From Gold Rush to Green Rush: Illegal Marijuana Cultivation on Yurok Tribal Lands

Kaitlin Reed
Native American Studies
UC Davis

The Yurok Indian Reservation – located in the infamous marijuana production region, the Emerald Triangle – is under assault by illegal marijuana cultivation operations. Aptly referred to as the ‘Green Rush,’ reminiscent of the Gold Rush era ideology of manifest destiny, the potential impacts of marijuana cultivation on Indian lands are great. This dissertation connects the historical and ecological dots between the California Gold Rush of the 1850s and the contemporary Green Rush – a surge of marijuana production in Northwestern California. It argues that both Rushes constitute ecological colonialism – an imposition of Western land management practices and ideologies. Parallels the work draws between the Gold Rush and Green Rush include indigenous land dispossession and removal, attacks on cultural sovereignty, attacks on water, plants, and wildlife for the sake of monetary profit. Additionally, both pose lasting generational impacts. This project examines Operation Yurok – a tribally led marijuana eradication effort from 2014-2017. Operation Yurok is a collaborative effort led by the Yurok Tribe that includes numerous local, state, and federal government agencies. This dissertation explores tribal sovereignty and jurisdictional control over cannabis cultivation; this analysis also considers co-management, between tribal governments and the settler state as a site for decolonization and healing.