Documentary raises possibility that Paiute water claims supercede L.A.
It all began with a single line in Marc Reisner’s seminal book about water in the west entitled “Cadillac Desert.”
“The Paiutes showed her [Mary Austin, author of “Land of Little Rain”] what no one else saw—that order and stability are the most transient of states, that there is rarely such a thing as partial defeat.”
As Reisner writes, “Austin was convinced that the valley had died when it sold its first water right to Los Angeles—that the city would never stop until it owned the whole river and all of the land.”
The passage piqued the curiosity of Jenna Cavelle, then a student at UC Berkeley. It’s the only mention of the Paiutes in the entire narrative, and suggested that there was a whole history that preceded the modern L.A. history. She wanted to know what Austin knew, what the Paiutes had taught her.
Cavelle ultimately learned of a largely forgotten surveyor, A.W. Von Schmidt, who had been sent out to this area in the 1850s by the U.S. Dept. of Interior to help draw the boundary between Nevada and California.
Turns out Von Schmidt, in the course of his work, became fascinated by the “Indian ditches” and documented many networks of the Paiute irrigation system.
Von Schmidt’s notes and maps, ironically, had been sitting in a UC Berkeley library gathering dust for a century or more until Cavelle dug them out.
In the course of writing a thesis on the topic, Cavelle met Harry Williams of the Bishop Paiute Tribe. Williams told Cavelle he’d been walking the ancient irrigation system since he was 12 years old and that “no one believes they’re there.”
Cavelle’s documentary film “Paya: The Water Story of the Paiute” is the logical extension of her research. It premiered at the Red Nation Film Festival this past November in Beverly Hills and won gold for best documentary.
Paya follows four Paiute; Teri Red Owl, Harry Williams, Kathy Bancroft and Alan Bacock as they take audiences through Owens Valley Paiute history beginning with initial contact with white settlers through the present.
As Bacock told Arid: A Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology, in 2013, “We had a very forced, sudden amnesia that happened to our people because of settlers and then, because of Los Angeles. And that impacts us to this day. Fortunately, now we have a resurgence of wanting to recover our memory—something denied to our people in earlier times. That is important for our people and for our environment because we’re all connected together. We can see that this amnesia has impacted everything around us; we deal with the highest air pollution levels in the nation for [airborne] particulate matter, we look at springs that are dried up, we look at animals that are either extinct or now endangered because a group of select people in power throughout the last 100 years—in their desire to manage this place for themselves—have only managed to destroy this area.”
There will be two screenings of the 36-minute documentary which will take place this Sunday at 12 and 1 p.m. Each screening will be followed by a short Q&A session with the filmmaker. If you would like to attend either screening, you will need to contact (in advance) via email either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to get your name on the list.
The Sheet contacted Cavelle on Thursday as she was heading out to work (she’s graduating from USC Film School this spring and is currently serving as an assistant director on the latest James Franco project).
Cavelle, who has lived on the res in Bishop about six months out of the year for the past four years, said the mission of the Paya movie is to not only mobilize or inspire the tribe, but also to mobilize or inspire a hungry attorney who might wish to press what could constitute the Paiutes’ ancient water rights, which could conceivably supersede all others.
“I’m a filmmaker and an activist,” she said. She doesn’t know if a push for water rights would have legal merit or not as to affecting the status quo, but she’d sure like to find out.
She said the irrigation network, if recognized, would establish that the water should remain in the Owens Valley as opposed to being exported to L.A., and “could help everyone.”
Cavelle has a particularly interesting history. Upon graduation from high school, she became a fashion model (and a successful one at that, once appearing on the European cover of Cosmopolitan). In the course of her international travel, she transformed herself into a travel writer and journalist. She was the first member of her family to attend college, graduating from UC Berkeley in 2012 at the age of 37.
Shaun White invests in Mammoth Resorts
In a deal announced today, White has joined the Mammoth Resorts’ ownership team as an investor, with an immediate focus on Big Bear Mountain Resorts. White’s presence will be felt everywhere from the boardroom to the halfpipe.
The California Public Utilities Commission voted on Thursday, Jan. 28 to approve funding for the grant application of Race Telecommunications, Inc. for the Gigafy Mono project—however, the approval of the funding excludes the community of Lee Vining.
The agenda item, which adopted funding in the amount of $6,580,007, was approved 5-0 by the Public Utilities Commissioners. Only commissioners Catherine Sandoval and Michael Peter Florio voted for the resolution to provide a grant that included Lee Vining, which would have totaled $7,633,459.
The purpose of the grant is to help “underserved” communities, or communities where broadband is available, but no wireline or wireless facilities-based provider offers service at advertised speeds of at least 6 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream 1.5 Mbps upstream.
In a November article in The Sheet, Nate Greenberg, IT Director for Mono County, said that “Lee Vining and Mono City aren’t underserved from a wireless standpoint” but that the communities lacked access to mobile broadband. “The County sees broadband as critical infrastructure,” he said.
The grant will cover about 60 percent of the cost for Race Telecommunications to extend fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) broadband to South Chalfant, Benton, Benton Hot Springs, Swall Meadows and Mono City.
JMSA skier visits soar
June Mountain Ski Area has surpassed last years’ number of skier visits as of Friday, January 22, said Marketing and Operations Manager Abigail Ross.Ross said June Mountain had already seen more than 27,000 skier visits in the 2015/16 season, more than the entirety of skier visits in the 2014/15 season. She said that June Mountain was “on track to hit our target and go beyond 50,000 skier visits” this year.
Another cause for celebration was the opening of Canyon Trail on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, said Ross, meaning that visitors to June Mountain will no longer have to download on the double chair, J1. “We’re confident that it’ll hold up for the rest of the season,” she said.
More exciting news included the fact that Mammoth Mountain reported last week that it had already surpassed last year’s 176 total inches of snowfall.
While the Face of June remains closed, Ross said “The Wall,” a short and steep descent onto Canyon Trail from June Mountain Chalet, is open.
One of June’s biggest draws is the fact that children 12 years and under ski for free. Ross said that when June re-opened for the 2013/14 season it introduced the initiative, which has proven wildly popular for skiers and snowboarders with young children.
“It’s nice because we can put a big focus on families,” Ross said. “Mammoth has something for everybody, and for us it’s been very easy to focus on the family aspect.”
She also commented on the fact that June is known as a place where fresh tracks can be found up to a week after storms, due to its sprawling terrain, minimal crowds and large swaths of trees. Coupled with easy access to the backcountry, June Mountain is a locals’ favorite, especially during busy holiday periods.
“We’re known to have fresh powder for days,” said Ross.
In the story, “Longtime Bishop Bartender Dies” from the January 23 edition of The Sheet, the owner of Rusty’s Bar and Saloon was misidentified as Jim Cashbaugh. Tim Allen is the owner of Rusty’s. The Sheet regrets the error.