YTT Northern Chumash continue to ask for their land back after likely extension of Diablo Canyon
The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant sits on land that once belonged to the Yak Tityu Tityu Yak Tilhini Northern Chumash Tribe, also known as the YTT.
That land is currently owned by PG&E and provides carbon-free electricity for about 3 million people. It was scheduled to decommission in 2025, but on September 2nd Governor Newsom signed the bill SB846, which will likely extend the plant’s operation until 2030.
Throughout the conversation about the possible decommissioning of the plant, the YTT said they did not have enough of a voice in the process, and that lack of say prolongs the colonization of their land.
“We had to make sure we did all we could, that decision makers at the highest level understood who we are, where we're from and what we want,” said Mona Olivas Tucker, she’s the chairman of the YTT who speaks for the tribe.
Tucker said the YTT have no stance on whether or not Diablo Canyon is decommissioned, and they understand the benefits the plant provides for California. What she and her tribe want is to get their land back.
She said the Pecho Coast, where the power plant sits, is full of cultural and natural resources with a rich ecosystem filled with a variety of species. The YTT used the land as a ceremonial site for thousands of years.
“In the simplest of terms, we want our land back. This is land that was stolen from us in the 1700s. There was no agreement, no compensation, no consideration,” Tucker said.
Tucker said before the recent debate over decommissioning, she and the tribe were positioning themselves to buy the land, but then things changed in Sacramento.
“Diablo lands for a few years was going to be considered excess property owned by PG&E and one of their subsidiaries and the tribe, our tribe, [the] Yak Tityu Tityu Yak Tilhini have been positioning ourselves to be a buyer for that property. But things changed in Sacramento recently and caused us to reach out to many other people,” Tucker said.
She said the tribe then began writing a resolution, asking the state to return their land. They sent a letter to both Governor Newsom and President Biden.
Scott Lathrop, the President of the YTT’s non-profit organization, said there was no response from the Biden Administration, but Governor Newsom did reach out to the YTT before signing SB846.
“To our surprise we actually were contacted within 72 hours, somewhere in that neighborhood, asking to meet with our group. So we were really encouraged because we felt [like] we're going to get a place at the table,” Lathrop said.
He said once the governor's office contacted the tribe, they began having zoom meetings with the governor’s representatives. Lathrop thinks the YTT played a big part in getting some native input into the new bill.
But he says it still did not turn out exactly as he had hoped.
SB846 developed a Land Conservation and Economic Development Plan, providing funding for what the state calls, “the environmental enhancements and access of Diablo Canyon land and local economic development.”
Lathrop said while conservation and economic development are good things, the new language is still a concern because their tribe was not given a say in that aspect of the bill.
“Without our group being the major player in that, we kind of feel that maybe things aren't quite changing in the way we'd like to see change happen on the Pecho Coast,” Lathrop said.
He said while he doesn’t speak for the tribe, Tucker does, but he would personally like to see the power plant keep operating. Lathrop said they fully understand the issue of local economics.
“We understand that we would need to sit down and work out those issues and try to make decisions that are best for everyone as far as the community and also the property,” Lathrop said.
But he said they need to be the main decision makers in the process.
“It's time to really look at the land out there and try to get into the decolonization mode which essentially means that our tribal group or the tribe is in the primary position on deciding what happens with that land,” Lathrop said.
Tucker agrees. She said the tribe is perfectly capable of making decisions about their homeland.
“Here we are a few hundred years later and it's starting to feel like the same thing all over again and we can't let that happen,” Tucker said.
As for the current owner of the land, utility PG&E, their website says the corporation, “respects and partners with indigenous peoples and supports the principles identified in the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” end quote.
PG&E still has to go through the federal relicensing process to keep the power plant running until 2030.