Saturday, October 16, 2010


My friend Marc Dadigan just blogged. Today is Blog Action Day. I am printing his piece today because it moved me and expresses what I believe is the most important
action to take today:

“Why don’t they understand what keeps the rivers clean?”

The Shasta Dam, 600 feet tall, destroyed the McCloud salmon runs when it was built during World War II

“Why don’t they understand what keeps the rivers clean?”

Caleen, the spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu, asked me this last night as she drove us back to her village outside Redding.

We were returning from Sacramento where NOAA had held a public meeting to solicit input on its salmon restoration plan for California’s Central Valley. Only about 15 people attended, and Caleen and Mark, her husband and the tribe’s headman, were the only tribal people there.

The Winnemem spoke, in part, to try to build support for their unorthodox plan to return salmon to their river, the McCloud, by importing eggs from New Zealand’s Rakaia River salmon.

But the meeting was a frustrating experience for Caleen. NOAA’s lead coordinator for the project, Brian, showed graphs that depicted how the Pacific salmon populations had precipitously plunged over the past 50 years. Of the 18 historical wild salmon populations that once existed, only three remain.

“These are the patterns,” he said of the graph, “that are consistent with species that eventually go extinct.”

He said this matter-of-factly, and Caleen clenched her jaw and her eyes started to glisten.

When Caleen saw those graphs, she didn’t just see numbers. She saw her relatives dying. In the tribe’s genesis story, it was salmon that gave the Winnemem, mute and helpless at their birth, the ability to speak.

Brian continued to talk about NOAA’s plans to conduct cost-benefit analyses to validate the economic value of saving the salmon, and he also spoke about collaborating with power companies, water districts and other stakeholders. It was only so long before Caleen had to interject.

“How long do you think the salmon are going to wait for you?” she asked him, her voice shaking. “You’ve only got three salmon runs left, and people are dragging their feet. The creator put the salmon in the rivers for a reason.”

Caleen expected NOAA to have more power to force this plan into action and was disheartened it didn’t.

Later during the drive home, Mark was sleeping in the backseat, and Caleen posed her question to me, wondering why no one valued salmon’s vital role in upturning rocks, keeping the river clean and, after it dies, seeping back into the soil as nutrients.

“To be honest,” I told her. “Before I met the Winnemem, I just figured a river was clean if we didn’t dump any crap into it.”

Every St. Patrick's Day, the Chicago River is dyed green with unknown chemicals

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, a city with a river that was reversed to send sewage toward St. Louis. Chicago also used to dye the river green every St. Patrick’s Day with fluorescein, a chemical that’s been documented to cause many health ailments including sudden death from anaphylactic shock. Today, the city uses a secret formula it claims is safe.

The Winnemem revere the water and see it as living. They were, in their creation story, born from its womb, a bubbling spring on Mt. Shasta.

On the other hand, I come from a community that shows a lot of disrespect towards its water, a disrespect that stems from ignorance.

In the schools I attended, I learned next to nothing about hydrology, the importance of a clean river to the local ecosystem or even, as Caleen knows so inherently, what a clean river is supposed to resemble.

Before I moved to the West Coast, subconsciously the idea of a clean river was nearly a foreign concept to me. All the rivers I’d known were dirty, polluted and not much different, in my mind, than a roadway, a mode of transportation that could be painted green like we might paint a billboard.

Caleen has wondered why kids aren’t taught how many rivers in their state are polluted or how many dams there are. And it’s an intriguing question. I wonder how this lack of education plays a part in our widespread abuse of water, especially in California.

There is probably no resource more valuable and paradoxically treated and used with such recklessness. We’ve sucked up underground aquifers, flooded sacred lands with dams and reduced powerful rivers to a trickle. And we are all ignorant about the damage we’re causing not only to ecosystems, but to the supply of freshwater we need to survive.

Today, Oct. 15 is Blog Action Day, and bloggers across the world are blogging about water. My hope for today, and every day after, is for all of us to spend some time educating ourselves about our local waterways. Learn about the rivers or lakes in your community. Are there dams on that river? Are the flows anywhere close to where they’re supposed to be naturally? Have invasive species disrupted the river’s ecology?

These are questions that we should all have the answers to, and yet almost nothing has been invested in teaching us about water.

By 2025, the U.N. estimates that two-thirds of the world will be facing water scarcity, and it would be dangerous to assume this won’t apply to anyone in the United States.

So take some time today to learn about your water. It’s not only the Winnemem’s womb, but the world’s.

We can no longer afford to be so ignorant about something so precious.

On Oct. 11, Caleen gave a speech at the University of Oregon’s Many Nations Longhouse about the importance of salmon, water and water education.

Listen to it here.
October 15th, 2010 | Category: Uncategorized | One comment

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"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.