Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) announced that he will be introducing legislation to protect California’s Native American sacred sites. The state’s legislative counsel is still working with Gatto to draft specific details, but it is anticipated that the legislation will include a process for public review of a proposed project if that project threatens a sacred site. The proposed regime will also include the opportunity for significant input from tribal stakeholders, and increased protections for sacred sites that might not necessarily face threats from development but which are nevertheless threatened.
Recently, thieves made off with rock carvings from a sacred site on the Volcanic Tableland north of Bishop, stealing priceless rock art sacred to the local Paiute people. And recent years have seen a number of fights between developers and tribes, over the right to build near ancient sacred sites. “Our native peoples deserve protections for sites that are parts of their ancient heritage. And bluntly, we’re a state that tends to pave over our history. These sites should be treated as California historic resources too,” said Gatto.
Gatto’s proposal comes in the midst of much discussion about improving and expediting CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, a statute that has come under fire for causing massive delays for sometimes simple developments. “I want to remove sacred sites from the CEQA discussion,” said Gatto. “Native peoples should not have to fear that if CEQA reform moves forward, it will result in further destruction of their hallowed places.”
On December 20, the San Diego Union Tribune ran an editorial from Pala Tribal Chairman Robert Smith, in which he implored the Legislature to take action to protect sacred sites, especially for impoverished tribes. Although Gatto’s proposal was introduced independently and has been in the works for weeks, Gatto stated that he appreciates greatly the increased coverage and awareness for an important issue relating to California’s native heritage. “Once these sites are gone, they’re gone,” noted Gatto.