The Indian Hunter 

James Benney is so inspired by the East Bay's dozens of Native American sites that he published his own guidebook about them. So why do all the experts wish he hadn't?

Page 7 of 7

Ultimately, the governance of the Coyote Hills Ohlone village doesn't look much different from what Benney envisions in his Hundred-Year Plan. Though today it's one of a kind, the site could provide an archetype for future management of Native American sites in the East Bay.

Rick Parmer, the parks district chief of interpretive and recreational services, says he's willing to try. "It's a very valuable thing when you can actually interpret a significant cultural resource on-site, but only under controlled circumstances," he said. "In order to open things up, you need to have a very solid stewardship and protection plan in place." Before that can happen, the district — which has traditionally focused more attention on natural resources — needs to direct increased manpower and money toward cultural resources. Then it must determine which sites are the most and least sensitive, and find a way to manage each accordingly. It's a delicate process that demands a "slow and cautious" approach, Parmer said, and can take years to run its course.

Consequently, although Parmer has some concerns about Benney's tactics, he isn't blind to the book's benefits. "The good news is it's focusing more attention on the cultural resources," he said. "These are challenges that we need to face as a society and decide how we're going to do it. The publication of his book has made the district much more sensitive to the need to do that."

Other stakeholders have taken Benney's book as an impetus to pursue a different path. Over the last year, Ortiz moderated two Bay Area panels at which fifteen representatives of concerned parties met to brainstorm solutions to the general challenge of protecting native sites. Titled "Cultural Resources Protection: Strengthening the Law," the panels examined ways to use existing legislation to impose stricter penalties and expand the legal definition of what constitutes site destruction. They also considered several ideas seemingly at odds with the free press guarantees of the First Amendment, including instituting a permitting process for books such as Benney's, advancing new legislation to criminalize site disclosure by private individuals, and holding individuals liable for damage that results from such disclosure.

At least for now, the law has no power to stop Benney. Ortiz laments: "The only thing that people can do is appeal to him on an ethical level that this is not right." But Benney remains undeterred. "It'll come around," he says. "This is just the beginning. The sites are way too important to be ignored."

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