Water Warriors: Speaking out and taking action to stop a fish kill on the Klamath
Reprinted (abridged) from IndyBay.org, Sept. 2, 2014
On August 27, over 200 Tribal Members and Leaders, river advocates and politicians attended a day of celebration on the Trinity River below Lewiston Dam. The event, organized by the Hoopa Valley Tribe, demonstrated the impacts of water diversion on their culture and the river communities.
The “Water Warriors,” those who have protested in defense of the Trinity in recent weeks, walked from the gate at the entrance into the hatchery where they convened at a stage.
Many of those “Water Warriors” had participated in a direct action protest at the Bureau of Reclamation Offices in Sacramento the week before, organized by the Klamath Justice Coalition and Got Water?, that helped pressure Reclamation to increase releases into the Trinity River below the dam to avert a fish kill on the lower Klamath.
The opening walk was in honor of the Water Warriors’ “strong battle to preserve and protect our sovereignty, water rights, and salmon,” according to Hoopa Tribal Chairwoman Danielle Vigil-Masten.
At the rally, Vigil-Masten reviewed the recent campaign by grassroots tribal and environmental activists that culminated in the victory, emphasizing the need for unity among the tribes and other river people fighting for the restoration of the Trinity.
“This rally today brings all the Water Warriors together to show them we have a united front,” she said. “This all happened within a two week time frame. We were able to bring the tribes and river people together from the dam to the mouth.”
“Water is our lifeblood—without water we won’t have salmon,” she said.
“Our fish need water to live and survive,” she emphasized. “Two weeks ago the Bureau said they couldn’t allow increased releases down the river, even though fish were dying. We called our Sister, the Chief of the Winnemem Wintu, to do the fire and water dance. We called everybody and said we can’t fight this battle with egos—we have to be united.”
Vigil-Masten said the high river releases from the dam that splashed into the air behind her were the result of a recent visit to Redding by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel. After finding out about the visit the night before, Hoopa tribal members including Dania Colegrove, Vivienna Orcutt and Allie Hostler and river activists including Regina Chichizola and Stormy Salamander quickly mobilized to organize a protest in Redding where Jewell was meeting with local officials about the fires.
Fortunately, Vigil-Masten and other tribal members were able to talk to her, and two days after Jewell’s visit, members of her staff traveled out to the Klamath and Trinity rivers to see the reality of the situation, with fish dying and the waters choked with algae in sections.
Jeannie McCovey, Yurok Tribal Member, said state and federal authorities are “not managing the river properly. We’re dealing with ecocide... We have to fight for our air, water and land.”
McCovey urged people to fight for the river and salmon with every avenue available, including going to protests and hearings, writing letters and “folding hands in prayer.”
Debra Chapman, Trinity County Supervisor, said, “We were bracing for another catastrophic die-off” before the Bureau decided to release water. “They treat the Trinity as if it is a tributary of the Sacramento. The Trinity is not a tributary of the Sacramento,” she emphasized.
Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, who gave the final prayer and song, emphasized, “We are a salmon state, not a watermelon or pistachio state. It will take Indian people all over the state to bring the salmon back.”
“We are one of a handful willing to speak for the salmon. We have to speak up, to support one another… Make sure that we carry the salmon in our hearts so we know what to say.” she said.