Yurok Tribe applauds decision to deny cannabis permit

The Yurok Tribe applauds the Humboldt County Planning Commission’s pivotal decision to deny a commercial cannabis growing permit for a property within the Ke’Wet Ceremonial District.(Photo: yuroktribe.org)

Marijuana cultivation operation threatens Yurok Tribe ceremonial grounds, traditional practices

News Release

Yurok Tribe

The Yurok Tribe applauds the Humboldt County Planning Commission’s pivotal decision to deny a commercial cannabis growing permit for a property within the Ke’Wet Ceremonial District.

“The planning commission made the right call in voting to protect the numerous cultural sites within the district and we commend them for it,” said Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “This is a good day for the Yurok people.”

“The planning commission deserves a lot of credit for protecting this sacred area,” added Frankie Myers, the Yurok Tribe’s Vice Chairman. “In addition to ceremonial sites, there are countless important cultural elements within the Ke’Wet Ceremonial District, such as active prayer places and cemeteries.”

On Thursday, February 8, the Humboldt County Planning Commission voted to reject a commercial cannabis permit application from Bluff Creek Company Inc. Lucien Smith, the owner of the company, and his father Phillip Wayne Smith were seeking to license a long-standing, formerly illegal marijuana growing operation near one of the Tribe’s ceremonial sites in the Ke’Wet Ceremonial District. The commission refused to approve the application because the company’s proposal violates the county’s cannabis land use ordinance, which clearly states that cannabis cultivation cannot occur within 1,000 feet of a Tribal Ceremonial Site. It also violates several state and federal statutes, which safeguard Native American heritage sites.

The Ke’Wet Ceremonial District contains one of the densest concentrations of cultural sites in the Tribe’s ancestral territory.

“The intent of the district is to preserve our sacred sites for every future generation,” said Rosie Clayburn, the Yurok Tribal Heritage Preservation Officer. “The Ke’Wet Ceremonial District is one of the most culturally profound places in our ancestral territory.”

The Yurok Tribe does not disclose the precise location of ceremonial sites to prevent “artifact” hunters and grave looters from plying tribal lands for items to sell on the black market. In Humboldt County, there are many examples of Native American grave robbing that date back to the Gold Rush. As recently as 2007 and 2009, Humboldt County citizens, in two unrelated incidents, were convicted of stealing cultural objects from different Yurok burial grounds. It is extremely difficult to catch perpetrators of this crime because most of their work is done at night in remote places. As a precautionary measure against looting, the Tribe only offers a description of the Ke’Wet Ceremonial District boundaries to non-tribal citizens.

The Yurok Tribe has previously asked the Bluff Creek Company’s owners to move their cannabis operation out of this culturally sensitive area and encouraged them to take advantage of the county’s Retirement, Remediation and Relocation program. To date, the Tribe has worked with more than a dozen RRR participants who have relocated their operations to appropriate properties.

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