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Trees Foundation Wins



The jury in the civil case Kathryn Miller v. the Trees Foundation decided in favor of Trees, after deliberating all day Tuesday. (See “Money on Trees,” Oct. 4).

Miller is the long-time forest activist who inherited a bundle from her mother and then signed $185,000 over to the Trees Foundation. In her lawsuit, she claimed she had intended the money to be passed through Trees to one of its affiliates, North Coast Earth First! Media, run by Shunka Wakan. She claimed she had made her intentions clear, verbally and in writing, and that Trees had agreed to the conditions, then broken its promise and kept the money. Trees denied making such promises, and said it had never seen any letters or heard of instructions to give the money to NCEF! Media. (Also, somewhat relatedly, in criminal court on Tuesday Miller pleaded no contest to charges that she had made annoying phonecalls to Barbara Ristow of the Trees Foundation.)

So, that’s that. Now, there are only the pieces to pick up.

For Shunka Wakan — featured in last week’s Journal as a central figure in a messy nest of infighting that has fractured the current ranks of local Earth First!ians — it could be a long, lonely patching together of lost friends and broken alliances. Not only did he and Miller lose their attempt to retrieve her donation, but now he’s been banned from the North Coast Co-op.

Yes, that happened last week. It was Thursday, around 4:15 in the evening, and two activists with the Humboldt Forest Defense Association were tabling — hawking brochures and such — outside the Co-op. It’s an activity Shunka himself has spent many a day doing in that very same spot, raising cash to pay for his NCEF!Media outreach work and other causes. And, well, these two fellows, Jeff and Farmer, were on Shunka’s shit list, now. They’d spoken gently, but unfavorably, about Shunka’s doings in the North Coast Earth First! arena — said he lashed out at people, said he commandeered NCEF! resources, and so forth. Here’s a snippet of Jeff’s account of what happened, which he sent to the NCJ in an e-mail on Friday:

“Shunka was removed from the Arcata Co-op yesterday after a scuffle with myself and another activist around 5 p.m. Well, he wasn’t exactly removed, but APD was called. He was asked to leave after threatening to flip over the HFD donation table while stating he was ‘like Jesus in the marketplace ...’”

Sue Coulter, manager of the Arcata Co-op, recounted on Friday how an employee walking by heard the argument and went inside to get her. “So I went out to talk to [Shunka], because it’s not the first time we’ve had problems,” she said. “Most of the time, he’s fine. Most of the time, I stick up for him.” One time, she said, she even called the police to protect Shunka after someone had threatened him. “But he gets into arguments. I tried to talk to him. I told him to leave. ... He was causing a scene, right by the door, and I can’t have it. He refused to leave. ... I said, fine. I went into the store. He followed me into the store, and he was still yelling at me, ‘Oh, now you’re going to call the police on me.’” Coulter called the police, but Shunka left before they arrived.

Shunka, waiting in the courthouse for the jury verdict Tuesday, said Coulter did indeed ask him to leave and he did, indeed, refuse to. As for the HFD tablers, he said he merely asked them why they had Trees Foundation literature on their table. “I said, ‘Why do you want to represent these people?’” And then, he said, “Jeff accused me of embezzling — he said this in public. He said, ‘You’ve embezzled thousands of dollars from the Earth First! movement through the years.’ And I complained to one of the employees who was walking by. Because that’s serious, accusing someone of embezzling.”

But Shunka said the whole thing’s yet another attack on him. “I don’t consider I was yelling. We were talking. I’m an emotional person, I concede to that. I speak from my heart. I don’t scream at people. I would love to — but I don’t.”

In his email, Jeff with HFD predicted Shunka would leave town within weeks, if not sooner. But at the courthouse, even before the verdict, Shunka said he wasn’t going anywhere.

“I’m just going to continue to run the Earth First! office and continue to call Humboldt County home,” he said. He’s also going to write a letter to the Co-op, complaining about how he gets scapegoated and booted out of there even when other people, he says, are the culprits. And, as for the Miller v. Trees case, he said, he and Miller may now take their complaint to another venue.

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