In Northern California, a New Invader Threatens Tribal Lands

More than 150 years after European settlers began arriving in their aboriginal homelands, the inhabitants of Mendocino County’s Round Valley Indian Reservation are facing a new foreign invader—this time, in the form of illicit cannabis.

Sheriff Matt Kendall says the Round Valley area of Covelo is confronting an explosion of illegal grows. The cultivation sites prevent people from using their own property; they cause environmental destruction; and they invite the worst forms of crime.

Authorities are still looking for a San Jose man named Victor Medina who went missing on April 20. He was last seen working on an illicit cannabis farm in Covelo. A search warrant prompted by his missing persons case led to the arrest of two workers and the destruction of 22,148 marijuana plants.

Sheriff Kendall and his lieutenant Barney, a Wailaki native, have released a video to bring attention to the growing crisis.

“We have tribal members who are afraid to go hunting or fishing. We have a lot of cattlemen and ranchers who are afraid to ride their horses through the hills because of an invasion of illegal grows,” Kendall explained. Lieutenant Barney said the grow operators menace and intimidate the natives, effectively driving them off their own land.

This situation has created troubling socioeconomic dynamics as well. According to the sheriff, the region has seen a substantial increase in wealth inequality. The farm owners “are people who have come from out of the area who have come up to make money. To be honest with you, when you drive through Covelo now, you’ve never seen so much money surrounded by poverty.”

Watch the entire video here


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