This April marked the 30th anniversary of the GO Road. A road originally scheduled to run from Gasquet to Orleans (hence the name G-O) in order to permit timber harvesting and other resource extraction in the Six Rivers National Forest, it would have run through high country land sacred to members from the Karuk, Tolowa, and Yurok tribes. The story of the road and why it was never finished is has become infamous.
Chris Peters, President and CEO of the Seventh Generation Fund and Vice Chair for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, was a plaintiff in the GO Road case. He discusses the road and its long-term impacts with the Northcoast Environmental Center.
“What was wrapped in the GO Road was probably the final phase of cultural and spiritual genocide, and it was being perpetrated by the federal government….what grew out of that was more of an identify movement”, states Chris Peters.
The land that the Gasquet-Orleans road was scheduled cut through was not only sacred high country, it also was ecological rich with diverse plant and animal life on a remote terrain. Such a road, and the resulting mining and timber harvesting, would have devastated the area and the religions it supported. After the Forest Service Service originally proposed the project, a series of court battles ensued that eventually brought the case to the Supreme Court in 1988.
After the Supreme Court ruled against tribes and environmental groups in the Lyng vs. Northwest Cemetery Association, a precedent was set for future cases, creating a lasting impact. As Peters explains, “Even today, if a sacred lands case is fortunate enough to get into the American judicial system, the assertion of the precedent set by GO Road is brought forward…it set a dangerous, everlasting precedent. And as American law tends to be, it set an international precedent for the treatment of indigenous peoples.”
The GO Road was stopped only when Congress passed the 1984 California Wilderness Act, designating the land as the Siskiyou Wilderness Area and prohibiting logging and other resource extraction in the area. With there no longer being a purpose for such a road, it was never completed. The impacts of the case, however, are still felt to this day.
Michael Kauffman, author of Conifer Country, blog post about Walking the Lost Highway.