Learning to be a guardian of the Earth

Student Raymond LeBeau, a member of the Pit River tribe, is honing his skills and his familiarity with environmental law at UC Santa Cruz in order to help tribal communities


Raymond LeBeau (Stevenson '18, environmental studies, philosophy minor) won a $10,000 award as part of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ Rodney T. Mathews Jr. scholarship program. His plan is to earn a Ph.D. in order to help tribal communities with environmental and land-use issues. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)


For Raymond LeBeau and other members of the Pit River tribe, Medicine Lake in northeastern California is a sacred site, a place of healing.

But for the Bureau of Land Management and the Calpine energy company, the serene patch of blue that sits amid a volcanic landscape was a promising geothermal energy site.  For more than 30 years, the Pit River tribe—including the young LeBeau and his family—protested the proposal, and, this year, a court ruled the energy-company leases had been made without proper environmental review or tribal consultation.

“That (the prolonged fight) was what influenced me,” said LeBeau, 20, who is a member of the Illmawi band of the Pit River Nation and is majoring in environmental studies with a minor in philosophy at UC Santa Cruz. “To see that played out as a kid, to be protesting and always having the threat of having our sacred site be developed and … desecrated, that really pushed me to say I want to stop that. I want to do what I can to protect our place.”

Recently, LeBeau was given a $10,000 award as part of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ Rodney T. Mathews Jr. scholarship program. His plan is to earn a Ph.D. in order to help tribal communities with environmental and land-use issues.

LeBeau, a Stevenson College student who plans to graduate in 2018, was born in Davis to a mother who practices Native American law and a father who is now director of the California Rural Indian Health Board. He likes to say his first ceremony was his time in the sweat lodge of his mother’s womb.

His parents made sure he learned the stories and participated in the ceremonies of his ancestors as he grew up, he says. His great aunt and uncle, who were part of the American Indian Movement and joined in the 19-month occupation of Alcatraz Island in the late '60s, also helped guide him.  

Among the ceremonies was a trip to Saht-Tit-Lah, or Medicine Lake, as it was called later. There, he says, he was taught the proper way to enter and leave the water in order to find healing from the Creator who, according to oral histories, had bathed in the same waters.

“You have to know your place, your homeland, and that goes with knowing where you come from,” says LeBeau, who describes the Pit River Indians as a resilient people who have known oppression and poverty. “What was instilled in me was that you are a guardian of the Earth, the guardian of your home and your family.”

UC Santa Cruz is where, according to LeBeau, he is learning to become a more effective guardian. He is honing his critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and communication skills as well as his familiarity with environmental law in order to be effectual within the system, he says. He is a leader in the People of Color Sustainability Collective (PoCSC) on campus, an intern with the American Indian Resource Center, and is part of the Student Union Governance Board.

“As a member of PoCSC,” says Flora Lu, provost of Colleges Nine and Ten and associate professor of environmental studies, “Raymond is in the epicenter of conversations about the intersection of social justice and sustainability on campus, becoming more familiar with multiple viewpoints and ways in which different cultures build connection to place.”

His minor in philosophy, including readings of works by Native American author and theologian Vine Deloria Jr., has lent a depth to his understanding of the world from both a western and also a more indigenous, tribalistic viewpoint, he says.

The campus on the hill is also where he is exploring his identity more fully.

Sitting in a café at McHenry Library, he tells the story of how hard it was being teased and called “Pocahontas” as a boy because of his long hair. But learning about ideas of normalcy prevalent in contemporary U.S. culture and juxtaposing those with the experiences of Indians—including his grandfather—who were forcibly taken to boarding schools where their hair was cut so they would be more “white,” made him “more passionate about my identity,” LeBeau says.

He pulls off a band securing hair that reaches nearly to his waist.

“I see my hair as a resistance against history and colonization,” he says. “It is a reaffirmation of who I am and what my identity is.”