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US tribes dance to shame ScottishPower
Native Americans protest at energy company's annual meeting over the dams they say have destroyed their traditional salmon fishing
The Guardian (United Kingdom) - 7/24/04
By Gerard Seenan, staff writer

FOLLOWED BY
 
Comment: Remove the dams on the Klamath River
Eureka Times-Standard - 7/25/04

 

When the spring salmon returned, the tribes of the Klamath river welcomed them with an ancient ritual. The first salmon would be trapped before the medicine man came to every village and told them food was coming. Then they would dance and chant. But that was when the salmon still came.

Yesterday the four tribes were dancing and chanting again. This time, though, on an Edinburgh pavement, far from their California home.

As shareholders piled into ScottishPower's AGM, the four tribes of the Klamath river, in traditional dress, sang and danced before them. It was the latest round in a battle to shame one of Britain's most successful companies into being more environmentally responsible.

The Klamath tribes have already lodged a $1bn (545m) lawsuit in the US courts against PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of ScottishPower, alleging that the company's dams have destroyed the Klamath's fish population and wiped out some species. But yesterday they opted to embarrass the parent company.

"I have travelled all this way because the dams mean that I have never been able to see a salmon in my part of my river. They have denied me my birthright," said Gail Hatcher, from the Klamath tribe.

The Klamath river, which snakes from Oregon into California, is central to the religion, philosophy and daily lives of the river's four tribes: the Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa and Klamath. For more than seven millennia, native Americans have used the Klamath for worship, healing and food. But since the first dam was built in 1916, the river's ability to provide food and spirituality has dwindled. Now its tribes are fighting back.

"We evolved around the river, so everything around us - our religion, our philosophy our food - is connected to that place," said Leaf Hillman, vice-chairman of the Karuk tribe. "We have lived there since time began, and so have the fish. Our dependence is reciprocal. The fish and the river have provided for us for all those years. Now it is our turn to pay them back."

Before the first dam was built on the Klamath, about 1 million salmon would return to it from the Pacific each year to spawn. Today a return of 100,000 fish is considered a good year.

Although the Klamath's tribes say that fish populations have been dwindling since the construction of the first dam, the devastating decline came in the 1960s, when the final dam was built. It was then that the tribes had to stop their spring ritual; there were no salmon to welcome home.

"When I was young we would catch 100 lampreys in a night," said Mr Hillman. "Now if a fisherman catches 100 lampreys in a season it is considered good. It is not just the salmon that are affected, it is all the fish."

Some 10,000 Native Americans still eke out a living on the Klamath. Tribal elders estimate that 40% of them live below the poverty line. When the fish stocks decline they can go hungry.

The tribes say the way the dams have been managed in recent years is having an increasingly detrimental effect. In 2002 a combination of drought and water management saw 33,000 fish die in the Klamath.

The tribes decided to slap their lawsuit on PacifiCorp and ScottishPower after the company reneged on an agreement to place fish ladders on the Klamath. Federal licences to run the dams are currently up for renewal and, mindful of the tribes' lobbying power, PacifiCorp agreed to install the fish ladders. Then it changed its mind and offered to catch the salmon downstream and transport them up the river.

"They wanted to catch them and truck them up-river. It's laughable," said Jennifer Miller, from the Klamath tribe.

In truth, the tribes' lawsuit probably has little chance of success. In recent years there have been four separate actions against utility companies by Native American tribes. On each occasion, the courts have found for the power company. But the dispute is proving hugely embarrassing. The dams produce 150MW of electricity, only 2% of PacifiCorp's output.

Leaders of the tribe met with ScottishPower's board of directors on Thursday, and were yesterday allowed to speak at the company's AGM. A company spokesman said: "We held constructive talks on a very complex subject."

The tribes are hoping for progress. Mr Hillman said: "They told us we did not need to come. But for decades they have ignored us. Maybe now they will listen." #

Comment: Remove the dams on the Klamath River
Eureka Times-Standard - 7/25/04
By Howard McConnell, chairman of Yurok Tribe
The Yurok Tribe is the most populous Indian tribe in California. Our reservation stretches from the mouth of the Klamath River at the Pacific Ocean to 44 miles upriver. For many years, our people did not have a voice in public affairs. We were even denied citizenship, though we fought and died alongside our fellow Americans in wars overseas defending the rights and freedoms we ourselves did not yet have.

When we speak out on issues concerning life on the Klamath River, we speak with conviction for all people and creatures living in or near the lands the Creator gave to us to cherish and protect forever. This is our sacred mission and the purpose given to us. This purpose is enshrined in our Tribal Constitution. We are speaking now.

We call upon PacifiCorp and ScottishPower's shareholders to take a bold, historic step forward in the preservation of a great species on a great river, the Klamath River, and remove the dams. We believe that they are poised to do so and we call upon all of our friends on the North Coast of California to support them. Very few times in one's life is there an opportunity to realize something truly great. I believe such a time is now. Together, the Yurok people and all the people who love and cherish this earth can help renew the strength and vitality of the salmon of this river.

The existence of dams, these weapons of mass destruction, harms the life cycles of our salmon brothers. That's right, I say "salmon brothers." It is our belief that before there were any people, we were all kindred spirits. Spirits became birds, mammals, reptiles or fish. No creatures are more or less important than the spirits who became people. Thus, we believe all creatures are related as brothers and come from the same Creator. It is hard for me to lift a fish out of the water that has been trapped in my net and not hear him call out to me for help. And with so few salmon in the river these days, it is always with great respect that he will be food for my family and my people. I thank him and the Creator for the sacrifice of his life so that we can eat.

Lately, the heavy burden I feel as I lift up my nets is not the weight of the fish, but of the heavy sadness that so few of my salmon brothers return these days. Our people have noted the steady decline in the numbers of salmon returning each year. In the early 1900s, prior to the first dams being built, this once great river yielded hundreds of thousands of salmon and steelhead. More than a million came back to the river each year in their migration to their ancient spawning grounds upriver. Now, the return of salmon is measured in the tens of thousands. The salmon harvests on the river are so restricted we cannot meet the basic subsistence and commercial needs of our people. All North Coast sports and commercial fisheries have suffered along with us.

Maybe I will quit catching fish for my family, I think, but this will not solve the problem. The threats to my salmon brothers must be removed. The water quality and streambed access for spawning salmon must be restored. The Yurok Tribe will protect our salmon brothers and we call upon all who love the earth and the river to join us, especially PacifiCorp and ScottishPower.

Removal of these dams would be a historic step to restoring Klamath River fish populations. This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that can save our salmon. Let's not allow this moment to pass and be lost along with the salmon forever.#

 

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