East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice info@eycej.org 323.263.2113

Reflections from our trip to Mono Lake

For years, East Yard has participated in The Mono Basin Outdoor Education Center (OEC) program, connecting our members and team to the source of the Los Angeles basin’s municipal water, and the restoration efforts of the Mono Lake Committee and the Kutzadika’a tribe after decades of continued extraction from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. This year, the East Yard team got together at Mono Lake to reconnect with one another after being apart from each other for more than a year. Prioritizing and centering our collective care enables us to continue moving forward with our day-to-day work of fighting for life and justice in our communities

During our time at Mono Lake, the East Yard team learned about the history of the region, the numerous issues impacting different communities, preservation work, and the ongoing fight to restore the lake’s water levels.

What is now Mono Lake has and always will be the land of the Kutzadika’a Tribe. We learned about the history of the Kutzadika’a in the region, their traditions, and the eventual theft and exploitation of their lands by capitalist colonizers. They lived off the land and migrated as needed throughout Payahuunadü (now known as Owens Valley and the Eastern Sierra region), their way of life was severely impacted and eventually destroyed, first in the late 1800s when white people started destroying the natural landscape to mine for gold and silver in the mountains. Hunting grounds and food resources were destroyed to feed people’s greed for money. The people of Payahuunadü were viciously forced off their lands to make way for speculators and secure water for Los Angeles.

Years later, the building of the Owens Valley aqueduct destroyed even more of the resources they relied on for their livelihood and their water was stolen by what is now known as the L.A. Department of Water and Power. The construction of the aqueduct eventually led to the complete destruction of the Owens Lake ecosystem. To this day, LADWP has continuously failed the Kutzadika’a people and the greater region by not honoring their obligations to restore the health of the Mono Lake ecosystem and all those who rely on it.

Despite everything that has been done to the Kutzadika’a people, they continue living at Mono Lake and other surrounding areas. They maintain their traditional practices and educate others who aren’t familiar with their history and traditions. They also continue to fight for federal recognition – a process that flies in the face of reason for an Indigenous people to have to be “recognized” by the very government that stole their lands. Passage of the bill would not only mean the tribe would possess certain inherent rights of self-government and tribal sovereignty, but it will be a testament to the generations of work and land stewardship they have kept alive.

For some of us, this was the first time we learned some of the history of the L.A. aqueduct and how water gets to our homes. Growing up in a city, there is an inherent disconnect from nature and from the knowledge of where our food, water, and other vital resources come from. Through our participation in the outdoor education program, we now have a better understanding of how these systems are impacted by our water consumption, but most importantly, we learned that our conservation efforts can go a long way. In our communities, we are taught by our families that conservation of water, food, electricity, etc., will help save money, but not preserve natural resources. Balanced solutions will ensure that we don’t take more than what we need from nature while doing our part to improve the conditions of the Payahuunadü.

Our East Yard communities are indebted and carry the responsibility to ensure violence- such as what happened in Manzanar, the Paiute river, and Mono lake- does not continue and is repaired. The agencies and institutions that perpetuate poor air quality, water pollution, and soil contamination are the same as those who have harmed the land and its indigenous caretakers for centuries. Ultimately, this trip to Mono lake reminds us all to continue in resistance, in solidarity, and in community.

To learn more about the history and ongoing struggles at Payahuunadü, you can visit Reimaging Payahuunadü. You can also follow @theaqueductbetweenus, @where_water_flows, and @owens_valley_indian_water on Instagram to learn more and stay up to date on conservation efforts.