Racism, Genocide, and Ecocide

by Dianna Suarez, founder of Friends of Bear River (FROBERI).

Published June 26, 2020 in the Grass Valley Union.

First they took the water. The indigenous people of California were prospering here because of the gentle climate and abundance of food. The first disturbance noticed was to the water, because it is essential to life.

Why did the white miners and settlers think they were entitled to divert and impound the water that ran in the creeks and rivers?

Most of the large oaks in the 250-acre Bear River Park, located near Colfax on Bear River between Rollins and Combie reservoirs, are canyon live oaks. There are also very large black oaks, old growth ponderosa pines, and Douglas fir trees. These trees are between 300 and 700 years old. They have stood for centuries as this land and this river have gone through their seasons and the changes in weather cycles and land use. Many surrounding areas were denuded of trees because they were flat and more accessible to roads and railways. Why did the white miners and settlers feel entitled to cut down all the trees?

Old growth trees were beloved by the indigenous Nisenan people who saw them as beloved relatives and elders. The trees stood and watched the genocide of these original people by a new breed of humans who did not see these trees as living relatives to be treasured. These were the miners and settlers who came here starting in 1849. When the Nisenan and their villages on the ridge between the Bear and American rivers were massacred and burned, the survivors ran into the Bear River canyon to escape, to these trees for safety.

Why did the white miners and Placer Blades militia think it was OK to murder indigenous people and burn down their villages?

At one time this Bear River canyon was proposed to become a reservation where the Nisenan could live in safety. The Barbour Treaties were negotiated with the California Indians in 1851 and 1852. The indigenous people agreed in good faith to give up their lifeways and left their beloved places. The Nisenan were promised a reservation with boundaries starting at Camp Far West military fort running 12 miles up Bear River and then due north to the Yuba River, excluding Rough and Ready but including Penn Valley. The boundary then went 12 miles down the Yuba River and then due south back to Camp Far West.

According to “An American Genocide, “The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe” by Benjamin Madley, page 168: President Millard Fillmore submitted all 18 treaties along with a letter of support on June 1, 1852. “On July 8, 1852, U.S. Senators, meeting in a secret session, unanimously repudiated all eighteen treaties. The Senate then placed the eighteen treaties and associated documents under an ‘injunction of secrecy.’ These documents were on file and presumably accessible in the U.S. Department of the Interior, but the Senate did not lift its injunction until January 18, 1905, fifty-three years later.”

Why are we supportive of a government system that lies, cheats, and steals?

The answer to all these questions is racism — racism resulting in the genocide of the local indigenous people. As we all know now, this scourge of racism exists today in the words and actions of the descendants of the settlers, people of privilege, and the government that represents us. Today we call out that racism.

That same racism was on display in the secret, closed session board meeting of the Nevada Irrigation District. At 9:57 a.m., on Aug.13, 2014, closed session was called at the Nevada Irrigation District Board Meeting, and the public, if there were any, was removed from the room. Litigation was discussed for over half an hour. The meeting was reconvened at 10:30 a.m. for two minutes, and during this time, the NID Board passed Resolution No. 2014-43, authorizing application for Centennial Dam, without any discussion or public involvement. Did the NID Board know that this proposal would destroy the last remaining access for the surviving Nisenan people to their sacred Bear River; the last vestige of a culture subject to genocide for the last 150 years?

I don’t know, but when they were told, they didn’t care.

The NID Board knows and understands that this river cannot be replaced, and yet some members persist in this racism, this genocide, this ecocide of the ancient trees and indigenous lifeways of the Nisenan people, who once lived freely and happily in this beautiful place, along Bear River.

Dianna Suarez lives in Colfax.


Immigration Action Alliance and Earth Justice Ministries Helping Those in Need

Other Voices Column by Avila Lowrance.  See Immigration Action Alliance and Earth Justice Ministries Helping Those in Need, published in The Grass Valley Union, June 25, 2020.

Immigration Action Alliance is a small organization that most people in Nevada County have never heard of. We have been active since 2017 and have been engaged in projects both locally and at the state level that address the needs and rights of our immigrant community.

We have traveled to the borders of California, Arizona, and Texas to support families who are separated from their children and who face deportation to dangerous areas of Mexico and Central America. We have supported immigrants financially, socially, and legally who have been confined to jail by ICE, whose only “crime” is that they are not citizens of the U.S.

We have distributed information in Spanish and English that informs immigrants of their legal rights so that they have a line of defense against an ICE raid to their homes or places of work. We have supported Dreamers from local families and helped them apply to the DACA program. Before the pandemic we often met migrants at the Sacramento bus station on their way to a sponsor, greeting them with a smile and a bag of homemade sandwiches to let them know they are welcome in America. We are currently providing needed resources to a migrant farm working family of four who is struggling financially due to the pandemic.

We have drawn attention to the many ways that immigrants are important to our community and to the struggles they face to live in safety and provide a future for their children in our country. We hold that immigrants are essential workers, that “Immigrants Lives Matter,” and along with our strong defense of the Black Lives Matter movement, we fight for justice for both groups as one. We have recently become allied with Earth Justice Ministries of Nevada County, an organization that for years has bravely fought for peace, social justice, and environmental justice, and is now actively helping us to support the immigrant community.

The lockdown caused by the pandemic has hit all of us hard, and this is especially true for immigrant families. This segment of the population is represented strongly in the service industries in our county: restaurants, food service workers, health care workers, janitorial workers as well as roofers and landscape workers. These are brave and hard-working people who have fought and sacrificed hard to get to our country and who are making Nevada County their home. They are our neighbors. Many continue to hold their jobs while facing a certain risk of contracting the virus. But many of them have lost their jobs and are having a hard time putting food on the table.

People have been contacting Immigration Action Alliance who want to know how they can help a family in our community. Kind, generous community members have offered to share their stimulus check with an immigrant family but are not sure how to do that since many do not know a family personally. If this is something you would like to do, the Alliance strongly suggests buying a gift card in any amount to a local grocery store, perhaps Grocery Outlet, and contacting the Alliance to make a connection with a family that is struggling. We will deliver the card to that family and at the same time tell you a little about them, where they are from, how many in the family, perhaps their line of work. In order to protect them and ensure their trust in us, we assure any family who receives a gift card that we do not reveal their identity to the donor or to anyone else, ever.

So far, we have been able to deliver $2,850 worth of gift cards to local families. We thank the many kind people who have provided gift cards to so many families. It makes a huge difference to them, they are genuinely touched, and truly grateful to their community.

To contact Immigration Action Alliance please email . Checks can be mailed to Earth Justice Ministries, P.O. Box 783, Nevada City CA 95959 with a designation to IAA. To contact Earth Justice Ministries, visit http://www.earth-justice.org.

Avila Lowrance lives in Grass Valley.

“George Floyd: Say His Name”

Published in the Grass Valley Union on June 12, 2020

“In resistance people live most humanly. No to death means yes to life.”” William Stringfellow

Our organization, Earth Justice Ministries, is deeply committed to the principle and practice of nonviolence. We promote disciplined nonviolence in word and deed in our personal lives and organized, cooperative nonviolent action in public demonstrations.

Nevertheless, we recognize the violence and racist discrimination inherent in the current system. We are not surprised by the uprisings that are taking place in various cities, including the solidarity demonstrations in Nevada City and Grass Valley, following the violent killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis this past week. While looting took place early in the protests, it is important to remember that “protestors are not looting. Looters are looting. Protestors are protesting.” And as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Looting is the language of the unheard.”

As for property destruction in black communities, we know that at least one instance of property destruction was initiated by an out-of-uniform policeman and in several instances by white supremacists. We are outraged by violent police crackdowns on peaceful protesters and encouraged by the positive responses by some police departments and local governments. We understand how the grief and outrage that communities treated unjustly have experienced for far too long, and we align ourselves with their struggle. We, too, abhor systemic racism and the ongoing killing of black men and women by police and others, which is the issue that countless communities are reacting to.

In times of great social evil, the only way to maintain our humanity and our integrity is to live in resistance to systems of domination that bring injustice and death. This is such a time, when human beings are targeted, treated cruelly, and killed because of their race.

Who was George Floyd? It is important to say his name. The point of Black Lives Matter is that people who are black or brown are not expendable. George Floyd was a person, known by many as “Big George.” He had gifts, hopes, dreams, and people who loved him. He played a role in his community. A friend writes, “He was the man that helped me drag a baptismal pool to the court in the projects so we could baptize dudes in the hood. The man that put down chairs and helped put down and clean up chairs at outreaches in the hood. A man of peace. A good man.”

Many people, especially those of us who are white and privileged, don’t want to believe that white supremacy and systemic racism are real in the United States. “White fragility” makes it hard to face, especially if we feel accused of racism or of being complicit in a system of racist discrimination. The ways we recount US history, even in our history books, tends to soften or leave out the blatant injustice upon which our country was founded and upon which was built the wealth of the nation: colonialism, genocide, slavery, economic injustice, violence against women, oppression of workers, scapegoating of immigrants, projection of military power, and the exploitation and destruction of the natural world. Whatever gains made for the ideals ascribed to our nation’s founding documents have come only through the struggles of people joining together to demand justice, peace, and environmental care. These struggles are as important today as ever, perhaps more so in the current resurgence of racist violence and its encouragement from the top of our government hierarchy.

The only way to face the atrocities taking place in the United States today, with our tax dollars and in our names, is to stand in peaceful solidarity with the victims of unjust policies, rise in nonviolent resistance, and speak out for what is right. To accept the reality of such things without taking a stand is to side with the oppressors and be diminished as human beings. Still, many choose the relative comfort of denial and apathy over the discomfort of being at odds with the system from which many of us benefit.

We are convinced that the spirit of love that is present at the heart of the universe is at work even now through all who foster peaceful and just relationships and seek the common good.

The Board of Directors of Earth Justice Ministries.

Sharon Delgado

Brian Fry

Tracy Pepper

Guarionex Delgado

Ruby Chow


Open Letter Supporting the Cheyenne River and Lakota Sioux


Open Letter Supporting the Cheyenne River and Lakota Sioux From the Board of Directors, Earth Justice Ministries

June 11, 2020

Kristi Noem, Governor, Pierre, South Dakota 57501

Dear Governor Noem:

We are writing to you with our concerns for the health of your neighbors (and ours) on the Cheyenne River Reservation and Lakota territory.  We are aware that the tribal government has taken steps to protect its people from the Covid virus by setting up some checkpoints on their reservation, to limit unnecessary travel through their lands, and to minimize possible exposure.

We are also aware that your office is working to prevent the tribal government from taking action to protect its people, including appealing to the federal government to help you enforce the state’s sovereignty over the sovereignty “guaranteed” through treaty for the Lakota and Cheyenne River people.   The colonization of indigenous lands and the genocide of indigenous people by European nations and the “Indian Wars” of the Nineteenth Century are great sins in American history for which national amends and restitution are long overdue.  There continue to be efforts to further dispossess and destroy Native American culture and its ability to exercise sovereignty and self-determination.  Even now it appears to us that your actions are continuing those disgraceful attitudes and episodes from American history.

We are an organization whose mission is to “inspire, support, and connect our faith to actions that bring hope for Earth, for the human family, and the whole community of life.  We seek to further the cause of peace, justice, and the healing of Earth.”   Active peaceful resistance is the spirit and backbone of our work for justice .

Therefore, we earnestly urge you to continue to pursue friendly and cooperative negotiations with the tribal government to explore reasonable solutions that honor tribal sovereignty over their land and allow precautions for the health of the Native population, as well as other South Dakotans and other travelers who may have need to pass through tribal territory.  Please avoid any further requests for federal enforcement or engaging in any violent or coercive activity against the Lakota and Cheyenne River Sioux.


Brian Fry, Chair

For the Board of Directors of Earth Justice Ministries