By Miriam Raftery
January 28, 2014 (Ocotillo) – Tribal members from the Quechan nation traveled by caravan to Ocotillo on January 17 and 18 to mourn the desecration of their ancestors’ burial grounds by the Ocotillo Express Wind Farm. Tribal members met at the Ocotillo Community Center and staged a run carrying a banner reading "We want respect for our ancestors' remains" to the wind site, where they held an all-night mourning ceremony for their ancestors.
Pattern Energy's industrial wind facility was built atop lands known as “Valley of the Dead” by Native American tribes for over 10,000 years. The Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians also objected to the desecration of ancestral remains and persuaded the California Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC) that the state should take action on their behalf, but those efforts were thwarted by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Testimony at an NAHC hearing in San Diego revealed that some ancient remains were actually removed from the site and stored at a distant location, while others remain at the wind project site. Forensic dogs brought in by Native Americans and trained to find ancient remains alerted at over 50 locations at the wind project, yet construction was allowed to proceed.
The NAHC ruled in Viejas' favor and declared the site a sanctified Native American cemetery. Further, the NAHC asked California’s Attorney General to allow the NAHC to pursue legal action against the federal government for approving the energy project on Bureau of Land Management public land where tribal burial sites, artifacts and other cultural resources were supposed to be protected.
However Attorney General Harris informed that NAHC that it does not have jurisdiction to sue a federal agency over a project on federal lands. Harris further advised the NAHC that her office would no longer represent the NAHC on the Ocotillo matter due to a conflict of interest, according to a letter sent by the NAHC to Viejas Chairman Anthony Pico. The nature of that conflict was not disclosed.