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Sacred Salmon and the KBRA

The tribal turmoil over water rights on the Klamath

Over the weekend hundreds of participants along the Klamath River gathered in ceremony for the 2015 Great SalmonR un of the Klamath-Trinity Rivers. 

For the first time this year, the Klamath Tribes participated in the run, which has been extended to Chiloquin, Oregon. Members and descendants from all the Klamath Basin river tribes took part in the ceremonial event, beginning May 29 at at the Pacific Ocean and concluding in Chiloquin June 1.

While some participants’ intentions were to promote support for the controversial Senate Bill 133, the Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act, also known as the Klamath Basin Restoration Act (KBRA), most participants recognized the spiritual significance of the run.

The run, a 260-mile relay, was founded 13 years ago by students from Hoopa Valley High School in response to the death of an estimated 68,000 Chinook salmon caused by artificially low water levels.

Even 13 years later, the fish kill of 2002 still haunts the Klamath River.

In 2015, the struggle the Klamath River salmon face is just as detrimental.

This year, juvenile Chinook salmon have already been dying. According to the Klamath Fish Health Assessment Team, 100 percent of juvenile Chinook salmon in the Klamath River carry a deadly parasite known as C. shasta.

A common misconception in the public is that all the Klamath River tribes support the KBRA. However, the public is not aware that the political turmoil of the KBRA has been destructive to tribal members, igniting disputes that have created tribal divisions, split families and ended lifelong friendships.

While tribal members support dam removal and protecting fish, many do not believe the KBRA adequately represents these aspects that are vital to Klamath, Modoc, Yahooskin culture and spirituality. These tribal members work actively to protect the fish and bring awareness to their survival.

The struggle the salmon face is real, and their struggle has become part of the ongoing battle tribal members face to protect what is sacred to not only spiritual survival but physical survival as well.

Members of a group calling themselves “Honor the Treaty of 1864” who have been working behind the scenes to educate and unite the Klamath Tribal community were present at the ceremonial salmon run in Chiloquin.

Honor the Treaty of 1864 members gathered water from the headwaters of Spring Creek and poured it into the river at the old Chiloquin dam site to offer as a prayer for a safe journey for the salmon relatives who have sacrificed their lives to spawn since time immemorial.

The run united tribal members from the upper and lower river tribes who were there for the same purpose, which is to continue to advocate, pray and fight for the salmon’s survival.

For the first time since Honor the Treaty of 1864 was formed last year, tribal members and descendants were allowed to freely express their perspectives regarding the KBRA without being chastised, disrespected and alienated by the Klamath Tribal elected officials.

Despite the political commercialization of the sacred run by Klamath Tribes elected officials, the ceremony was a powerful form of healing for all involved.

Members of the Hoopa Valley Youth Council were in attendance and had the opportunity to connect with members of Honor the Treaty standing united against the KBRA.

Coordinators for the youth council shared their efforts to educate their youth on the vital issues regarding the KBRA and have expressed their disapproval of these water agreements.

Only two tribes in the Klamath basin, the Hoopa Valley Tribe and Yurok Tribe, have retained the right to make a water call for the salmon. Klamath Tribes, however, only retain the right to make a call for the C’waam or sucker fish, but no longer salmon.

Many tribal members are beginning to understand that all bargained-for benefits within the KBRA are achievable without having to permanently relinquish tribal rights.

Through the connections made between upper and down river tribal members at this year’s run, advocacy for our sacred salmon relatives is stronger than ever before.

As we move into the extreme drought season, these newly formed relationships will be crucial for the survival of our sacred salmon relatives.

“The salmon’s struggles are our struggles.”

Once the salmon stop running, we cease to be a people.