The We Are the River: Connecting River Health to Community Health panel met to discuss the state of the Klamath River, and the communities whose lives are tied to the health of the river.
The discussion was held in the Goudi’ni Gallery at Humboldt State during the 32nd Annual California Indian Conference on April 6.
Dale Ann Sherman, a Yurok Tribe member and retired HSU professor of Native American Studies, was one of the four panelists.
“I come from the Klamath and Smith Rivers. I belong to those rivers,” Dale Ann Sherman said. “In our blood runs the rivers and with that blood runs the salmon. We were born to go through time together. The salmon and us.”
There were four panelists for the We Are the River: Connecting River Health to Community Health discussion: Dale Ann Sherman, Louise McCovey, Marlon Sherman and Konrad Fisher.
Marlon Sherman is a Lakota tribal member, as well as the HSU department chair of Native American Studies.
“The people on the Klamath River depend upon the salmon, and other fish,” Marlon Sherman said. “That’s their sustenance and their livelihood. That’s their spirituality. It is what their ceremonies are based on. Everything flows around the salmon, and if those salmon don’t have sufficient water, they will not come back any more. It is fairly obvious.”
The salmon are at their lowest all time in returns due to problems with the river itself.
“Dams, diversions and pollution sums up what is wrong with the river,” Fisher said.
Fisher is a water protector who described the factors plaguing the Klamath River.
“Dams are the biggest source of blue-green toxic algae build up, nasty stuff that will make humans very sick,” Fisher said. “Naturally occurring toxic blue-green algae production is dramatically elevated by dam water restriction. Some of the highest levels [of blue-green algae toxicity] ever recorded on Earth were collected behind the dams on the Klamath River.”
A few years ago, a decades-long lawsuit by the Klamath tribes of the upper Klamath River went to the United States Supreme Court.
“They finally were able to get the U.S. Supreme Court to realize that they had water rights to the Klamath River based on as far back as what they called time immemorial,” Marlon Sherman said.
“Something exciting is happening very soon,” Fisher said. “We are on track for dam removal. Maybe not quite 2020, but 2021. Let’s continue to be hopeful.”
“The [Klamath River Renewal Corporation] is the entity that will essentially take ownership of the dams, and take them out. Go to one of their meetings if you can. It is on their website,” Fisher said.
“The salmon right now are at their bottom ebb. What they need now is plenty of clean, cold water,” Marlon Sherman said. “Water allocation is what the salmon need right now. This needs to be approached right now before the salmon are all gone. When the salmon go, who knows what’s next?”
Water allocation rights and diversions are Fisher’s specialty, and water in the Trinity River that would run into the Klamath River is currently being diverted.
“Water laws say there is a certain amount of water that should be left in the streams to meet certain needs,” Fisher said. “By and large they [the government] don’t [do their job] unless they are being forced, especially when it comes to telling people to use less water,” Fisher said.
The needs of the communities most affected by the destruction of the Klamath have gone unheard.
“The local laws of the people who have always lived there, and know the river, are never acknowledged,” Marlon Sherman said.
“Ceremony is law. Culture is law. Very few people recognize that fact,” Marlon Sherman said. “The tribal attorneys need to be paying more attention to the tribal imperatives of spirituality, culture and tribal knowledges of their indigenous localities.”
“Our people are fix-the-world people, that is what we do in our ceremonies,” McCovey said.
McCovey is the Yurok Tribe environmental director and HSU environmental science alumnus who was on the panel.
“There has been a rash of suicides in our community,” McCovey said. “For me in my job, I try to eliminate the environmental threats so that people can maintain their identity as river people, and feel safe in it.”