Wednesday, January 26, 2011

WW/ The Salmon, the Maori, the Winnemem and We

Here it is January and we are working at fever pitch doing something which normally we avoid -- asking people to help materially, through their skills and gifts, donating. I wrote something which explains why someone (me) who has such aversion to asking, has grabbed onto the challenge full force. So in the last couple of months despite holiday madness, a small group of us took on writing a grant, and planning a fundraiser. But each of our plans grew into something bigger because so many good people joined to the point, I realized that we were sort of "riding a wave." It really wasn't totally in our hands. The grant led to organizations and individuals agreeing to make their alliances with the Winnemem Support Group more official by joining a board. We never had thought of ourselves in that way, embedded as we are with the tribe. Our meetings were with the tribal leaders, when they came up I-5 to help the support group, when we went down to ceremony to pray and to join the circle of environmental water and salmon activists from LA to Canada. But a board we are -- planning annual events in our own home town, connecting, so to speak, river systems, salmon, and human beings across those political state lines which separate us but do not separate lands, fish, water. With the grant we now have youth Water Warriors (Juventud FACETA) joined with Winnemem youth and a board which joins organizations.

The fundraiser grew into a plural. This weekend I will join many to celebrate Ruth Koenig as she turns 70 years old. She is marking this special day by throwing a benefit at Tsunami Bookstore. On the other hand today, we are in negotiations because suddenly our silent auction idea has grown into something beyond my imagination. My younger brother, not by blood but by heart ties, Marcus Amerman, name one of the top 33 Native American artists by American Indian Art Magazine, moved by the Winnemem Wintu's journey to New Zealand to do ceremony for their salmon, intrigued by the strong alliance with the Maori people, and fired up to do something not only agreed to donate to the Silent Auction we were planning, but began talking to his friends, talented artists, many already internationally established and all respected by their peers. We were taken aback by the response of the artists. I have found the greatest generosity as well as that strong hearted resistence in poets and artists, and this is an awe-inspiring example. Today, I called my artist friend, Lemuel Charley, Institute of American Indian Art in art mecca, Santa Fe, New Mexico. I needed help. We had asked a gallery to allow us to do the silent auction in their gallery on Eugene's big art venue, the monthly Art Walk, May 6. We were late. They were booked for a year. We're not part of their collective. Sounded too big for their staff, perhaps, but things cleared up and within mere days, they have agreed with stipulations and it becomes our decision. With trembling, as if I were buying a car or a new computer, something which I don't know much about, I handed the job to decide, to communicate, to design over to Lemuel.

Earlier, we were thinking a little silent auction with a nice piece from Marcus at a wild salmon party. But the idea out grew us. Not only in the art scene.

Kayla Carpenter is a Hoopa youth who responded to a giant fish kill in her people's river -- about 60,000 salmon dead -- by organizing a salmon relay. Her thoughts were to run for the salmon, the health of the salmon, and at the same time do it with the health of her people in mind. That wild salmon relay still goes on. I loved the YOUTUBE video embedded here:

This video inspired us to do a Wild Salmon Run bringing together the Juventud FACETA water warriors and the Winnemem. Others wanted to join. For one, Ahiru Daiko, a Japanese Drum group from the University Oregon. Ahiru means Duck. We decided to set the tone of the Wild Salmon Party Fundraiser with this run. As Kayla said "the salmon's struggle is our struggle so with this run we can take a part for a time in their struggle" The runners educate themselves about the salmon of their area, and as they run they bring awareness.

As it happened, it is very difficult to find a place for a run that is close to a hall which would allow fundraising, or which would allow music (they called it noise) or which would allow food. How does one throw a fundraiser which prevents donating? How does one party without music and food? But there is one place. It is called Amigos Multicultural Services Center. Living up to its name, the staff, Juventud FACETA teacher Patricia Cortez and Immigrant Justice Project Director Guadalupe Quinn responded to my request to use their space, how can we support the runners? Maybe Amigos can provide the water and refreshments. Do you need a kitchen? What do you need from us? These are questions that lead to more ideas, which create, which build relationships. The other responses, the rules and regs which were designed before there were Indians in the room, shut off any possibility for cross cultural ties, and prevents an organization from an opportunity which was not dreamed of at the time of organizing what their space could host.

The cool thing is Amigos is just up the street a few blocks from the bike path along the Willamette. From the cozy little playground at the end of North Grand you can see a footbridge across the river. That's where the runners will cross to the other side, running upriver as salmon do to the next footbridge by Alton Baker Park, cross over again to the downtown side and run downriver through Skinners Butte Park. It is a perfect 5K. A Japanese taiko drum made by national treasure Mark Miyoshi which carries prayers for Mt. Shasta, the Winnemem River and the salmon and all the sacred places in the world will drum the runners on their way. Ahiru, who uses that drum will not be drumming. They said they would rather run for the salmon. So maybe that means Mark Miyoshi might come and play his drum for them? The way things are going, I would not be surprised. So far a Native Drum, the taiko drummers, a Kumu and her dancers of traditional hula want to support the Wild Salmon party and will do so joining the runners when we honor them, and the Winnemem leaders, the video of their journey to New Zealand for their fish which I will embed here:

Dancing Salmon Home-Promo from Moving Image on Vimeo.

A potluck follows this, and then we party. We haven't approached the bands yet. It might be later that evening there will be a possibility to attend the opening night at a gallery of the art which will be auctioned a few weeks later during Eugene's Art Walk.

If you are interested in joining these fundraising events, the exciting factor amped up by the flow of generosity and "water warrior spirit" of all walks of life, they are:
Wild Salmon Run and Wild Salmon Party, April 16 from 1 pm - 5 pm Amigos Multicultural Service Center 21 North Grand Street, call 541-345-5739 for more info

A possible Grand Opening of Native American Contemporary Art at a gallery to be announced April 15 or 16 from 7 pm - 9 pm

A Silent Auction of Native American contmporary art during Art Walk at that possible gallery from 5 pm - 9 pm.

So you see what I mean by "totally out of our hands" and that we are "riding a wave."

Let me share with you what I think is our foundation -- a wave, not concrete -- and who leads us -- a fish, in fact record salmon runs for unexplicible reasons which baffle scientists around the world.

The Salmon, the Maori, the Winnemem and We

A small tribe brings back the War Dance Ceremony at the site of a high security government facility, September 13, 2004, to resist the further raising of the Shasta Lake Dam that would drown their remaining sacred places and further damage their sacred river. The Winnemem Wintu tribe of northern California lacked usual avenues of communication or material support from the US government to advocate that most Americans and Tribes take for granted. They could only resort to what was already in their hands -- their traditions and their ancestral way of life. (The US government had dropped 90 percent of the historic Native Tribes of California, including the Winnemem, from the “federal recognition list” in the 1980’s and from that time they were rendered invisible and silent and the ceremonies no longer protected by the law.) The Winnemem Chief put down prayers at the Sacred Fire the evening before the War Dance began and was told to “tell the world and the good people of the world will listen.”

How could anyone guess that rescue would come in the form of a fish. After all, the Winnemem salmon runs were exterminated by Shasta Lake Dam, the tallest dam in the world back in the 1940’s. When their veterans came home from the war, they came home to the family homes, their hatchery drowned. Heartbroken, they grew old knowing their fish could no longer come home.

Somehow the prayers reached across the oceans from the war dance at Shasta Lake Dam, curling along the lands bordering the Pacific to Aotera, or New Zealand. A scientist from New Zealand called the Winnemem Chief, “Say, I just read in the news about your war dance. Did you know we have your fish?”

The chief listened as he told them that back in the late 1800’s the eggs from the fish hatchery on the McCloud where many of her ancestors worked were sent all over the world, and died all over the world except in New Zealand where they still flourish. She remembered the stories from her father, her aunties about the War Dance prayers meant to stop the exporting of their salmon to far away lands, and how the warriors prayed a promise to the salmon that they could always come home. Sixty years later, the dam had put an end to that promise. And now, another 60 years later, with this phone call, the Winnemem Chief remembering the prayer she set down at the War Dance at the site of the dam, rejoiced in the miracle. Their fish still flourished across the Pacific.

In 2010, on a prayer, chili feeds, unpaid electricity bills and no heat or light, the Winnemem Wintu flew to New Zealand to see their Chinook salmon for the first time, and to conduct a ceremony along the banks of the South Island’s Rakaia River with their Maori hosts, the Ngai Tahu and Waitaha Mamoe peoples.

Did the salmon’s heart beat stronger when they heard familiar drumbeats, and songs that called them by their real name, Nur? Did they leap when they heard Hesin nur wilee “Whenever the salmon go upstream, let me see them.” When the dancers fasted and danced four days and three nights, and when one dancer raised his hands to the mountain, and then to his heart praying that their salmon would come home, did the Nur dream of home? Hesin yetcha wilee “Whenever they dream, let me see.” When the woman dancer, red sash hanging down, stepped lightly, the sash swaying rhythmically like the female salmon in her red stage, did it give the Nur strength. wai-o wai wi-lee. “They move swiftly and flexible.”

The Winnemem returned home to California with new alliances, good news and a new direction for their monumental work. The nation of New Zealand, the Fish and Wildlife Commission, the National Human Rights Commission and the Maori, Waitaha Mamoe people committed themselves to work alongside of them to bring their salmon back, something which supports the US government to fulfill their salmon initiative and should be welcomed by government salmon restoration project heads were it not for the federal recognition policy. The Maori can’t fathom “unrecognized tribal status.” Their leader laughed, “Are they blind that they can’t see who you are?”

The first piece to be undertaken is to complete the ceremony. The ceremony that began on the banks of the Rakaia must be finished at Mt. Shasta Ceremony, 2011, where the glacial springs feed into the McCloud River with Maori and Winnemem present.

Sustained by this ceremony the arduous task, not unlike the salmon’s journey back to its spawning grounds, the Winnemem must convince a government who does not see them nor hear them to accept a miracle. Blinded by the Federal Recognition policy that was designed to exterminate tribes, the federal government cannot see the miracle of disease free, DNA matched fish restored into the very rivers they want to re-introduce the salmon. The US government is deafened by its own Federal Recognition Policy from supporting the Winnemem plan of stream restoration bypassing the dam and a natural fish hatchery run by the tribe which would cost much less and work much more successfully than other plans. The Federal Recognition Policy prevents them from even feeling the good will of another nation’s governmental agencies. As the New Zealand Fish and Wildlife spokesperson said, “They (the Winnemem) helped us when we needed it. It’s only fitting we return the favor.”

The Winnemem, the Maori people and New Zealand cannot do this alone. They need more people who feel the prayer laid down by old War Dancers in the 19th century, promising their fish that they can always come home, the grief filled prayer of the veteran who believed his fish had been eradicated, and the prayers of his children, and grandchildren, and their children, who went to New Zealand to pray and sing so hard for their fish that unusually high salmon runs astounded the scientists in many regions of the world. All of nature is preparing for the Nur to come back to their Home waters in about three years. They need many more Good People of the World willing to listen to the call to action made by these salmon runs, willing to donate their talents and skills, contributing materially, willing to re-tell the story and to join their voices with the Winnemem and Maori voices to bring the salmon home. Hesin Winnemem wi-lee “Whenever they come to the McCloud, let me see” Sawal Mai-u-ma’s Baa-les-bom! "Sacred is the Teacher. That is the way it will be forever.”

“Dancing Salmon Home” 15 minute video

Winnemem Wintu website


Beedi Yalumina! Winnemem Wintu!


  1. Kia Ora

    I am a Maori of the Ngai Tamanuhiri Tribe of the nth island, and i was intrigued to see this story on tv here in NZ and now to read about it.
    I find the comparisons and our bonds with our 2 nations to be beautiful. I consider us cousins.

    I pray that your salmon your Nur be returned to its rightful home and rejuvenate your peoples pride and culture.

    I felt sad to think about the Nur being so far away from home and your ancestors waiting and waitng for their return.
    Be strong, Kia Kaha

    Rosina K

  2. I am so touched to read this. I apologize for not seeing it sooner. I am so used to not having comments, I don't even look. I want to share another story with you. We were contacted by one of our Maori family who asked about the story of the "ice water fall" he had heard. We also have the story of the "ice water fall." When the Winnemem of the late 1800's saw what was being done to their fish, they prayed and the doctors sent the salmon through the ice waterfall on the great Mt. Shasta to stay until it was safe. The Maori of South Island, at least some of them, know the story of the fish and the Ice Waterfall. Now we believe that the Winnemem's salmon went through the Ice Water Fall on the sacred Aoraki. We no longer think it was a fluke of nature that the Fish survived only in New Zealand, but we believe in prayer and the connection between Winnemem and Maori. We believe that the two sacred mountains, the warm water belt which surrounds the Fish so they did not mix with other fish as much and kept their DNA to their Home River, and under the care and prayer of our Maori brothers and sisters are all part of a sacred plan and relationship. I hope you get to read this, Rosina. And thank you so much for writing me!! Aroha! Beedi Yalumina! We shall never give up! Misa

  3. Thank you, Rosina. If ever you are in the vicinity of Mt. Shasta, during the second weekend of August, you must come to the Coonrod Ceremony of the Winnemem Wintu. The Waitaho Maori were here this summer as well as the Fish and Game person who is along the Rakaia. Wish you were here!


"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)


Blogs I Follow

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
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.