In September 2006, at the request of California Tribal members and leaders, we formed CIEA to address mercury toxins through the formation of a California Tribal organization to share mercury environmental health information and to build Tribal capacity to create strategies for cleanup of mercury-contaminated sites. The following is a history of our creation:
2000-2003 California Indian Environmental Alliance (CIEA) staff worked on the film “Gold, Greed and Genocide,” a project of the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC). Native American Youth interviewed elders of California Indian Nations who survived the 20 year Gold Rush genocide. They developed the film not only as a tool to debunk the myth of the Gold Rush, it also uncovered the toxic legacy of mercury. California activists, elders and Tribal members recognized that pregnant moms did not know that eating fish with mercury could lead to permanent learning disabilities for their children. Tribal leaders and community members asked us to inform the Indian Health Clinics and communities. We hit the road with the film and a handful of new studies.
2003-2006 We could not tell people not to eat traditional foods, we had to provide hope and find opportunities to advocate for cleanup. IITC launched the Mercury Program, which looked towards international solutions through the UN Permanent Forum.
2006 In 2006, we created CIEA when IITC closed the Mercury Program. Work to address mercury in CA had become more and more local. CIEA’s Executive Director asked to form a California Indian Non-Profit to address mining toxins and to continue the work that began in 2000.
2006–Now Since 2003 CIEA staff have consistently distributed information about mercury in California Waters and have been holding Tribal strategy meetings to address this toxin. In each case the top two questions that families ask remain the same: 1) which local fish and waters are safe to eat from for subsistence, and 2) how do we secure safe fishing locations? To answer these questions, CIEA coordinates with agencies tasked with regulating water bodies and issuing fish consumption advisories. We provide technical support to California Tribes in order for each to address these issues locally on behalf of their People.
2009 The California Indian Environmental Alliance (CIEA) became a 501c3 in 2009. We remain driven by and responsive to California Indian Tribal leaders and Tribal members, and all of our programs’ work meet the goals. Our work remains focused in California, however we continued to work towards international support of California’s mining legacy left over from the Gold Rush through the initial negotiations of the Global Mercury Treaty coordinated by the United Nations Environmental Program. CIEA, the Indigenous Circumpolar Council (ICC) and the Island Sustainability Alliance CIS Inc (ISACI) were the first Indigenous NGOs to join in these negotiations. CIEA coordinated the Indigenous Peoples Caucus and the Indigenous Peoples Environmental Network (IPEN) and the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) joined and strengthened our work through their participation. The Seventh Generation Fund, Western Mining Action Network, and the Christensen Fund supported CIEA’s international work.