Indian Tribes Accuse Caltrans of Destroying History

October 30, 2015
ABC 7 News

Two Native American tribes are suing Caltrans claiming the agency knowingly destroyed important archaeological sites. This the latest blow to a troubled freeway project ABC7 News has been investigating for more than two years. The project is on Highway 101 in Mendocino County where Caltrans is building a bypass around the town of Willits.

The Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians and the Round Valley Indian tribe accuse Caltrans of wiping out their history during construction of the six-mile freeway. The road goes through a valley occupied by Native Americans for hundreds of years until white settlers drove them out in the 1800s.

The tribes are filing suit against Caltrans, the US Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. They claim Caltrans is illegally destroying historic and sacred Native American sites.

The tribes' attorney Phil Gregory said, "It's as if Caltrans decided to bulldoze through your church."

Caltrans claims it followed all legal requirements, searching for archaeological sites before construction started two years ago. But Gregory says Caltrans failed. "Once Caltrans started construction, it found over 30 sites and its clear Caltrans did not do a proper investigation, because there's no way Caltrans should have missed these 30 sites."

Caltrans has admitted to impacting one known site, but blamed it on a mapping error. Gregory says it was no accident. "Caltrans had trucks come in the dead of night and destroy that site without alerting the tribes in advance."

The $300 million freeway bypass is about 80 percent finished, but the tribes say as construction and environmental work continue, crews are still finding more artifacts. Gregory says he understands "Caltrans is finding areas that suggest not only human remains but gravesites."

Caltrans denies any findings that indicate possible human remains or graves. Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie told us by phone the agency has worked with the tribes in good faith. "We have been working closely with state and federal agencies throughout this project. We have not destroyed any villages or cultural areas on this project and we have been working diligently for the last almost two years with all three local tribes."... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)