By Alan Bacock
In the fall of 1998 I moved to the Big Pine Indian Reservation. It was only 4 hours drive from where I was raised in Los Angeles county, but it felt like I had travelled much further. Every mile travelled was a mile further from my family and friends. Saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I had done in my young life. However, I knew that the journey would be worth it.
While living in the suburbs of Los Angeles I did not have much exposure to my indigenous heritage and I was eager to learn what life was like in Payahuunadu. Unfortunately, I learned ugly stories of the past. Stories of selfishness, racism, betrayal and murder. The stories of the past continue to, in many ways, inform the present. Knowing that the past and present continue to intertwine creating one overall story, I had an ignorant, beautiful aspiration. I wanted to be a catalyst in helping to transform the future into a place where love was the underlying foundation of the new stories to be told.
Over the past 22 years I have learned much about community and the deep healing that needs to take place for new love stories to be told. I can’t say that my goals have been attained and that injustices have been made right, but it has been great to see more people recognizing the current story and being moved to act.
Earlier this month a meeting was held between the city of Los Angeles and the county of Inyo to discuss the operations of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power within Payahuunadu. During the meeting it was shared that almost 100 comments from Los Angeles County and Inyo County residents were received to contest the planned groundwater pumping and export of water from the Eastern Sierra to Los Angeles. In addition commenters supported the desires of the Big Pine Paiute Tribe for consultation on issues. During the meeting many people spoke and shared the need for a change in the story. As friends shared with me about the meeting, they spoke excitedly and emotionally. They were inspired to hear so many new voices rise up to challenge the old story.
However, one familiar voice was not in the mix. Mine.
I was unable to make it to the meeting because I had a new job. A week before that inspirational meeting I was given a parade to say goodbye. Standing on Highway 395 I waved with tears streaming down my face and a lump in my throat as my family, friends and co-workers slowly drove their decorated vehicles past me honking in an acceptable salute during these times of social distancing. I received beautiful gifts including a picture of the Big Pine lakes and an obsidian knife to connect me to this special place that my people have called home since time immemorial.
Jesus once said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” I have taken on new responsibilities outside of Payahuunadu which has opened the door for many more voices to join and move the ripple into a wave. My hope continues to be that a new story will be told and I am very grateful to have been a part of sharing the new story.
As I have been a part of developing a new story in Payahuunadu, the next journey of my life is to help develop new stories for other communities. I will be serving with the United States Environmental Protection Agency as their new Environmental Justice Coordinator to help communities which have had an unequal share of environmental consequences due to their race or having lower incomes. I shall serve communities in the American Southwest and the Pacific Islands to ensure that all people are treated fairly and have the opportunity to be involved with matters which directly impact their human health and the health of their environment.
In shifting to new responsibilities, I shall always remember the lessons I have learned and will be listening for questions.
Alan Bacock is the Environmental Justice Coordinator with the EPA. He has been instrumental in shaping the vision of Walking Water and walked all 3 years from Mono Lake to LA.