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Know the West

An Indigenous way of life for these California tribes breaks state laws

In Mendocino County, ‘guerrilla gatherers’ risk fines and jail time to keep food culture alive.

This story is a collaboration between High Country News and Roads & Kingdoms.

Hillary Renick hikes down scree and rocks worn smooth by waves to reach the sandy beach below. The morning fog has receded, but the sky is still gray along the Mendocino County coastline as Renick scrambles up, down and around Pomo village and nearby sites, where her people harvest traditional foods and collect materials for regalia, such as shells. “The rocky inlets are where the abalone hang out,” says Renick.

Renick, a citizen of the Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians, and her crew of self-described “guerrilla gatherers,” are scouting Glass Beach in Fort Bragg for abalone, seaweed and shells they use for food, regalia and ceremonies. “We like to say we’re badass Indian women gathering under cover of darkness, crawling under fences, over rocks, around no trespassing signs, and through the mud to provide for funerals, feasts and celebrations,” Renick says  although men are also part of the group.