Klamath Tribes and the KBRA Fish Kill

Politics have taken priority over tribal member’s inherent rights and the rights of Klamath River salmon. The controversial Klamath Basin Restoration Act (KBRA) claims to restore fish however KBRA mandates recently denied increased flows to Klamath River Chinook salmon.

An article by Associated Press reporter Jeff Barnard warned “A deadly salmon parasite is thriving in the drought, infecting nearly all the juvenile Chinook in the Klamath River in Northern California as they prepare to migrate to the ocean.”

According to Barnard, “the Klamath Fish Healthy Advisory Team, made up of state and federal agencies and Indian tribes, warns a major fish kill is likely. NOAA Fisheries Service have asked for extra water releases to flush out worms that carry the parasite, known as C shasta.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says after four years of drought, it has no water to spare for Chinook salmon.

“The parasite, whose full name is Ceratomyxa shasta, occurs naturally in the Klamath, but the worm that serves as a host thrives when water gets warm and flows are reduced, which is the case during drought,” according to Jerri Bartholomew, professor of microbiology at Oregon State University.

Bartholomew reported sampling shows nearly 100 percent of juvenile Chinook are infected, though not all of them will die. Water samples show C shasta spores reached lethal levels in April and since then have gotten worse.”

This devastating news is a stark reminder of 2002 when 68,000 Chinook salmon died from low water levels in the Klamath River. This leaves many questions about an agreement that claims to restore fish. Klamath Tribes supporters of the KBRA often tout the phrase “Bring home the salmon.”

In a recent news segment by KTVL News Channel 10 Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry claimed having the salmon gone has hurt the Klamath tribes economically because tribal members have to buy salmon instead of fishing for it.

Tribal members question the reasoning of this statement and suggest that if the Klamath Tribes are struggling economically it could be due to financial mismanagement not purchasing salmon.

Each tribe has a different relationship to salmon and a different reaction.

In 2005, Hoopa and Yurok youth from Hoopa Valley High School founded the Great Salmon Run of the Klamath-Trinity Rivers.

The original run held on May 27, 2005 began at the mouth of the Klamath River ending at the south fork of the Trinity. The run was intended to raise awareness about the plight of the salmon and promote health within the community.

Each person who participated contributed two-mile segments while carrying a salmon shaped baton.

Erika Chase a Salmon Run co-founder said, “A lot of people may have read newspapers or may have seen the pictures. That speaks for itself, but in the same sense you need to know the facts behind that. You need to know what caused it so that it can be prevented.”

From the beginning, participants acknowledged spiritual practices and places alongside the activity of running. At the conclusion of the run a salmon is ceremonially cooked and then eaten. Remembering former First Salmon ceremonies the participants made commitments to not eat salmon for one year as medicine for the salmon’s continuance.

The run still exists today and for the first time the Klamath Tribes will be participating. The 260-mile route has been extended to Chiloquin, Oregon. All appearances indicate the Klamath Tribes involvement is to raise political awareness and gain support for the KBRA.

It is disconcerting to witness the commercialization of a spiritual ceremony for political purposes.

Kayla Carpenter, Salmon Run co-founder said, “As a co-founder of the Salmon Run, I am for dam removal and against the KBRA. I would feel bad if someone felt they couldn’t participate because of any particular runner or coordinator’s stance on the KBRA. The run was founded by youth of different tribes in response to the fish kill in 2002 before the KBRA and has also always supported non-Indian participation as well.” 

As we enter into the summer drought season, defenders of sacred water prepare for political and most importantly spiritual issues.

The fate of our sacred water is in our hands and without it we cease to be a people. 

The 260 Mile Salmon Run begins at the Pacific Ocean on May 29 and finishes in Chiloquin, Oregon noon, Monday, June 1.

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