Guerrilla Gatherers

Hakai Magazine –

Hillary Renick hikes down scree and rocks worn smooth by waves to reach the sandy beach below. The morning fog has receded, but the sky is still gray along the coastline of Mendocino County, California, as Renick scrambles up, down, and around Pomo village and nearby sites, where her people harvest traditional foods and collect materials for regalia, such as shells. “The rocky inlets are where the abalone hang out,” says Renick.

Renick, a citizen of the Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians, and her crew of self-described “guerrilla gatherers” are scouting Glass Beach in Fort Bragg for abalone, seaweed, and shells they use for food, regalia, and ceremonies. “We like to say we’re badass Indian women gathering under cover of darkness, crawling under fences, over rocks, around No Trespassing signs, and through the mud to provide for funerals, feasts, and celebrations,” Renick says—although men are also part of the group.

Renick and her friends and family routinely defy California laws and natural resource management regulations they say obstruct their right to maintain these traditional practices. The stakes are high: Indigenous peoples risk jail time, tens of thousands of dollars in fines, and the lifetime loss of state hunting and fishing privileges for doing what they’ve always done in this area. But they say the possibility of losing this connection to the land outweighs the legal risks.

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