Updated: Aug 1, 2022
Blog Written by: Taylor Pennewell and Trelasa Baratta
As the original stewards of the land, Native communities have a unique opportunity to leverage our voices and expertise for the betterment of our social and ecological communities. We may not be responsible for colonization’s harmful effects on our people, but we do have the task of protecting the wellbeing of our future generations. We have a responsibility to reclaim our place as stewards and attempt to restore our values. This allows us to build and sometimes re-build relationships to our land and waters so that all future generations have a planet on which to live, honoring our Traditional Ecological Knowledge and values.
Leading the way in these endeavors is Chairman of the North Fork Mono Tribe, Ron Goode. Ron has spent most of his life advocating for the environment, protecting cultural knowledge, and strengthening Native sovereignty. In fact, Ron’s tribe developed one of the first cultural monitoring teams in the country. His team now trains and provides a model for tribes who seek to protect their cultural resources from the impact of industrial development projects.
While Ron is no stranger to failed promises from the state, he recognizes that we Natives have a unique opportunity to leverage our power to protect ourselves and our ecosystems. In particular, Ron believes that the Dam Relicensing process required of all hydroelectric power companies may create an opportunity for tribes to hold power companies accountable for the damage they’ve done to the ecosystem and to Native culture.
In June, our team met Ron in his ancestral territory. We listened to Ron’s stories about growing up in the valley near the dams. Ron's relationship to this place spans millennia, and his family has felt first-hand the impacts the dams have had on his people's homelands.
Ron told us more about his strategy in negotiating the licensing of Frant Dam on Millerton Lake in the San Joaquin Valley. Relicensing is a process that occurs every few decades. Stakeholders like government agencies, energy companies, agricultural entities, tribes, and recreational organizations renegotiate the terms under which a dam and reservoir operate. Decisions about water flow (when water is released and withheld from a reservoir), environmental impact, hydroelectric energy efficiency, fish habitat health, and recreational use terms are among the topics typically discussed in the relicensing process.
During the most recent licensing of Kerckhoff Dam, Ron was determined to make sure that tribal voices were loud and present. With the help of his monitoring team and the recreational non-profit American White Water, Ron spent months researching and restoring an ancient trail that had been used for travel and trade by the Mono people since time immemorial. The project allowed the tribe to recover priceless artifacts, and reconnect with cultural information that had been dormant or inaccessible for generations. Most importantly, Ron’s team was able to prove that their ancestral trail was indisputably wound through the river that has now been integrated into Millerton Lake via the Kerckhoff Dam.
In proving their ancestral relationship to the land and water, the North Fork Mono now has the attention of PG&E and other stakeholders involved in the relicensing project. With proof of their relationship to place, the North Fork are calling power companies to invest resources into the restoration of the ecosystems above and below the dam, with the goal of diversifying plant and animal habitats and species as they once existed.
Ron’s work represents a paradigm shift in the way we think about accountability. It requires a shift away from thinking that it is okay to engineer our natural resources without consulting the invaluable knowledge of the original caretakers of this earth. We must recognize the need for accountability when delicate relationships within our ecosystems are disrupted as a result of bad human decisions. In this case, Ron believes that PG&E and Edison Power must commit to restoring the ecosystems and habitats that have been harmed by the presence of the dams, and to investing in the cultural revitalization of the Native communities that have lost access to invaluable cultural resources through the water engineering and habitat destruction process.
Continuing to document our ancestral relationships to our territories, and partnering with trusted allies who may have resources to fund our projects, is one tool Ron believes can make a difference in today’s era of self-determination.
Redbud’s short film featuring Ron Goode will be released in fall 2022. Stay tuned for updates and to hear from the Chairman himself.