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Murder Mountain demystified

The other side of the mountain gets a turn to share its story

The latest documentary to depict Humboldt County investigates a murder within the cannabis culture atop the infamous Murder Mountain. But Murder Mountain, named after the actions of the Carson serial killers in the Rancho Sequoia area of Alderpoint, is only a small piece in Humboldt County’s cannabis culture. On Wednesday evening in the Kate Buchanan Room a group panelist of media practitioners and active members in the cannabis community discussed the other side of that mountain.

“Instead of finding a way to bridge our likeness, it has built on the fact that we are different… Local press should recognize they do shape culture.”

Chrystal Ortiz

The event, The Other Side of Murder Mountain, was part of HSU’s 25th annual week long Social Justice Summit. Panelist Chrystal Ortiz, a board member of the International Cannabis Farmers Association, said as a resident of Humboldt County she is impacted by the local press on cannabis.

“Local opinions and local press has shaped the world view of the people who live here in the ability to continue to create discord,” Ortiz said. “A cannabis leaf on the cover sold newspapers. The representation in the press was negative because cannabis was in the crime section. If we went back 20 years we would be hard press to find any positive press of cannabis.”

Ortiz believes local press has a responsibility and perspective with covering cannabis and has an effect on how we relate with one side or the other. She said local press has had an impact on how our community relates with the cannabis culture within Humboldt County and plays a part in shaping it.

“Instead of finding a way to bridge our likeness it has built on the fact that we are different,” Ortiz said. “Such as what we do for our kids is different than what they do for their kids or what our jobs are like with what their jobs are like. But I am glad to see that changing and it has been changing. Local press should recognize they do shape culture.”

Hank Sims, Dr. Deidre Pike, Chrystal Ortiz, and Rio Anders made up the panel of media practitioners and active cannabis community members at the event “The Other Side of Murder Mountain” during HSU’s 25 annual social justice summit. | Photo by T.William Wallin

Panelist Rio Anders, Co-founder of SoHum Guild, agreed with Ortiz and said it’s hard to live in a bubble in Southern Humboldt and hear a story like Murder Mountain because it has no real reality based on his life. Anders said recently there’s been a constant feedback of negativity but recognizes that crimes like that in Murder Mountain are real.

“It’s real and I’m not saying it isn’t but it didn’t bring people into conversation,” Anders said. “It only allowed people to cast judgment on each other. This shapes the discourse between the cannabis community which is a part of this community.”

Not all stories of Humboldt County are that of vigilantes and missing persons that happen in places like Murder Mountain.

Moderator Dominic Corva of the Center for the Study of Cannabis Policy, asked the panelists what does it even matter what people outside of Humboldt County think of people in Humboldt County in media representations. Editor for the Lost Coast Outpost Hank Sims said stories like that of Murder Mountain are the stories people hear outside of Humboldt County and have ramifications.

“People in the Marijuana industry in particular are sometimes facing backlash and competition in the industry who say growing in Humboldt County is unsafe,” Sims said. “Murder Mountain and stories like it has shaped perception of Humboldt County from those outside of Humboldt County.”

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Sociology professor and co-director of Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research Josh Meisel reads questions from the audience at the event The Other Side of The Mountain during HSU’s 25 annual social justice summit. | Photo by T.William Wallin

Not all stories of Humboldt County are that of vigilantes and missing persons that happen in places like Murder Mountain. Chrystal Ortiz was quick to respond with positive representations she’s experienced when in 2016 a journalist for NPR camped on her property in the Avenue of the Giants because he couldn’t find open camping.

“When he [NPR reporter] came through he camped on my farm and the California Report then became his experience on my farm and how different it was than he expected,” Ortiz said. “When that aired I got call after call after call…about how my friends wanted to come visit and how proud they were.”

Panelist Deidre Pike, department chair of the HSU Department of journalism and mass communication, said the NPR California Report on Ortiz’s farm was a great example of how culture is shaping our story telling and there’s a feedback loop of shaping going on. Pike suggested a positive spin on Murder Mountain in which a theme park is built with a memorial for Garret Rodriguez.

“Maybe you can make Murder Mountain a tourist attraction,” Pike said. “You already have in place farms with farm tours. You can do an educational tour with permaculture and train folks to do permaculture and then they show others. It’s an idea that may demystify that culture of the scary outlaw culture and maybe honor the good outlaw culture.”

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