Water is Bigger than Tribal Politics
by Samuel White Swan-Perkins
Water is life.
It’s a phrase we are hearing a lot these days across Turtle Island.
As in other parts of Indian Country, politicians and developers in California are doing whatever they can to earn money through exploiting our water systems and aquifers. No stranger to water rights issues, the Winnemem Wintu of Northern California are fighting to keep the Delta Twin tunnels project from destroying the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta.
News from Native California: What can you tell us about the proposed Delta Twin tunnels project and how it will affect the ecosystems and the Native American communities who rely on the delta?
Michael Preston: The Delta Twin tunnels is powered by the largest water district in the United States; Westlands Water District located in Kern County California. The Twin Tunnels project threatens to collapse the biggest estuary on the west coast; the Sacramento San Joaquin delta. Furthermore, if the Tunnels come in it will likely destroy the salmon run in the whole central valley and mountainous regions for decades to come. The salmon are the canaries in the coalmine both the savior to California’s ecosystem and the main block to the Trillions of dollars to be made on the water from the Twin Tunnels that will go to a wealthy few. We need our salmon to survive and should do more research on salmon health benefits to land, to people, and we should do more research on shifting local economies to a more salmon based economy. Water is life and the time has come for the California public to stop the Twin tunnel pipeline from coming in and destroying the wild salmon run, one of the healthiest foods, mentally, emotionally and physically, that a human being could ever eat.
(Photo credit: Sam White Swan-Perkins Salmon habitat in Butte County, CA)
NfNC: Can you relate to us the importance of salmon, not only to the tribes in the DElta, but to the Winnemem as well?
Michael Preston: In the beginning when the spirits first started taking physical form the salmon gifted the human with the power to speak and creator warned us that if there was ever to come a time where there are no more salmon, there would be no more people. In light of this prophecy from the Winnemem Wintu, the California Winter-run Chinook are on the verge of extinction and could be lost forever. Dams, water diversions, poor water management, and now climate change have rapidly depleted numbers. Only 5% returned to spawn in 2014, and only 1% returned to spawn in 2015. These are the facts, but as dim as it might sound there is hope. We owe it to our future generations to do everything we can to restore the salmon populations, including having a 300 plus mile prayer journey to help them come back to their homelands up to the McCloud river.
Salmon connects us to water in many ways. They are a nutrient rich miracle fish with the ability to live in both fresh and salt waters. This gives them medicine to support whole ecosystems with the ocean nutrients that they provide to all the land. Currently, the 1000 dams that exist in California have cut off 80-90% of their habitat.
NfNC: What is being done to protect the water and the delta?
Michael Preston: Many tribes, environmental groups and good people are working on bringing back the salmon however and the Winnemem Wintu propose to bring in the exact genetic salmon stock of the ancient McCloud River salmon currently living in the waters of the south island of New Zealand which were transported there in the early 1900s. This would spiritually reconnect the Salmon to their homelands and rebalance the water systems in a metaphysical way. In order to raise awareness on this issue and to perform our duty as prayer warriors, the run for Salmon has come to light. It is a vision that Winnemem Wintu tribal chief Caleen Sisk had last year that is coming to fruition this year starting on September 17th, 2016. Like the Salmon run along the Trinity and Klamath rivers amongst the Hupa, Karuk, and Yurok tribes; the Winnemem Wintu and several other tribal communities including the Ohlone, Miwok and allies, feel it is time to also run for our salmon in the Sacramento River and its tributaries up to the McCloud River. It is our hope that all people concerned about the future of our water will join us in helping the salmon lead our waterways back to health and therefore leading us all back to health.
The run will start at the Ohlone village of Segora Te in present day Vallejo California where the salmon first come in from the ocean and it will end October 1st in Winnemem Wintu homelands, on the McCloud River where they will spawn once again. There will be several stops in between to perform ceremony, have press conferences, and benefit concerts in support of the salmon’s return.
Running has always been a part of ceremony. When we deliberately make it a prayer with good intentions to send out good energy for the salmon to follow, it then becomes, for lack of a better word, ceremony. The time has come to take our efforts to encapsulate the whole Sacramento River on up past the Shasta Dam to our home River on the Winnemem Wywaket (McCloud River).
Hi Chala Beskin
Thank you and we hope to see you on the run!
If you are interested in supporting the Winnemem Wintu Run4Salmon, please feel free to visit them at the events listed below.
Samuel White Swan-Perkins is a freelance journalist and Native American Cultural Consultant.He resides in occupied Mechoopda Territory and in his free time he enjoys fishing, hiking and time with his friends and family. He is grateful to Michael Preston for his contributions to this series.
WHEN: September 17 to October 1, 2016.
WHERE: Fundraiser pre-event: September 10: Concert in Oakland, 7-11pm
September 17: Ceremony – Sogorea Te, Vallejo, 10am, walkers depart at 2pm
September 17-18: walk from Sogorea Te to Riverview Park, Pittsburgh, CA
September 19: boat from Riverview Park, Pittsburgh, CA to Sacramento, CA, 9am to 4pm
September 19-21: Sacramento: concert, legislative screening, ceremonies at start and end
September 20: Informational Program at Washington Community Center Sponsored by SolCollective (time and program still TBD)
September 21: films & concert at Crest Theater, Sacramento, 5-11pm; concert by Hawane Rios, and Sara Tone, Midnight Players, Ashwut and a special guest, hosted by Nakho Bear
September 22: Boaters leave Discovery Park and head upriver to Colusa
September 23: Bicyclists journey from Colusa to Woodson Bridge
September 24: Society of Environmental Journalists conference.
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Sacramento, 2001 Point West Way
“Indigenous Rights and the Environment” session, 10:45am–noon, Capital Ballroom D
Moderator: Peggy Berryhill, General Manager, KGUA (Gualala, CA), Caleen Sisk on the panel
September 24-25: Runners from Woodson Bridge to the mouth of Cow Creek
September 26: Youth group runners from Cow Creek to Shasta Lake at Jones Valley
September 27: Ceremony at Winnemem Tlut, dancers, singers.
September 28: Nahko and Horseback Riders leave Village to journey to the McCloud River
September 29: Redding concert at Riverfront Park, 800 Sundial Bridge Dr., Redding, CA, 2-10pm; concert by Hawane Rios, Ashwut, Lyla June Johnston; Native Dancing by Thundering Moccasins; Speakers: Chief Caleen Sisk, Pua Case, and more to come.
October 1: closing ceremony, McCloud River Campground