Please refer back to the past three entries:
Setting the Stage
Part I: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Part II: First of the Month, Got That Cheese
Round Valley was safe and dangerous, all at the same time. As a little girl it was perfectly safe for me at 9 years old to walk 2.5 miles by myself, with my BB gun from my house to my step-grandma’s house (to shoot the blue jays tormenting “her” other birds, of course). However, it would not have been safe for me, as a non-member of the local tribes, as someone who “looks white”: it would not have been safe for me to walk through the middle of the Rez by myself. Now, that’s not entirely true, as a kid I probably would have been ok if none of the other Rez kids were out and about – but an adult is a different story.
I always felt like there were 2 different worlds in that valley, which is much more of a diverse atmosphere than most towns so small can boast. I really hate to say it, too, that these 2 different worlds seemed much divided by race. As mentioned in previous blogs the majority of the Indigenous population lived on the Rez, though there were a handful of families that lived outside of the main reservation. These families didn’t have the government housing, though, and if it was possible were poorer than those living on the Rez. You see, the houses on the Rez you could rent to own. Yep, that’s right, rent to own your house from the Government – built on the quite literal land that was stolen from your ancestral family. Outside of the Rez were the white folk who for the most part were farmers of one sort or another. Ranchers, more aptly put. I think the only (legal) thing grown in the valley was hay; lots of cows, goats, sheep, and buffalo otherwise.
The other farmers were residents of the mountains and hills that surrounded the valley. Seeking the cover of the forest and mountains was paramount, as you see Marijuana wasn’t legal back then – and still isn’t legal in the capacity that it’s grown, I’m sure. For obvious reasons I wont get into specifics, but it was well known that one should be careful in hiking around the hills and mountains of the valley. More succinctly put – if you were local you knew that you just don’t go hiking around the mountains and hills. You stuck to the known camp sites, nature trails, and swimming holes.
As a child, I wasn’t aware how vast these farms were – but to give you an idea, in 2010 there was a raid of the local farms and 4 dozen growers were arrested. That’s 48 people. Do you know how massive that is for a town of 1,200-ish people? Being a local, you can’t be surprised though. Covelo resides in Medocino county which is part of the Emerald Triangle. This triangle is comprised of mainly Mendocino, Lake, and Humboldt counties.
In all honesty, the industry isn’t as blatant and horrible as TV or the media might make it. Growing up as a kid I was vaguely aware of the pot farms in the area. The family of one of my closest friends were farmers. I remember going over to her house and finding big marijuana leaves drying between the pages of books on their bookshelves, or huge black garbage bags full of buds in their parents’ closet. These things didn’t even make me bat an eye. Similar to going to pick up commods at the first of the month – this was just a normal everyday thing.
Sadly, another every day thing was the known violence between certain families on the Rez. Similar to The Hatfields and McCoys, with about 100% less of the Hollywood glamorizing. Again, for obvious reasons I won’t name these families – but their rivalry has gone back for much longer than my life, and I’m not sure it will ever end. It’s always been simmering beneath the surface, erupting from time to time. The biggest eruption in my day was quite the blow out and still is talked about to this day.
To tell this story, lets just call the family the Smiths and the Jones’. One day one of the Smith boys (a teenager) was walking down the street in town. One of the Jones boys and his cousins were driving down the street, and spotted the Smith boy. I don’t recall the specifics or the reasons given, but the Jones boy went ahead and shot the Smith boy as they drove by. Luckily the Smith boy was only shot in the leg.
Shortly thereafter, the Smith boy’s father was driving past the High School and saw who he thought was the Jones boy sitting in his car outside of the gymnasium. Having no reservations whatsoever about acting on his hate and revenge he walked up behind the car and shot the Jones boy in the head and killed him. Except for it wasn’t the Jones boy, it was his father. This brought the County Sheriffs down into the valley (what? police weren’t there already? Yeah, I’ll get to that).
Long story short, from this point on it turned into a man hunt through the hills and mountains that ended late in the night with a shoot out between the Sheriff’s department, the Smith boy’s father, and a friend. The friend was killed in the shootout, and I don’t recall if Papa Smith wounded or killed any of the sheriff’s department – but he got away, for a short time anyhow.
When this all went down, the entire valley’s atmosphere changed, the whole place seemed dangerous. It certainly was the biggest bout of violence I’d heard about or “experienced” in my childhood there. That’s not to say there wasn’t other violent incidents.
As a kid, I partook in and witnessed plenty of what I guess you would call “school yard violence”. For several years I was on the receiving end of this. I’m really note sure what made me such a focal point for bullying. Yeah ok so I don’t “look” native. I “look” like I’m white – but I don’t feel like in general the white kids (who were in the minority at school) got picked on as much as I did. Sure there were some of the white kids who didn’t fall into the better class rancher families, and thus were pretty much dirt poor, as was evidenced in their home made clothing and other indicators. These kids were teased mercilessly even by their financial equals – and this is really where the race aspect came into place.
The way I grew up in this valley, was truly to either become the aggressor or be the recipient of the aggression. Anything and everything that made you stand out was subject to taunting, bullying, and even prone to physical attacks. All three of these things were a sign of prestige or power in this school. Violence was glorified and something to be looked up to.
I had 7 much older male cousins, most of which spent their time in and out of county jail and or prison for offenses ranging from public intoxication to assault and battery. My step-brother’s father served 7 years in prison for beating to death a man he found in bed with his then-girlfriend. Of course my recollections are skewed in time passed and the observations of a pre-teen child. But, if memory serves me the time served was so low due to the nature of the crime (crime of passion, no weapon used) and the fact that the autopsy revealed that the man was ticking time bomb anyway; with hardened arteries etc. Long story short I suppose my stepbrother’s dad just helped the man along but was only a contributor to the death.
At any rate, in a normal atmosphere having so many relatives with violent prison records, having an extended member of the family who killed a man would be something to be kept hush hush – something to be ashamed of.
Not where I grew up.
This was a bragging right. This was protection. This was prestige. My step-brother and cousins used to “torture” me consistently, but the second someone else messed with me and they were around to hear about it – they were on the war path. Not so much my step-brother, he was a pretty good kid and has turned out to be a pretty good guy, he was never into the same life as our cousins. One particular cousin – we’ll call him Jim – was the biggest proponent in this. He was also, not coincidentally, the one with the longest and most violent prison record of the group. Last I heard of him, when I was about 17, he was serving several years in a local Max-Prison for murder.
I remember one time, there was this kid (a boy) that I constantly got into fights with. One day, as I usually did on the weekends, I was riding my bike all over the valley. I’d rode down to the school and was cruising around the basketball courts. Boy X was there with his older brother. We saw each other, and of course the antagonism ensued. You see, Boy X wasn’t the biggest for his age so it encouraged me to participate in the violence. We were often torn apart during school hours for punching, kicking, and pushing each other down. This day, there was no one to stop us. We both ended up a bit bloodied and I rode back home on my bike crying.
When I got home Jim was over at the house with my stepbrother. When they saw me Jim exploded and wanted to know who did this to me. Full. of childish retribution I told him exactly who, and where. Not long after we were at the school and Boy X was running for his (proverbial) life. It didn’t matter that Jim was probably about 19-23 at the time and Boy X was only 9 or 10.
This was the way of life.
Eventually, after years of anxiety, fear of going to school, being beaten, bullied, and picked on – I got big enough to become the aggressor. I’m not proud of it. When I was in my younger adult years I justified my acts of violence, bullying, and making fun of other kids as something I had to do to keep myself safe. This was in part, true. The fact remains; however, that I didn’t have to resort to the things that I did. These days it’s not something I’m proud of as I used to be, nor something that I justify.
I was cruel and I was wrong, and if I could go back and do things over I would.
Getting a bit off topic though.
It wasn’t an uncommon thing to witness or at least hear violence around me. You sometimes would hear screaming and fighting somewhere in the distance on the Rez. Sometimes these were followed by gunshots, and always these fights were followed by the sound of sirens. The interesting thing is, the sound of sirens was often delayed by 45 minutes or more. Why?
We did not have local police.
When I was much younger we used to have deputies from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s department that would patrol the valley regularly. But things eventually got to a level were it was not safe for these lone patrolmen to be going through the Rez and the valley, so they stopped.
That’s right, we didn’t have police. The only time you saw police in the Valley was after something had happened. This means we had no preventative measures to try to keep the violence and crime at bay. What we had essentially amounted to a clean-up crew.
This is something people don’t realize. Native Americans are so forgotten and swept aside in this nation that not only do people not care about helping to provide job opportunities, financial support, and other needs (made largely unavailable by the remote location of most reservations) – but they forget about our safety. We are not worth the expense of having the Sheriff’s department invest any sort of resources into helping us make our homes a safer place to live.
This is why such endeavors, more dangerous than the pot farming, flourish. I’m talking about Meth. I don’t know about now, but back in my days on the Rez, meth was a white man’s drug. Meaning it was really only some of the lower-class white folk that were in the Meth trade. The problem is that the results of their trade were pushed on the residents of the Rez. Sure they could have said no and not started taking the drug – but the sad reality is that when you mix poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of law enforcement, and a dim view of the future – then drug use is almost a given.
I wouldn’t have called it rampant, but it was definitely an issue. I was raised very closely with some family friends who were Meth-heads. No one ever talked about it, and I never knew quite what it was until I was older. But Auntie X and Uncle Y were Meth Heads. Uncle Y was a logger who worked extremely long hours and Auntie X was more or less a house-wife. Uncle Y slept a lot and sat in his chair, drank beer, and watched baseball. Auntie X would make me grilled cheese sandwiches and smoke her cigarettes incessantly. Once in a while Auntie X and Uncle Y would lose a tooth here and there – and that was really all I knew about it.
After I moved away Auntie X and Uncle Y split up. I heard that Auntie X started dating some Meth cooker who lived in a trailer and she eventually ended up in jail. I think Uncle Y died from an overdose somewhere shortly after that. They were white, btw. Not an uncommon life-path for the white people in the valley that weren’t Ranchers, Pot Farmers, or part of the Hippy movement that populated the area.
I heard a year or so ago that one of the families had a 19 year old daughter that went missing. She was found a couple days later, dead in a ditch off of one of the country roads. She had been beaten, raped, and strangled to death.
I wish I could say this sort of thing was uncommon. Granted, it’s not as common if you were to compare it to huge city like New York or Chicago – but it’s certainly more common than most tiny towns.
I wish that my nieces and nephews could attend the public school without being bullied and beaten like I was. I hope my nieces and nephews don’t turn to aggression the way that I did. and I pray that one day all of my cousin Joe’s hard work with State and Federal government will pay off and provide some more opportunity to the residents there. They’re not inherently bad people. They are proud, they love their heritage, they love their families, they take pride and celebrate in their heritage and their elders.
They just need the opportunity to show what they are capable of, instead of being left to wallow in a dismal future. They need to have opportunities available to them to allow them to not only make a productive and successful living, but to not have to leave their home, family, roots, and heritage to do so.
How can you ask that of an entire nation of tribes? Stay in your ancestral home and face these hardships – or leave everything you know and love to do something different? That can be an individual choice for some – but it’s not the solution for the many.