Northern California Tribes Fight to Protect Maidu Ancestral Land in Plumas National Forest from Destructive Rainbow Gathering  

Editor’s note: At 5 p.m. on July 11, 2024, for clarity’s sake, A News Cafe removed some text from this story. We regret any confusion. 

On the afternoon of June 26, Edna Lepe sat in the Chevron gas station parking lot in Janesville – a small census-designated place 13 miles south of Susanville. Lepe was holding a poster that said, “Respect Maidu Homelands LEAVE.”

The Janesville Chevron sits at the corner of Janesville Grade Road and HWY 395. Janesville Grade Road stretches deep into the Plumas National Forest, the site chosen for the national Rainbow Gathering of Tribes event scheduled to take place between July 1st and the 7th.

Lepe, who is of Pit River, Maidu, and Washoe descent, shared a photograph of the poster she held at the Chevron on Facebook.

“I am sitting at the Chevron on the grade if anyone wants to discuss my ancestral homelands,” said Lepe’s Facebook post that accompanied the photograph of her sign.

Like many Native Americans in the Janesville area, Lepe believed the Rainbow Family Gathering would forever alter the Maidu ancestral land, and its many sacred sites, within the boundaries of Plumas National Forest.

As it turns out, Lepe was not alone.

Representatives of many of the federally recognized Native American tribes in Plumas County, Lassen County, and Modoc County issued public statements requesting the Rainbow Family not host their event in Plumas National Forest. The Susanville Indian Rancheria, the Maidu Summit Consortium, the Pit River Tribe, and the Modoc Nation all released letters making this request.

Rainbow Family coordinators who showed up early to begin setting up camp, including 33-year-old Arizona resident James Parisho, were also asked in-person at a “meet and greet” attended by Rainbow Family members in Susanville on June 22 by Maidu Summit Consortium Vice-Chairman Allen Lowry and others to not hold their event in Plumas National Forest on Maidu ancestral land. Lowry is Lepe’s first-cousin.

Rainbow Family invades Maidu ancestral land

Despite what Lowry and others said to Parisho and his fellow Rainbow Family about the danger posed to Maidu sacred sites and fire restrictions, they decided to hold the event at Plumas National Forest anyway.

Rainbow Family members ignored the fact that the Plumas National Forest also announced on June 22 that the park was entering Stage I fire restrictions, meaning that it would be illegal to burn campfires in most places within the park. They also refused to obtain the permit required to host an event of more than 75 people, as approximately 500 Rainbow Family members invaded Maidu ancestral land to set up camp.

As soon as members of the Rainbow Family arrived to Plumas National Forest, they began to break the law and commit what’s been described by some indigenous people as acts of ecoterrorism. In addition to burning unpermitted campfires, some Rainbow Family members also dug trenches for latrines, diverted water from the Indian Creek headwaters, built makeshift shelters, and flattened the forest floor with their equipment and supplies.

Rainbow Family members set up camp, prepare water lines, and burn illegal campfires. Source: Facebook

Rainbow Family members park vehicles on top of plants off the road and build a stove with rocks and mud. Source: Facebook

Water lines used by Rainbow Family members to divert water, and a large container overflowing with water that was being diverted. Source: Facebook

Somewhat blurry photographs of the Rainbow Family members who arrived early to set up camp. Source: Facebook

Even though Lepe and others were correct in their assessment of the danger posed to Maidu sacred sites by the Rainbow Family, Maidu people depended on the Forest Service, a federal agency created in 1905, to act to protect their ancestral lands stolen by the federal government and the state of California – part of which became Plumas National Forest in 1907, less than 60 years after California was named a state in 1850.

Some Maidu bands, such as the Feather River Band of Konkow Maidu, are still not recognized by the federal government. This, even while they are recognized by the State of California.

A long history of trampling and looting sacred sites

Small regional Rainbow Gatherings take place throughout the year across the U.S. Once each year, however, the group holds a national-level event in a remote portion of a National Forest selected by so-called Rainbow Family “scouts.”

Rainbow Family members have a long and well-documented history of polluting the environment at Rainbow Gatherings. Attendees to Rainbow Gatherings have been known to desecrate Native American burials sites and other sacred sites and loot Native Americans burial sites.

“There is no argument that the last time the Rainbow were here, they desecrated Hammawi Band and Pit River Tribal sacred sites and even ancestral remains,” said Elizabeth Washoe to A News Café regarding a Rainbow Gathering held in the area in 2004 that was attended by 5,000 Rainbow Family members.

“Other Maidu and myself went at our first opportunity to let them know we disapproved at the meet and greet they held in Susanville,” said Washoe.

“They argued with us and called us liars.”

Rainbow Family members say they reseed the land and work to restore the land after Rainbow Gatherings. Some Native Americans and non-natives, on the other hand, say members of the Rainbow Family lack the necessary knowledge to heal the land after Rainbow Gathering events.

Some Maidu and other Native Americans, as well as non-native allies, recognize the way the Rainbow Family refuses to listen to Native Americans and their allies as part of a broader racist white American legacy that every generation of Native Americans since the arrival of Europeans to North America has had to battle.
Dangers presented by the Rainbow Family

A News Café took up Lepe’s offer to speak about Maidu homelands and contacted Lepe.

Lepe, who said during a phone call with A News Café she was not speaking for all Maidu people, told A News Café she wanted to spread the word about several dangers presented by holding the Rainbow Gathering on Maidu ancestral land in Plumas National Forest.

Lepe, like others, said she believed members of the Rainbow Family posed a threat to the environment and Maidu sacred sites, burial sites, and ceremonial sites.

Lepe told A News Café that it hurt her knowing that the land would likely never be the same for her descendants if the Rainbow Gathering was held on Maidu ancestral land.

“Our belief is that the creator put the Maidu in their particular area to be caretakers of the land,” said Lepe.

Lepe also said she was concerned about the safety of members of the Rainbow Family if they attended the event because it would be difficult to evacuate Plumas National Forest if the Rainbow Family accidentally started a fire. Lepe said she worried that if, by chance, members of the Rainbow Family started a forest fire, it would also put residents who lived along Janesville Grade Road, which locals refer to as “the hill,” in severe danger. Janesville Road – a narrow road on a steep incline – is one of the few routes out of that portion of Plumas National Forest.

The Dixie Fire

Riley’s Jerky before and during the Dixie Fire. Photograph on top by Joanna Burgueño.

Lepe nearly had to evacuate her home when the Dixie Fire burned through the region in 2022. The Dixie Fire swept through five counties and is one of the worst wildfires in California history.  It was one of several large wildfires that burned through parts Northern California in recent years.

The site chosen for the Rainbow Gathering, which is about 17 miles Northwest of Janesville, is one of the few places in Plumas National Forest that did not burn during the Dixie Fire. Because of this, some Maidu refer to it as a little green island.

Jason Hawk-Gray Powers, who is involved with the Dixie Fire Canopy Project, a nonprofit helping to rebuild Greenville and other areas burned by the Dixie Fire, shared his thoughts with A News Café regarding the fire-threat posed by holding a Rainbow Gathering in the region.

“The dangers of a wildfire, regardless of how careful you are, are multiplied out here,” said Hawk-Gray Powers.

Hawk-Gray Powers said that he relives the emotional destress caused by the Dixie Fire every day while working with the Dixie Fire Canopy Project to bring back joy to a world that was ripped away by the Dixie Fire.

“As older growth trees have burned up leaving a dark shadowy landscape of what rushed through, eagerly destroying lives within its path, it leaves the native brushes and grasses to flourish, as well as the invasive ones. While beautiful during spring, it’s these plant that pose a MASSIVE risk, as it takes one spark, one hot ash, a cigarette or joint flicked into it.”

Rainbow Family attends Maidu Bear Dance

Just a few days before Rainbow Family event organizers showed up to start setting up camp in the Plumas National Forest, several attended the annual Maidu Bear Dance event at the Roxie Peconum Campground in Lassen National Forest – an annual event that celebrates the end of spring and the beginning of summer.

Multiple sources told A News Café that the Rainbow Family members who camped at the Roxie Peconum Campground during the Bear Dance left so much garbage that Maidu event organizers had to spend extra money to have it picked up and removed from Lassen National Forest.

Not so rainbow after all

Rainbow Gatherings started the in early 1970s as part of the white hippie counterculture “back-to-the-land” movement.

Rainbow Gatherers are a motley mixture of Baby Boom generation  hippies, young hippies, trustafarians, drifters, and new-age spiritualists. Many clearly question society, but their answer, at least in terms of Rainbow Gatherings, is a strange brew of white racial culturally appropriated tribalism.

Photographs of a Rainbow gathering held in 1977. Source: Facebook

Most Rainbow Gatherers identify as liberals and left-leaning libertarians who think they are progressive and that they appreciate diversity. However, just like the Hippie Generation of the late 1960s, 95% of the self-described so-called Rainbow Family “tribe” is white.
“Packing heat” for the Rainbow Family

Parisho, one of the Rainbow Family members who arrived early to descend upon Plumas National Forest, was contacted by A News Café. He said he is heavily involved with the Libertarian Party and that he chairs the Libertarian Party in the county in which he resides. He also said he was been “involved with political action” since he was 18 years old.

“I am more conservative than the average Rainbow,” said Parisho.

Parisho admitted in a live video he posted on social media several years ago while at a Rainbow Gathering in Georgia, that he supports Donald Trump. Parisho also said in the video he brought a Trump flag to a gathering and that it was well-received by Rainbow Family members.

Parisho, a stocky white man with a long beard, threatened naysayers on social media, saying Rainbow Family members “pack heat” during Rainbow Gatherings – meaning, they carry firearms.

Parisho flashed a pistol a few times – holding it up in front of the camera – in a video he shared on Facebook in 2018 while attending a Rainbow Gathering. He recorded the video in his dilapidated recreational vehicle while his child can be seen in the video sitting close by.

Screenshots of James Parisho waving a pistol on camera. Source: Facebook

According to some reports, Rainbow Gatherings do indeed attract Trump supporters like Parisho, as well as QAnon conspiracy theorists.
Neo-Nazis and white supremacists

In a Rainbow Gathering forum-style Zoom call open to the public hosted on June 28 by Rainbow Family leaders and coordinators, an “oldie” elderly white male Rainbow Gatherer said he was sure that there were neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the Rainbow Family community. He also said he “might” have known some.

Rainbow Family coordinators hosted two live, open-to-the-public and open-forum Zoom podcasts on June 27 and 28. Both Zoom sessions lasted for well over five hours, and numerous Native Americans attended the sessions to both criticize the Rainbow Family and share their knowledge. Some of the conversations became fairly heated.

Some members of the Rainbow Family are undoubtedly progressive, however many say this isn’t enough, and any good that comes from it is rendered null by the problems with the culture of the Rainbow Family – a culture that fails to encourage people to seriously question whiteness and white privilege in America, and demonstrate that they understand past and present Native American experiences.

Reportedly, some Native Americans in the Janesville area accused members of the Rainbow Family of what historian Philip Deloria refers to as “playing Indian,” Deloria’s term for the racist white appropriation of Native American cultures throughout American history.

When asked by A News Café during one of the Zoom calls why Rainbow Family members say they are “passing the feather” when they are done speaking, some acknowledged the Rainbow Family is guilty of cultural appropriation – something that has plagued Rainbow Family culture since its inception.

White supremacist eco-tourism as Manifest Destiny

Many argue the Rainbow Family is invested in a hippie-themed new world of Manifest Destiny-driven white supremacist ecotourist colonialism.

Sources shared with A News Café evidence that James Parisho — the Rainbow Family coordinator who showed up early to help set up camp — referred to one Native American who spoke up against holding the event on Maidu ancestral land as an “entitled native.”

“Your people were too weak to fight and keep your land and now you want to complain about people using land that is no longer yours,” said Parisho.

“Colonizer vibes”

Northern California Native Americans continued to question members of the Rainbow Family, in-person and on social media in the days that followed Edna Lepe’s first protest at the Chevron gas station in Janesville.

The Redding-based Winnemem-Wintu Tribe shared on a Facebook post a news story about the Rainbow Gathering with the comment, “colonizers behaving badly.”

Domanique Madrid, who goes by Domanique Ava on Facebook, and who is a Klamath-Modoc tribal member, shared on Facebook a powerful statement against the holding of the Rainbow Gathering on Maidu ancestral land. Madrid gave A News Café permission to share some of what she has to say.

Like Lepe, Madrid wanted to highlight the fact that the Rainbow Gathering would be devastating to Maidu ancestral lands.

“Bringing colonizer vibes to the table in 2024 is not a good look,” Madrid said. “And BTW I went to a rainbow gathering myself in 2010 and I recognize the intention is unity and reconnecting the land and bringing world peace etc….. but at what point is it justified to bring harm and disrespect to the local tribes? This is not unity. This is not respect or bringing world peace. THIS IS WHITE ENTITLEMENT AND COLONIZED THINKING wrapped in pretty tie dye.”

Elizabeth Washoe agrees.

“It really comes down to ignoring what they don’t understand, belittling indigenous and other locals who dare point out their ignorance, developing a narrative among themselves that ignores the truth, then proceed with their giant party in the woods in spite of our heartfelt concerns,” said Washoe.

“I’ve never seen such a blatant display of colonizer privilege.”

Elizabeth Washoe

Locals unite against Rainbow Family

A majority of voters in Plumas County are registered as Republican. In the 2020 presidential election, more than 57 percent of voters in Plumas County selected Donald Trump, while only 40.5 percent selected Joe Biden.

According to U.S. Census numbers, 3.1 percent of Plumas County’s population identify solely as Native American, and the county is 90 percent white. Plumas County’s Native American population may seem small, however, 3.1 percent is nearly twice the average in California counties as a whole.

White non-native locals, politicians such as District 5 Lassen County Supervisor Jason Ingram, and the Forest Service, united with Native Americans to attempt to stop the Rainbow Gathering.

“The Native Americans don’t want us,” and “the rednecks don’t want us,” said one Rainbow Family member during the June 28 public open forum Zoom call.

Ingram toured the Plumas National Forest site where some Rainbow Gathering members were busy setting up camp. He shared pictures on his official Lassen County District 5 Supervisor Facebook page of event organizers burning illegal campfires. Ingram also shared pictures on social media of organizers illegally diverting water, digging ditches for latrines, digging holes, and building shelters.

Forest Service closes Plumas National Forest

On June 26, the same day that Edna Lepe embarked on a personal mission to save Maidu ancestral land, the Forest Service issued a statement that said that the Plumas National Forest was closed to visitors.

The statement issued by the Forest Service gave the early Rainbow Gathering arrivals 48 hours to leave Plumas National Forest.

Additionally, the Forest Service statement said individual Rainbow Gatherers who refused to leave the Plumas National Forest within 48 hours of when the statement was issued would be fined up to $5,000, and possibly face jail time for not more than six months.

In signature fashion, the members of the Rainbow Family invading Maidu ancestral land did not listen to the Forest Service. Many said the Forest Service was not serious and would not follow through with the threats to forcefully evacuate and possibly arrest the occupiers and confiscate their personal items if not removed.

To enforce the statement, the Forest Service also put up a blockade to stop members of the Rainbow Family from entering Plumas National Forest.

Reports say that most of the Rainbow Family in the park vacated the Plumas National Forest by the afternoon of June 28, when the 48 hours given by the Forest Service was up.

Several Rainbow Family members also reportedly had items from their camps confiscated by law enforcement officials and some reported being fined small amounts of money, but there are no reports of arrests.

About 100 Rainbow Gatherers who left Plumas National Forest headed to the Roxie Peconum Campground in Lassen National Forest – the same campgrounds they left large amount of garbage at during the Bear Dance.

Illustrative of the Rainbow Family refusal to listen, a large number of Rainbow Family members already in the area, moved north to a different portion of the Plumas National Forest that also sits on sacred Maidu ancestral lands.

Statement issued by Forest Service on June 29 regarding new Rainbow Gathering site.

Some members of the Rainbow Family have publicly stated their desire to learn from Native Americans and non-native allies who roundly spoke out, and continues to speak out, against the Rainbow Gatherings and the Rainbow Family. Many, though, still refuse to listen to Maidu people and others and are heading to the new Rainbow Gathering site to prepare for the event to start on July 1.

Even so, Rainbow Gatherings, now more than ever, are being seen by more and more people as what they actually are: an extension of settler colonialism rooted in a long history of white entitlement and white American cultural appropriation of Native Americans.


If you appreciate professor Shawn Schwaller’s reporting, please consider a contribution to A News Cafe. Thank you!

Shawn Schwaller

Opinion writer and reporter Shawn Schwaller grew up in Red Bluff, California. He is an assistant professor in the History Department at California State University, Chico and holds a Ph.D. in history and an M.A. in American studies. Schwaller specializes in North State stories about law-enforcement corruption and far-right politics. He can be reached at schwaller.anewscafe@yahoo.com and welcomes your story tips.

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