“Our Greatest Weapon Is Our Relationships”: How the Coalition to Stop Fountain Wind Overcame Partisan Divides

From Indigenous sacred site protectors and former hippies to Trump supporters and conservative Christians, an eclectic Intermountain community collaborated last year to resist the proposed $300 million Fountain Wind energy project. Several key organizers talked to Shasta Scout about what the coalition’s story means for the future of the region and alternate energy.

1.29.2022, 3:18 pm: Lio Salazar works for Shasta County as a Senior Planner. An earlier edition of this article which incorrectly identified his employer has been corrected.

A resident of Montgomery Creek in far northeastern Shasta County, Joseph Osa initially joined the coalition against the Fountain Wind energy project for environmental reasons, comparing the 418-foot-tall Hatchet Ridge windmills visible from his property to “angry porcupines with missing quills.”

But once Osa joined the coalition and connected with his Montgomery Creek neighbors and Pit River tribal citizens Radley Davis and Brandy McDaniels, he awakened to a moral reason to oppose the project: protecting the Pit River people’s millennia-spanning spiritual and cultural relationships to their sacred mountain ridges.

If county decision-makers had permitted Fountain Wind, Houston-based renewable energy corporation ConnectGen would have been allowed to build on several mountain ridges across 30,000 acres of now privately owned forest land about six miles east of Burney. Their original proposal called for the construction of 72 turbines, each up to 679 feet tall, on several mountain ridges where Pit River people fast, gather and pray. 

Osa says you probably need to be Native American to fully understand the sacredness of the views from the ridges and the history of those places. But, he says, once you understand who Pit River people are and what those sacred sites mean to them, their traditions, and the history of their people and the sacred mountain land, you can understand that a project that permanently alters that land, like Fountain Wind, would harm them. 

Joseph Osa. Screenshot from a YouTube video on the Stop Fountain Wind website.

A self-described conservative Christian who comfortably cites Bible parables and a longtime electrical engineer for the Department of Defense, Osa might be seen by some as an unlikely ally for the Pit River people. He became one after coalition meetings at his home where he and his wife Maggie would stay up with Pit River tribal members McDaniels and Davis until two or three in the morning, discussing the tribal history of the region, the military forcibly marching Pit River people to distant reservations in the 1850s and 1860s, the bounties on Indian scalps during the Gold Rush, and the continued impacts of genocide and colonization. “We had never heard any of this. I think we should all be having those late-night conversations, having an honest dialogue when now it seems we can’t really talk any more,” said Osa, who’s struggled to talk about social justice issues even with members of his own family.

Through December 31 NewsMatch is matching donations dollar-for-dollar up to $19,000, giving us the chance to raise $38,000 for local journalism in Shasta County. Don’t wait — the time to give is now!

Double your donation.

It was this sort of relationship building during a politically fraught time that was the foundation to their successful organizing, say coalition members who spoke to Shasta Scout. And, they believe it was a key to their successful opposition of Fountain Wind.

When the Shasta County Planning Commission unanimously denied the project’s use permit in June and the Board of Supervisors upheld that decision in October, it represented a surprising victory for the grassroots coalition, known as Citizens in Opposition to Fountain Wind, and a historic moment for the Pit River Tribe. Coalition members say their work also represents a triumph over the dangerous polarization that has plagued Shasta County, especially during the run-up to and aftermath of the Biden-Trump presidential election.

Map from Shasta County Department of Natural Resources

The coalition’s success required dogged organizing in a remote, mountainous northeast region of the county that includes small towns, such as Round Mountain, population 155; Montgomery Creek, population 166; and Burney, population 3,150. Many residents in the area, including isolated homesteaders, live far from their nearest neighbors and have inconsistent access to the Internet and cell service. 

The movement was also remarkable for the connections that formed between the tribal community and surrounding non-Native community. Bonds like this can prove incredibly powerful, said Zoltán Grossman, a professor of Geography and Native Studies at Evergreen University, but are extremely difficult to forge because they require difficult conversations about atrocities of the past. Grossman is the author of a book that examines “unlikely alliances” that develop between Indigenous communities and their predominantly white neighbors to resist controversial development projects.

He says such alliances tend to work best when the leaders are local people, and when collaborators are honest about tragic history. “You can’t cover up the past,” Grossman said, “It never works. You have to confront it, but in a way that is respectful.”

A California Department of Water Resources map of the Pit River Basin

However, ConnectGen has cited strong public support in favor of the project. In a written statement to Shasta Scout, Henry Woltag, ConnectGen’s Director of Development, said the “strong local support” for Fountain Wind was also politically diverse, claiming that public records indicate that more than 500 people endorsed the project. Shasta Scout did not attempt to confirm this number.

Over the years during which the project was being evaluated, ConnectGen officials touted the $300 million Fountain Wind project as a win-win for the company and the community because it would generate green energy necessary to combat climate change, create 12 full-time jobs, and contribute about $55 million in tax revenue and other investments to Shasta County. Woltag wrote that he stands by the company’s research indicating Fountain Wind’s benefits would outweigh the costs, saying that rejection of Fountain Wind was a missed opportunity to promote economic growth and “offset millions of tons of CO2 in our atmosphere”.

“Resistance to change – especially to our built environment – is part of human nature; it’s not a partisan phenomenon,” Woltag wrote, reflecting on what he sees as the county’s reasons for the rejection of Fountain Wind. “We just hope human nature’s reluctance to change is balanced with humans’ need to survive.”

For Shasta County officials who shepherded the environmental review process for Fountain Wind, the coalition’s organizing was a strong reminder how some residents bear the brunt of the negative aspects of clean and alternative energy processes. Paul Hellman, Director of Shasta County Department of Resource Management, wrote to Shasta Scout that in a county that produces more alternative energy than it uses, the concerns the county heard about the disparate impacts of Fountain Wind will likely influence future planning policies.

Want the inside scoop? Sign up for text alerts!

Coalition members say they generally support the local development of green energy and agree with ConnectGen about the critical need to reduce carbon emissions. But they believe Fountain Wind was the wrong kind of renewable energy project. They say the massive size of its turbines, which could have been larger than the 600-foot Shasta Dam, and their subsequent impact on the area’s water, ecology, and fire safety, as well as on the local community’s way of life, was too harmful to justify the returns. For Pit River tribal citizens, it would also amount to a form of cultural erasure.

The view from Kelly Tanner’s property in the Intermountain area. Photo courtesy of Kelly Tanner.

The danger of these potential threats is what kept them organizing for nearly three years, coalition members say, even though stopping Fountain Wind was hardly assured. From the outset, they say, county insiders were telling them that the Fountain Wind project would likely move forward due to the potential economic benefits. ConnectGen is connected to investment firms with billions of dollars in assets and had far more resources to invest in promoting Fountain Wind than the coalition had in opposing it.

Despite the diminutive size of their towns as well as their limited resources, organizers say they discovered that their mountain community contained enough of its own experts, research abilities, and collective knowledge to mount a formidable resistance. And it all started with conversation.

“Our best weapon is our relationships,” Davis said. “We treated each other with respect and depended on each other’s expertise. Everyone had different energies and different roles. We came at (ConnectGen) hard with knowledge and level thinking, and forced them to the table. The people are the power.”

The coalition’s story is a record of the importance of community organizing, and stories like these are important to tell, says Grossman, the professor who studies such alliances, because they’re so often suppressed or ignored. These stories contradict misconceptions that “we’re hopelessly divided, that there is no common ground,” he said, “And what we see (in these alliances) is people are united by their common love of place, even though (that love) may be rooted in different belief systems.”

Haunted by  Common Tragedies

As their politically diverse committee tried to come together and organize to stop the Fountain Wind energy project, they benefited from strong facilitation and their shared pain associated with the 1992 Fountain Fire and the construction of the Hatchet Wind turbines.

Elizabeth Messick, the coalition’s chair, has lived in the Intermountain area for the majority of the last 50 years.  As a retired emergency room nurse and board member for Hill Country Community Clinic, she says she’s earned a reputation as a “rabble-rouser for what’s right.”

She knew from experience with other big infrastructure projects that a consensus among locals about those projects was not necessarily a guarantee. So when Oregon-based Avangrid Renewables, the first company that promoted Fountain Wind, held their initial public meeting about the project at the Montgomery Creek Elementary School in January 2019, Messick says she was deeply moved by the near unanimity of the public opposition. 

Beth Messick. From a screenshot of a YouTube video on the Stop Fountain Wind web site.

“There were 250 to 350 people there, standing room only and people out in the halls trying to hear. There was one person in favor, but everyone else was saying, ‘Hell no, we won’t go,’” Messick said.

Spurred by the passion inside the school’s halls, Messick said she felt a higher calling to begin organizing. She posted a flyer with her number on a community bulletin board, people got in touch, and they started convening Fountain Wind meetings at Hill Country’s facility. In all, Messick said, she considered about 300 people to be part of the group, including 30-50 people who would contribute regularly and a steering committee of about 10 key leaders who slowly emerged.

The coalition was quite diverse, the leaders say. Osa describes himself and his wife as ultra-conservative Christians, and notes that she served in the Navy before working for the Department of Defense as a civilian employee. He affectionately describes Messick as a “former hippie” who’d sometimes attend meetings garbed in tie-dye. The group also included Pit River tribal citizens such as Davis and McDaniels, who identify as more politically progressive and have been involved in other movements to protect Indigenous sacred sites. There were also conservative real estate agents, corporate utility attorneys, Trump supporters, anarchists, ranchers, and back-to-the-land environmentalists, according to coalition members.

The diversity of collaboration reflects the area itself, said Tanner, who moved to Round Mountain full-time in 2016 but whose family has lived in the area since the 1930s. “It’s an eclectic community. Everyone comes there for different reasons.  It’s rare everyone feels the same way about something,” she said.

Kelly Tanner with her grandfather, a survivor of the Fountain Fire. Photo courtesy of Kelly Tanner.

But many Intermountain residents who opposed Fountain Wind were haunted by a common tragedy, the 1992 Fountain Fire, which raged for several days through the area’s mountainous forests, burned an area twice the size of San Francisco, and destroyed more than 500 structures. Tanner, who wrote her 2016 master’s thesis in disaster and emergency management in connection with the fire, said many Intermountain residents lost everything in the blaze, and some barely managed to escape with their lives, desperately fleeing via little-used logging roads. 

Because Fountain Wind’s giant turbines would impede aerial and ground firefighting, many feared Fountain Wind could further endanger their homes if another potentially catastrophic wildfire were to ignite in the area. ConnectGen’s Woltag asserts these fears are unfounded, saying that studies by ConnectGen, as well as statements by Cal-Fire officials and other fire experts, have concluded the project would have the overall impact of reducing fire risk. But this claim would become a big point of contention at public meetings. 

“Fountain Wind did give them a bit of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. (It) was like watching that fire coming at them again,” Tanner said. “I do view it as a disaster … if you read about disasters going back to the 1900s, communities will come together because that common sense of pain and grief unites them.”

In developing their talking points, the coalition had to make a distinction between the smaller-scale clean energy projects they generally support and the mega-turbines of Fountain Wind that would dominate the landscape. They said such giant turbines, the effects of which have not yet been comprehensively studied, just don’t belong in ridgetop forests with rugged terrain and a history of catastrophic wildfires.

“The tribe isn’t against green energy, we are against people who continuously mask their projects as green energy to take what they want,” said McDaniels, the cultural representative for the Madesi Band of the Pit River Tribe. “When you look at the carbon footprint and deforestation that’s going to happen, you have to ask them what is their definition of green energy because they change those definitions to reflect what they want.”

Brandy McDaniels at the Shasta County Planning Commission Meeting. Photo courtesy of the Pit River Tribe Documentary Project.

ConnectGen officials said they went to great lengths to address concerns and answer questions about the project, including holding several weekly open-house meetings at a local community center in late 2019 and early 2020. Those meetings were cut short by COVID-19,  but ConnectGen’s Woltag said the workshops generated “quite a bit of positive feedback,” and that community concerns gathered during those workshops and other meetings eventually led ConnectGen to reduce the size and the scope of the project. “We used every tool to make sure stakeholders were informed,” Woltag wrote. 

But according to coalition members, truly listening to the community would have meant stopping the turbines altogether or re-investing in smaller scale projects, not just modestly scaling back their original proposal and making plans to alleviate or minimize its environmental damage. 

Coalition members also say ConnectGen’s talking points echoed those of Pattern Energy, the company that in 2010 built Hatchet Ridge Wind, the 44-turbine wind farm spread across 2,500 acres of forested mountain ridges just west of Burney. They were not inclined to believe ConnectGen because they say their experiences with Hatchet Wind provided sobering lessons. 

“We also learned you have to be informed and there’s not much time to react, or they’ll walk all over you,” Davis said. “And lot of the folks who didn’t fight Hatchet Wind said they would have been against it if they had known what they know now.”

Coalition members say they’ve seen a precipitous decline in eagles and wild birds in the area around the Hatchet Ridge turbines, and they didn’t realize how visible those smaller turbines would  be until they were erected. This made them unlikely to believe ConnectGen’s claim that the Fountain Wind turbines, though nearly a ⅓ taller than Hatchet Ridge’s, wouldn’t be any more visible, McDaniels said. 

Even though Pattern Energy, the company that operates Hatchet Ridge Wind, contributed $5 million to different foundations to benefit the Intermountain community, McDaniels said those investments haven’t felt tangible or worth the cost to residents who live in the shadow of the turbines. “I don’t think anyone had any clue you would be able to see those turbines from so far away. And what did it bring us, a Dollar General?” McDaniels said. “We felt ConnectGen was telling us the same propaganda (Pattern Energy) did with Hatchet Wind.” 

The Hatchet Ridge Wind farm. Photo courtesy of Jonathon Freeman.

But the disappointments of the Hatchet Ridge project provided Davis and other Pit River people opportunities to learn. When it came to stopping Fountain Wind, Davis said, he was determined to recruit and work with community members coming from diverse points of view.

“I was really determined to let my guard down, to work with Democrats, Republicans and whoever was on the same side,” he said. “When we fought against Hatchet Ridge, we all were kind of doing our own thing …(This time) if someone was wearing a Trump hat in the meeting, it didn’t bother me, because they were against the wind farm.”

The Coalition’s Strategy: Cracking the Environmental Code

Because environmental review processes emphasize technical reports and professional expertise, it can be extremely challenging for regular people to engage with those processes. But the coalition to stop Fountain Wind say they were successful by using their collective knowledge and discovering there were more experts in their community than they realized.  

As the coalition consolidated and began working, they held monthly potlucks, which  helped establish a family atmosphere. 

But as COVID-19 closed down in-person meetings, the group moved online. They were also forced to confront the acrimony that could arise among people with diverse perspectives who were not used to working together. “We had people who thought they were receiving emails directly from Trump, and others who think Biden is a Republican in disguise,” said Messick. “That we were able to get along is a breath of fresh air.”

Davis credits Messick for not mincing words and for whipping the meetings’ focus back onto Fountain Wind when participants wandered into unrelated political topics. Davis also lauds Osas’ style of facilitating meetings, in which they managed to encourage collaboration and synergy without resorting to issuing orders, he said. 

Davis and McDaniels also played their own unique role in the coalition, serving as liaisons to the Pit River Tribe’s government and educating participants about local history and about some of the misconceptions they, like many other Americans, hold about Native people in general.

“A couple times someone would say, ‘How come no one from the tribe is coming to the meetings?’, and I’d look around and a quarter of the people there are Indians,” Davis said. “I don’t know what they thought an Indian was supposed to look like…”

McDaniel said she and other Pit River people did extensive outreach to try to educate the tribal community about their concerns about the project. “We even had our secretary at the tribal office really knowledgeable about Fountain Wind and able to talk to people about the issues,” McDaniels said. That outreach also contributed to support from the tribal council, which issued a resolution condemning the project in February 2019.

Another key to the coalition’s cohesion, Osa said, was the group’s razor-sharp focus on research and factual investigations, rather than on potentially inflammatory rhetoric. In one instance, the coalition discussed labeling the turbines as “weapons of mass destruction” as a talking point, but the Osas objected, given their experiences working with the military and homeland security issues. 

“We said the use of that word wasn’t something we’d take lightly.” Osa said.

This fact-based approach to the county Board of Supervisors (BOS) was a key part of the coalition’s success, several collaborators said, especially at a time where county meetings had become rife with discord and even with terroristic threats over hot button issues such as vaccine mandates and Covid-19 closures.

“The staff commented a number of times they appreciated we weren’t screaming, throwing stuff at them and such,” Messick said. “We ended up being a bright spot in the BOS meetings.”

Rather than hold marches and protests, the coalition focused their advocacy on responding to the environmental impact report, which they thought downplayed the potential consequences of Fountain Wind. For instance, Tanner said, one of the original sites for the turbines could have significantly damaged a natural spring on her property that residents rely on for their water, though this wasn’t fully accounted for in the county’s studies.

To be successful with this approach, the entirely volunteer coalition would need to match the expertise and research chops of the scientists who worked for the county’s environmental studies contractor and ConnectGen’s paid staff. 

Before major projects like Fountain Wind can be permitted and constructed, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires the county and its contractor to conduct various studies to account for the potential damage the project could cause to local ecologies as well as to cultural and historical properties. They must also investigate whether damage from the project can be “mitigated” in some way, such as by planting new trees to account for the deforestation that would occur from the proposed construction.

While CEQA is an important law for environmental protection and helps citizens understand the impacts of a potential development, it can be extremely intimidating for the average resident to respond to the complex studies that often can run hundreds of pages. 

“We were just buried in all of these technical documents, and we had to educate ourselves in a very short period of time because most of us aren’t foresters or scientists,” McDaniels said, “And we were having to do this while all of these disasters were happening all around us: the fires, (PGE) power outages, the pandemic.”

When it came to compiling studies that rivaled the 500-page Fountain Wind Environmental Impact Report (EIR), Messick said Tanner turned out to be “a godsend” because of her scholarship and analysis of the Fountain Fire. 

The group also relied on Davis and McDaniels to work with Pit River elders to document their tribe’s ancestral knowledge and on the Osas’ engineering and computer prowess.

“It seemed like everyone who was passionate about stopping Fountain Wind had some kind of expertise,” Messick said. “We were doing research with the perspective of protecting the community, rather than the perspective of a planning department that wants to get projects done and move things along for money.”

Grossman, the scholar who studies rural alliances, says corporations like ConnectGen often make the fatal mistake of underestimating the acumen and skill of communities like the Intermountain region. 

“They discount the diversity and collective knowledge of the communities, and often see them as a bunch of hicks,” Grossman said. “… when they actually have a great deal of wisdom and knowledge if they can harness it.”

Because the environmental reports are highly technical, many scholars argue it can be far too easy for officials to dismiss the vernacular knowledge of people who actually live on and take care of their lands, or, in the case of the Pit River people, have ancestral knowledge about their territory.  

To counter this, the coalition found research to back up their knowledge. To fortify their claims about the cultural destruction the turbines would impose on the Pit River people, they interviewed elders who provided a great deal of in-depth cultural information, and then worked with the tribe’s attorney to verify that information with historical and ethnographic references. 

The coalition also proved prodigious in their letter writing. Messick, the coalition chair, estimates she submitted nearly 40 letters and comments in response to the environmental studies, while Tanner gained some public notoriety by submitting a 135-page letter to the county outlining her scholarly analysis as to why the giant turbines heighten the community’s vulnerability to another catastrophic wildfire. 

She researched for that letter while recovering from surgery, spending eight to 12 hours a day looking hard at the project’s environmental studies. Building upon her past research, she also spoke to aerial firefighting experts, retired firefighters from various agencies, and other sources to develop her letter. 

“When a big company is trying to exploit you, you really need everyone to help,” she said. “I felt a responsibility to do that work because I was in a situation where I had the time.”

Citing numerous peer-reviewed studies, Tanner argued in her letter that while the Fountain Fire was seen as an anomaly at the time, it was actually an omen of the terrifying new normal of what was to come, considering all of the catastrophic wildfires in recent years. She wrote that erecting Fountain Wind’s turbines on those mountain ridges would only make a disaster akin to the Fountain Fire even more likely to occur. 

Citing data from Hatchet Ridge Wind and other studies, she also called into question whether Fountain Wind would actually reduce carbon emissions, noting wind farms typically only produce 25 to 30 percent of the energy projected and require the deforestation of timber forests that provide excellent carbon sequestration.  

Tanner’s thoroughly researched letter, informed by her wildfire expertise, earned her a meeting with county officials, but ConnectGen staff maintain her evidence wasn’t convincing or accurate. Woltag, the company representative, said their experts and research indicated the fire risk would be reduced by the project, especially through the construction of additional fire breaks and wildfire suppression planning.

Woltag wrote that habitat loss and disasters like California’s catastrophic wildfires are clearly tied to climate change, and dramatically increasing the supply of clean energy is a vital intervention to protect rural communities. “The threat to the forest in the region is real and already happening,” he wrote. 

In a June 2020 correspondence with Shasta Scout, Shasta County Senior Planner Lio Salazar acknowledged that many residents were critical of the Fountain Wind environmental report. But he noted that many citizens and Planning Commissioners also lauded the environmental studies which helped them make an informed decision.

Hellman, the county’s resource management director, said reports like the EIR provide alternatives for decision makers like the Planning Commission to consider. While there ultimately may be disagreement among experts, he wrote, that doesn’t invalidate a study like the EIR. County staff don’t advocate for or against a project, he added, but simply present relevant information to the public and decision makers. 

Noting the caliber of research presented by the coalition, Hellman encouraged community members to contribute their expertise to future planning projects.

Yet despite their years of organizing, writing letters, and publicly testifying at county meetings, the coalition had doubts about whether they would make a difference. Their fears were summed up in the words of one of Tanner’s experienced fire sources, who has also served as a CEQA consultant: “They’re going to dismiss everything you say and just change the words in their reports, and do it anyway.”

But soon, the work of the coalition would lead to what they say was a historic Shasta County Planning Commission meeting. 

The Planning Commission Meeting: A “Selma Moment”

Despite nearly two centuries of being marginalized in local politics, Pit River tribal citizens of all ages and backgrounds joined many others to voice their opposition to Fountain Wind at the June 22 Planning Commission meeting. What followed, they say, was a historic moment they’ll tell their children about.

A ConnectGen official testifies at the June 2021 Shasta County Planning Commission meeting.

ConnectGen planned to lease land from a private timber company to construct the Fountain Wind turbines, but they still needed a use permit from the county to get the green light for the project. An approval by the Shasta County Planning Commission would give ConnectGen a clear path to the construction of Fountain Wind. For the coalition, that June 22 meeting represented their potential last stand.

When  the coalition’s steering group met to refine and finalize their arguments, Tanner said it was her first opportunity to hear Pit River tribal members speak about their history and their relationship to the sacred mountain ridges. Like the Osas, Tanner said she was shocked she had never learned this history despite her family having lived in the area for generations.

“After that meeting and the hearing, I realized protecting Pit River’s culture was just as important as the fire issue — in both cases, human lives and cultures are at stake.”

From Tanner’s experience to the Osas’ late night conversations with Davis and McDaniels, it’s not uncommon for white community members to have such awakenings when they start organizing with their Indigenous neighbors, said Grossman, the scholar who studies rural alliances. Conversely, he added, sometimes Native people are surprised by their white counterparts’ land ethics and commitment to stewardship.

“The non-Natives find out the tribes didn’t vanish, they still have cultural values, they have legal powers, they still are actively protecting their homelands,” Grossman said. “It’s not something that’s easy to understand from a book, but you often have to hear it from an elder or go to those sacred places with them.”

This in many ways describes the context of the June planning commission meeting which close to 50 Pit River tribal citizens attended, most dressed in red “Protect Sacred Lands” T-shirts. About 20 Pit River tribal citizens testified in defense of their homelands, while many other coalition members testified against the project, justifying their objections on myriad reasons from the fire danger to the impact on property values. For their part, ConnectGen continued to tout the benefits of Fountain Wind to the Intermountain region as well as the adjustments and plans they had made in response to community input.

After nearly 10 hours of public comment, a decision came late that night: the Planning Commission voted 5-0 against the project, much to the coalition’s shock. In their statements opposing the project, four of the commissioners cited protecting the Pit River’s culture and ceremonial life as a primary reason for their decision to vote it down. 

Commissioner Steven Kerns issued the most passionate testimony in defense of the Pit River tribe’s sacred places, discussing at length his close friendship with a Pit River elder and acknowledging the history of genocide. He quoted the state’s first governor, Peter Burnett, who infamously called for a “war of extermination” to be waged against Native people of the new state. Kerns said, “We have continued that legacy by trying to destroy their culture all these years because they were in the way. I’m not going to be a part of that.”

 For many Pit River people, Kern’s acknowledgment of the vitality and importance of their culture was as shocking as it was uplifting — coming after many decades of fighting local, state and federal institutions who, they say, have typically treated them as an obstacle to development. 

“I really felt a connection of love and peace from the greater community, and the way they received the tribe touched my heart, to be speaking positively for our sacred lands,” said Gonzalez, the tribe’s chairperson. “We can’t be afraid to fight these billion-dollar corporations, and it helps when the community stands strong together.” 

Tanner described the meeting as a “Selma moment” and one that she will tell her son and grandchildren about because of its significance.

“I think only the people in the room felt and experienced the power of that moment. A lot of people did express afterward it was one of the most memorable moments they’d been a part of,” she said.

ConnectGen appealed the decision, claiming the commissioners hadn’t understood the full contours of the project and sought to convince the Board of Supervisors to overturn the vote. They developed and proposed a scaled-down version of the project for the appeal, reducing the total number of turbines from 72 to 48 and the maximum height by 10 percent, though still as tall as Shasta Dam. 

But the changes didn’t impress the coalition or others opposed to the project. On February 26, after another outpouring of vocal resistance, the supervisors voted four to one against approving the required permit. While the Supervisors’ statements indicated that they had made their decision largely based on fire danger, not threats to the tribe, Davis believes the Pit River people’s role in stopping Fountain Wind marked a milestone in the county’s relationship with Native people.

“I think we broke down a wall of being invisible to the community and we opened a door to explain why Indian people are very resistant to the system,” Davis said. 

Still Davis believes there is a lot more work to be done as the process for approving large projects like Fountain Wind are skewed in favor of developers, he said. While coalition members believe they have made some strong friendships, they also expressed a wait-and-see attitude about whether the new relationships that blossomed during the Fountain Wind resistance will translate to future projects and collaborations. But Grossman, the professor who studies rural alliances, said typically these movements have transformative effects that are lasting, even if they occur in ways that are out of the public view.

The learning accomplished by bonds like these can lead to long-term change as, “Instead of feeling guilty, people try to reverse the damage,” of colonialism and past historical atrocities, Grossman said. 

Tanner, for instance, used her learning from the coalition to write an exhaustive piece in A News Cafe about the Pit River tribe’s history as well as the past genocide and exploitation of natural resources of the region. Seeing parallels between what Pit River people have experienced and what the greater Intermountain community faced with Fountain Wind, she said she couldn’t stay silent after she had learned the truth.

And a couple Intermountain residents, who did not want to be named, told Shasta Scout they are interested in trying to return land to the Pit River tribe or providing access to their land to the tribe if it’s of cultural significance.

Perhaps another lasting impact, according to coalition members, might be a renewed faith in their ability to achieve collective goals.

Osa said the coalition’s victory reminds him of a biblical parable Jesus told his disciples about a widow who seeks justice from a corrupt judge. Even though the judge initially ignores her, Osa said, the widow keeps returning to him to demand that what’s right prevail. Eventually, because of her persistence and unwavering commitment, the judge relents and provides for her redress.

“Never give up,” Osa said. “There are some things worth fighting for, no matter what your background is. We’ve been getting calls from all over the country asking how to fight these things. It’s a battle happening across the country.”

Marc Dadigan is Shasta Scout’s Associate Editor. His writing has been published in Reveal, Yes! Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, High Country News, and Indian Country Today. He welcomes your emails at [email protected]

Do you have a question or comment? Email us, or join the community conversation at Shasta Scout’s Facebook page. Do you have a correction to this story? Submit it here.

As a reader-funded outlet, we rely on donations to fund our work and keep our content paywall free. Do you support free online news in Shasta County?


Plus, through December 31 NewsMatch will match your new monthly donation 12 times or double your one-time gift, all up to $19,000. That means that we can earn up to $38,000.

Help increase access to important information.

Sign up for email updates.

Subscribe to get our latest articles and investigations sent straight to your inbox. (And yes, it's free!)

Thanks! You'll hear from us soon

This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top