Kathy Bancroft is the tribal historic preservation officer of the Lone Paine Paiute Tribe and an advisor to Walking Water. She recently took some time to answer our questions.

KATE – Can you say a little about you childhood and where you were born, and what is something you remember from your childhood?

KATHY – I had a really had a really happy childhood. I was born in Lone Pine California, my family has always lived here. You know I got tons of family here, on both sides of my family, so I grew up with a lot of playmates and out in the mountains and in the valley in the winter. It was really really good. I got to really learn a lot. We went a lot of places, traveled throughout the sierras because at this time we had a pack outfit. I had grandparents who told me stories and I learned a lot about this place and learned to appreciate where I lived. The way I look at it, it was a typical childhood. When I got older because there were no schools here I had to go away to school and that was one of the hardest things for me in the world. Glad I did it but it was really hard to leave this place, because it, this place really meant a lot to me.

KATE– Was the Patsyada (the Owens Lake) always a special place for you?

KATHY– Yeah, the lake was dry my whole life so I knew it as a dry lake but it had special qualities because it was different every time you looked at it. It still provided all of the things we needed even though it was drying up you could still find things around it that we used. Every time you drove by there or we used to push the cows in the mountains in the summer and when you would ride by on horseback and you’d look at it like in the early morning it was always a different color.  It’s just a massive expanse of land even without water. But there was water on it at times – we had floods in 68’/69’ that filled it up about 2/3 to ¾ full and that was amazing to see. And on the bad times we had a lot of dust come off that would just darken out the sun also. That’s why lot of us have breathing problems. At the time there wasn’t a whole lot made out of it because nobody talked about it. But yes, I remember that too and then learned that it came off the lake. It was amazing to me because Iremember at that time there wasn’t a way out onto it really except for a few little roads because there was no construction like there is now. You could go down by the river but you mostly just saw it from the outside. My grandma used to tell me stories about when she was little and it was full of water and the things they used to do around there because then it really was central to them. They lived on the shores at times and a lot of her stories were centered around the Owens Lake. So with me it was just something there that was to enjoy from afar. Sometimes you’d go by and it’d be purple sometimes it was blues sometimes it was red because of the different crystals that were on it. It was really amazing to see and always different. That’s what was kind of cool about it you never knew what you were going to see when you came around the corner.

KATE– Wow. And now you work on the Owens Lake

KATHY– Uh huh

KATE– And can you say a little bit about how long you’ve been working there, what your role is and how you see it going in the future.

KATHY– Yeah [laughs] um well I first officially started working on the Owens Lake in 2002 that’s when I came home from grad school. I was going to school in Montana. I had come home a couple times before that as the Owens Lake dust mitigation project started in 2000 and I had visited the project before when I had been home on vacation but I started working when I moved home in 2002. I started working out there so I saw the first berm roads be built. I saw lot of change – a lot of areas leveled and sprinkler water systems put in. It was really good at first because there was a lot of dust coming off those areas and they were using water to settle the dust. That was nice to see because it was really dry around here and a lot of it we were losing a lot of our stuff that we use for baskets and things like that because it was so dry. So it was nice to see them put some water in the valley. I started working there just sporadically as a Tribal monitor so I went out there I had no clue what I was doing or we didn’t really have an organized program we kind of just went and watched and saw what you saw. As I was out there over the years I, I started learning a lot from the archeologists. They brought in a paleontologist who really knew a lot about this valley as far as geology and all that kind of stuff. It was kind of neat cuz when I was in school I trained as a biologist and chemist so when I came to work on the Owens Lake I worked with every other kind of ologist there was. I learned a lot from them and it was real interesting just to see what archeologists did because I’d heard of them but never really worked with them and how other tribes did stuff and I just started. That’s what I tell people when you’re out there 10 hours a day 6 days a week you have a lot of time to think and over the years you know it kind of evolved. Different things taught me more about the lake, about construction, about the way LADWP works and the way it ended up happening is I stepped into the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer uh position and kind of the lead monitor on the lake and other places around the valley. That position has really changed but, but it’s kind of neat because I’ve watched the whole project evolve and had, like I said, a lot of hours just sitting out there watching things. Knowing what bothers you, knowing what’s going wrong and knowing there’s a better way to do this and now I’m in a position to hopefully make a difference. I’ve gotten to where I’m not afraid to say let’s try a different way. At first they didn’t listen, when we first started speaking up and getting  a voice you know they didn’t want to hear it. They tried shutting us out for a while and that didn’t work but now we’ve gotten a foothold, we’re all at the table and it’s making a difference I think because there are people out there who are listening and are backing us up.We have a conversation going, it’s really nice, and hopefully it will go in the right direction and we’ll get some major accomplishments done out there. We always say one day we hope to see water back on the lake. It’s our ultimate goal. We’re not ashamed to say that because I know LADWP doesn’t like to hear it but that’s what’s really gonna resolve this issue.

KATE-You said that you see other ways to do things, particularly on the lake. Could you give some examples of what you would mean by that and a little bit of what you see is happening there.

KATHY-What I’ve seen over the years is LADWP, this big entity that has lots of engineers and lawyers and they’ve gone through court battles and they’ve been court ordered to do this project. So what they’ve done is come in late because they’ve been fighting it, they have a short deadline and they have to come up with a project really quick. Over the years the engineers have designed these, the way that they can. They’re also limited to certain ways to resolve the dust issues like shallow flood managed vegetation or gravel basically. So they use those same things in different places but they have cookie cutter designs and they’re not really looking at the land for the best way to resolve the dust issues. it’s become very obvious you know. We’ve been out there a couple times just because we’re right there on sight when they’re working and we can talk to the construction guys and ask if really need to plow down that spring mound. And we’ve gotten them to go around places every once in a while when we are watching on and its harder to change those things but a few times we had to really put our foot down and say no you’re not going to destroy this area. It’s way too important to us. So that’s how it’s become but with our voice we’re able to make them understand. What we’re trying to do now is make them look at stuff before they plan it. Get us in on the ground level and so that you’re not going through all this an then we come in and go that’s really ridiculous. You know, let’s start at the beginning and think about what’s the contour of the land. You don’t need a berm road with a cliff on the other side. You know, to get them to plan before they do it. Being part of the planning process I guess is what I’m trying to say there. But the other thing we do have some areas that we have gotten pulled out of, of the dust mitigation project for the sensitivity of the cultural resources there and with those we have the capability of using other methods and resources. These couple of places are pretty big and could become emissive if they end up being court ordered. There will really be a big battle because they are eligible federal sites, federally recognized sites, archeological sites and if they’re court ordered because of dust then they have to go in and destroy the sites. Every way that LADWP has available to them to control the dust is by completely destroying the area they have to grade it level it, put in their infrastructure and all this. What we’re trying to do with these sites is have some time, if we think they have the potential to be emissive we can go in there with other ways just small un-obstructive ways to try to control the dust without destroying anything by increasing the enhancing vegetation and planting new native plants. Things like that we can get to grow and having the Tribe do it because it’s one thing when somebody who doesn’t care about the land does it, as opposed to us whose job is to take care of this land and that what we’re really trying to get people to notice and change the way things are done out there.

Instead of going in there with this, ‘ok I’m gonna take care of this forever in perpetuity, there will be no dust here cuz I’ll constantly sit here and do maintenance on it’. Instead now we are going ok what’s the least possible, let’s try that without messing up everything, what can we do that can possibly resolve this and then see what that does. And make it so that we can add on to it, we can do more if that doesn’t do the job.

KATE– How would you describe the relationships between the different agencies as it’s not only LADWP but all these other agencies that are coming together.

KATHY– Right now I think they’re better than they’ve ever been before because we’re all at the table talking and I think that makes a difference. There’s been a time when we were just completely out of the loop. We have the Cultural Resources Taskforce now, it was a little strange at first but we really just get to know each other. Just to know that everybody has their concerns but LA’s, City of LA’s whole concern is to get their water to LA. Great Basin Air Pollution Control District doesn’t care about anything but the air, long as you get that dust out. State Lands is a land owner of California State Lands and first they weren’t really concerned because there wasn’t anything out there and they’re learning more. They were kinda like the absentee landlord for a while but they have really become interested. They’re really into environmental justice a lot more now than they used to be and have really become supportive and want to see the right thing done. They are responsible for what’s going on out there and it’s nice to see. Then there’s all the private land owners and there’s BLM. Most of them have been pretty supportive or they just back out of the issue they don’t want to get involved in. But its’s a lot better because we’re talking.

KATE– As an outsider I perceive there’s more and more this kind of a voice from the Tribe such as going down to LA and really being instrumental in what has happened there and generally that kind of movement. Do you see that, do you agree with that and how do you see what’s moving there right now.

KATHY– Right – I do see it happening and it’s nice to see that people are confident enough to stand up and speak and say this is wrong. That side of the story hasn’t been told and they (LADWP) haven’t had to respond to a whole lot until just recently but it’s because of that push, push back is the only thing they seems to understand. Then with the push back from all the other entities saying wait you’re not doing this right they’re coming around and at least making the appearance they are attempting to. Great Basin Air Pollution Control District is leading the way to making the Owens Lake/Patsyada a Federally registered nomination to give it some protections. The LADWP is coming up with a Tribal Engagement Policy they’re trying to learn how to work with the Tribes and everything. It’s a little rough start but they’re working on it. So as I said at least we’re going in the right direction, baby steps.

KATE– You’re an elder there in Payahuunadu for many of the younger generation. What do you feel that you want say and share with them?

KATHY– Uh probably the same thing I’d like to say to them all the time but young people don’t like to listen they’re just like whatever, especially the ones that know me are like oh yeah that’s just Kathy talking.

It’s funny though because I’ve worked with kids my whole life and you can put little things in there but I think the main message that I try to get to them is how important it is for them to know who they are. I think this gives them a strong foundation of the feeling that there’s a reason I’m different, I should be proud of it. Here’s what I can do because here’s what I know about my past, about my history, who I really am, about my family. I think that’s what’s really important because these are going be our leaders tomorrow. That’s what my elders put on me was when ever you make a decision you think about how did those first people make those decisions? What were they focused on? Does that still prove the truth today? And almost always it does, you know they weren’t dumb back then. [laughs] It’s so easy for young people to be distracted now a days with all the technology and everything and it’s so nice to just take them out. That’s why we take them to the mountains and they’re totally different kids. It’s neat because you can really show the magic of just living in the world, going and catching your own fish and cooking food on the fire and talking about stories and stuff. So that’s what I try to do is just make them proud of who they are because they should be and carry that on to know about their place where they live because it’s up to them to protect it, up to them to protect this place. We did a restoration project out here and I got a little crew of some guys to get paid to do it but a whole bunch others volunteered and they just loved it. It was so neat because they’re like ‘yeah we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re taking care of our land’. What’s neat to see is when it comes back from them because you can tell young people all kinds of stuff but when they tell it back to you that’s when you know you made a little bit of a difference and they got it so that’s a good feeling. [laughs]

KATE– What is your dream for yourself and for the work for the Tribes. What would you really like to see happen in the coming years?

KATHY– I would really love to see all of the Tribes in this place get along and really be a solid part of all the decision making for the whole environment of this valley. I know we’re perfectly capable people and we’re starting to do that where we’re working very closely with a real positive message. And I still think it’s a little hard for people like LADWP, the government agencies, to see us that way how we’re presenting ourselves. I don’t think they quite know how to take it as we’re not as sophisticated as they are. We have people that really care and people that are really willing to do the work and get that message out that you know we have. We have something to offer, we actually have solutions if those guys will just listen. We’re the people, you know who better, to care for this land than the people who have lived here forever and really care about it and know how to take care of it. I, We lived here for thousands and thousands of years and they’ve come and destroyed it in less than a hundred so I think they need to rethink a lot of issues and that’s kinda what we’re trying to get them to do.

KATE– Yes, the question in a way is like who’s really sophisticated?

KATHY– yeah [laughs] exactly, you can say it, I can’t .

KATE– The last one question … what kind of support would be meaningful for you?

KATHY– Any kind of support would be meaningful. You know that’s why I love talking to you people like Walking Water and all of these organizations because you know people that I don’t know. I’ve always said if I have to talk to one person at a time I’ll do it, because I have a message you know. I love talking to everybody because they always get a message to a new audience. Different people come from different aspects and have different resources and just putting it out there is amazing. I’ve gotten support from people that think things that I’ve never even dreamed of. I never limit it to asking for something, I’m just saying come support us in any way that you can. Part of that’s just knowing the story because I think if you know the story you can’t help but also feel compassion about what’s going on and know that you can help. We can always use anybody’s help – financial or legal. I don’t like to get lawyers involved but um sometimes that advice is helpful too. Knowledge of what’s happened in other places with similar stories to ours, what’s been successful about it. So I just really like talking to people and learning from them and knowing that everybody makes a difference. There’s the big level of getting water back in, keeping water in this valley and filling up the lake. But there’s also the little issues of ok what’s this lake project doing to our cultural resources, our proof in our ancestors’ stuff that was left here that’s supposed to always be here and it’s our job to take care of it and they’re out there destroying it. We used to not have any control over that and we used to just take it and hide it from them and then realized no we need that archeological proof to help protect it. And then they used to just take off with it and we don’t even know where some of it went. So, what we’ve done is build a little curation facility or cultural center with the help of Metabolic Studios so we can keep the artifacts. Certain special artifacts still have to go to the city UC Riverside to sit on a shelf somewhere and that’s what we’re fighting right now because they are perfectly fine right here they don’t need to leave the valley. Nobody does anything with them once they’re down there. We care about them we want them here. So that’s what we’re in the middle of right now. One thing we’re looking at is building our own curation facility. The federal guidelines say there is supposed to be one in the vicinity of any big project like this so we’re in negotiations with LADWP to build us that building and an endowment to support it. I’m working with several facilities to figure out how to do this and so that’s where we would need funding and probably some legal help to draw up the documents to make it fit the federal criteria to hold collections so that nobody could argue that we didn’t have the right to do that. All the Tribes are demanding that that be done on Reservation land not on LADWP land, not on any other agency land so that they would actually be where they belong. That’s one of our smaller projects that we are on right now [laughs] that’s very important to us.