drought, he said.
Beltran said looting has been a chronic issue for local tribes, not one seen just during droughts. The culprits include drug users seeking money for their habits, artifact collectors and people who just don’t know better, he said.
In an effort to combat the thefts, a group of tribes, including the Koi, helped sponsor a seminar earlier this year to teach law enforcement how to detect thefts and enforce laws against gathering artifacts. A Lake County deputy, fresh from the seminar, used his new skills to arrest a man with a cache of Native American artifacts in August.
The tribes also are trying to get word out to the public that they should leave ancient artifacts in place.
The county and tribes additionally plan to work together to create a cultural resources management plan and to seek out financial resources to fund projects aimed at enhancing and preserving those resources, goals included in Monday’s agreement.
The agreement is a testament to the county’s willingness to work with the tribes, said Sherry Treppa, chairwoman of the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake, one of three tribal leaders who signed the agreement.