A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
November 10, 2005 Volume 36 / Number 3


University Signs Agreement with Mechoopda Tribe

On Thursday, October 28, an overflowing crowd filled Trinity 100 for a ceremonial signing of an agreement between CSU, Chico and the Mechoopda Tribe. The Mechoopda are descendents of the original Maidu inhabitants of the area along Big Chico Creek where the University sits. Steve Santos, tribal chairman, was the spokesman for the tribe and the first to sign the document from the tribe.

The making of the agreement spanned nine months and resulted in University and tribal communication and cooperation in many events. Greg White, director, Archaeological Research Program, served as liaison between tribal representatives and the University. He writes here of the process of developing what may be the only such agreement in California higher education and the development of an ongoing cooperative relationship with the Mechoopda and other tribal representatives.

White had been working with both the Chancellor’s Office and CSU, Chico on Native American cultural resource law and policy issues. The Chancellor’s Office asked him to provide testimony about CSU activities to the Native American Heritage Commission in Sacramento and also asked him to co-coordinate a systemwide affinity group whose first meeting will be this January in San Francisco. At CSU, Chico, White is a primary point of contact for tribes and provides regular reports to Provost Scott McNall about issues impacting CSU, Chico.

The Guiding Principles document evolved over the course of a nine-month period. The process got started in preparations for implementation of the new Master Plan. Based in part on the issues raised in 2002–2003 over cultural resource discoveries associated with the T-II fiber optic installation, Greg Francis, executive dean and director of facilities planning, was aware that unanticipated cultural resources might be uncovered during construction of the proposed new facilities identified in the campus Master Plan. Francis was also aware that provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act applied to the Master Plan, and that certain cultural resource measures would be required in the planning and construction phases.

In preparation for this effort, President Zingg asked Greg Francis and Dennis Graham, vice president of business and finance, to develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the tribe involving construction protocol for unanticipated discoveries. Greg had asked me to review and comment on the Master Plan, and also help with the MOU. Greg and I had a number of meetings and discussions, and by early March developed a draft MOU that was reviewed by the Chancellor’s Office general counsel.

By the end of March, the counsel provided several comments, and we also learned that the Mechoopda were developing a similar proposal to present to the University. We used this occasion to reconsider our objectives: The University had a wide range of shared interests and concerns with the tribe, and Greg and I realized that we might now think of this as an opportunity to establish an administrative context for a relationship and a new basis for communication between the tribe and the University, an agreement broad enough to cover all our shared interests with the tribe, including planning, operations, academic affairs, repatriation and consultation, and diversity and outreach concerns.

Over the past year, the University has enjoyed countless formal and informal visits from tribal representatives. In January, the Archaeological Research Program and Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve hosted a two-day training session on cultural resource law and policy for Mechoopda tribal members, and a day-long U.S. Forest Service Passports-in-Time archaeology lab training session with tribal representatives working side-by-side with professionals and the interested public.

In March, the anthropology department hosted a visit by members of the Susanville Indian Rancheria, who sought to review the status of archaeological collections from their tribal territory and comment on our storage practices, and the Archaeological Research Program facilitated the Society for California Archaeology’s (SCA) selection of Mechoopda tribal representative and Chico resident Dolores McHenry for delivery of the opening prayer at the SCA’s 2005 Annual Meeting in Sacramento.

In May, anthropology students served as instructors in traditional activities at a four-day Tribal Youth Campout at Lake Berryessa. In September, at the Mechoopda’s request, the University hosted an overnight campout by participants on the Trail-of-Tears walk. In October, the Northeastern California Collection in the Meriam Library hosted a visit by a gentleman of Native American descent who accessed recordings of his father contained in the Dorothy Morehead Hill Collection in the library.

Greg and I continued to work on the Guiding Principles document, and formally presented the document to the tribe in June. We met several times with individuals and task groups from the tribe, and the final draft went before the tribal counsel in mid-July, where it was supported and passed. We hoped to hold the signing ceremony in the Alumni Glen in honor of an important Indian settlement in this area of campus. The settlement, mentioned in an 1867 letter from John Bidwell to Annie Kennedy was used by the direct ancestors of members of the present-day Mechoopda tribe and was the location of a major dance house (kum) and men’s lodge. Rain forced a move of the event to Trinity Hall; it was, however, still very special.

CSU, Chico is unique among the CSU campuses in possessing so many cultural resources related to tribal history and prehistory, and in fact, campus grounds include property that was held in Mechoopda tribal trust as recently as the early 1950s.The Mechoopda are indeed the respected first peoples of this land.

All these events have presented new experiences for campus personnel, and we should be very proud indeed of the great job done by all. I think the campus has come to realize that we live in Indian Country, and Native Americans are our neighbors and friends.

More to the point, tribes have a long tradition of supporting education and a focus on young people, thus the University has discovered that it has a number of fundamental shared interests with tribes in our coverage area. To my knowledge, the Guiding Principles agreement is the first of its kind in California higher education, but will surely be a model for other campuses as they seek similar rapprochements with tribal neighbors.

—Greg White