Running the Salmon Home: The Winter-Run Chinook Salmon

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This blog is part of a series on the Winnemem Wintu’s Run4Salmon, a two-week long prayerful event and call to action for public awareness about the need to restore the endangered winter-run Chinook salmon to the McCloud River in Northern California. To learn more about the Winnemem Wintu and this sacred relationship with Salmon, read our first post in this series here.

With a capacity of 4.5 million acre-feet, Shasta Lake is California’s largest reservoir, and provides about 17% of the state’s overall capacity for water storage. In the wake of the recent and worst drought in California history –– which lasted for five years, affected 90% of the state, and prompted Governor Jerry Brown to declare a three-year-long drought state of emergency –– large-scale infrastructure projects like the Shasta Dam are often applauded as remedial efforts to respond to water shortages, while the environmental, ecological, and cultural consequences of these projects go underrepresented or unaddressed. In Northern California, this indifference is evidenced by the lack of urgency expressed by both the government and the general public in responding to the threats that the proposed raising of the Shasta Dam poses towards human and non-human life in the area.

Chief Caleen Sisk at the 2016 Run4Salmon. Photo: Toby McLeod
Where have the Salmon gone?

Chinook salmon are anadromous fish, meaning they migrate upstream as adults to lay and fertilize their eggs in cold water and return downstream as juveniles to mature in the ocean. In the early nineteenth century, four distinct populations of Winter-Run Chinook Salmon flourished in the Sacramento River system. The fish spawned in upper tributaries for thousands of years –– in the McCloud, Pit, and Little Sacramento Rivers –– but California’s waterways and wetlands were drastically altered with the influx of Gold Rush settlers and the westward expansion of the American colonial project. In the mid-twentieth century, construction of the Shasta Dam blocked the salmon’s traditional spawning path along the river system and permanently altered the geological and ecological makeup of the region. Furthermore, above the dam, the rapid flood of water into the Shasta reservoir inundated homelands, burial grounds, and sacred sites of the land’s Native peoples –– including the Winnemem Wintu –– while water levels below the dam decreased, substantially reducing the river system’s ability to support the wildlife that depended on it.

In 1871, the Federal Government created the National Fish Hatchery System to manage the rapid population decrease of once-abundant fish populations nationwide. The first national fish hatchery, the Baird Hatchery, was built on the McCloud River. While these hatcheries have certainly been instrumental in preventing the extinction of countless species –– including the Winter-run Chinook –– they also contribute to decreased levels of genetic diversity and prevent the fish from fully developing their natural survival instincts.

Despite these early conservation efforts, Winter-run Chinook Salmon were listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act in 1994. Today, only one of the original four populations that once flourished in the Sacramento River system remains, and as their access to cold-water tributaries like the McCloud River is still obstructed by the Shasta Dam, Winter-Run Chinook are left with one short stretch of the Sacramento River as their only available natural breeding waters. As a result, only 5% returned to the rivers to spawn in 2014, and only 1% returned to spawn in 2015.

Shasta Dam. Photo: Toby McLeod.
The Winnemem’s fight to restore this sacred relationship

In 2005 the Winnemem Wintu tribe, to whom salmon are considered sacred, discovered that Winter-run Chinook eggs that had been sent to New Zealand’s South Island from the Baird Hatchery decades ago have spawned and flourished in the Rakaia River –– the only other place in the world where this has happened. According to the Winnemem’s proposed plan for salmon restoration, genetic diversity and necessary adaptive traits have been preserved in the Rakaia River salmon in ways that were impossible in the McCloud River following construction of the Shasta Dam and alteration of the surrounding waterways. After visiting the local Maori tribe and the salmon in New Zealand, the Winnemem have proposed that salmon from the Rakaia River be used to reintroduce Winter-run Chinook back into the Sacramento River system.

The Winnemem Wintu are advocating for spiritual and cultural awareness to be practiced in the development of this restoration plan. The tribe hopes that repatriation of their sacred salmon back to the McCloud River waters will be recognized as an act of restoring ecological health and spiritual balance to the homelands they have shared with the Winter-run Chinook for thousands of years.

The McCloud River in historical Winnemem homelands, which would be further affected by the proposed raising of Shasta Dam. Photo: Jessica Abbe.
The Run4Salmon

Restoring wild salmon to our waters is crucial to protecting the biological health of river ecosystems, as well as supporting the traditional and spiritual ways of life of the Indigenous peoples who lived on this land, with these same fish, long before western invasion and settlement intruded and put these relationships in jeopardy. The 2017 Run4Salmon, which will begin in Ohlone territory here in the Bay Area on September 8th, is part of the Winnemem Wintu tribe’s ongoing effort to bring the sacred salmon back home.

A traditional Winnemem dugout canoe on the McCloud River during the 2016 Run4Salmon. Photo: Jessica Abbe.

For more information on the Run4Salmon and ways to get involved, stay tuned for the next post in our Running the Salmon Home series. You can also follow the Run4Salmon journey on Instagram.

And to learn how you can stand alongside the Winnemem Wintu in their immediate efforts to bring the salmon home, visit here.

 

Blog post by Fiona McLeod, WEA Program + Operations Intern

Meet the Interns: Hi, Fiona!

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We’re wrapping up our summer intern series and are so excited to introduce you to Fiona! Fiona is a smart, passionate and committed advocate who has been busy supporting our Programs + Operations team this summer, specifically through our local efforts (have you seen her blog post on the upcoming Run4Salmon?). Her insights and care have helped to shape our summer, and we’re so honored to have her with us!

Please help us in giving Fiona a warm welcome!


Name: Fiona McLeod
Hometown: Berkeley, California

If you had a superpower, what would it be (and why)? I would want to be able to teleport myself around the world. I love traveling and exploring new places. If I could teleport, I could walk out of the library, hop on over to the Pacific Crest Trail or the Great Barrier Reef for a study break, and then get back in time for my next class.

Why did you want to intern with WEA? I have been following WEA’s work for many years, and always knew it was an organization that I wanted to be a part of. At school, I am majoring in American Studies with a concentration in Native and Indigenous Studies, and I hope to focus my future studies (and maybe eventually my career) at the intersection between human rights and the environment. WEA, with their Shedding Light on Environmental Violence project and other work with local indigenous communities, is the perfect place for me to become involved with this type of work!

Tell us about a woman who inspires you. My mom and her three older sisters are some of the most empathetic, passionate, and resilient women I know. These women are artists, teachers, and leaders in everything that they do, and they ground my entire extended family with an appreciation for the incredible strength that they show every day.

Why women and why the environment? Especially in the current global political climate, I believe it is more important than ever to invest in communities that are disproportionately affected by social and systemic injustices. Investing in women means supporting the health and well-being of entire communities and the environment at large, and provides women with a higher degree of agency to create positive change in the world.

What does your life outside WEA look like? When I’m not at WEA, you can usually find me reading a book by the ocean, hanging out with my family, or wandering around taking photos. I also work at a circus camp during the summer and am currently interning at an environmental law firm, Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA). In between all that, I’m planning an upcoming three-month-long solo trip to Argentina and Chile!

What’s your favorite thing to do in the Bay Area? When I’m away at school, the thing I miss most about home is spending time outdoors with my friends and family. The Bay has an unbelievable wealth and variety of beautiful places that are all so close together…if you live here you can be in the mountains, the woods, and at the beach all in one day, and I can’t imagine anything better than that.

What are you currently reading / watching / listening to? So far, my favorite books of the summer have been On Beauty by Zadie Smith and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. I’m currently reading The Glass Castle and get basically all my news from listening to Pod Save America with my brother.

[In the News] A Look at Land Rights for Women Farmers in India

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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Here at WEA, we recognize that women are the backbone of communities and often play a much more significant role in community care-taking and resource management (i.e. food, water, energy, etc.) than they are often recognized for. This article published by The Indian Express discusses this dilemma. Women comprise up to 65 percent of all agricultural workers, yet despite their work and contributions to both family and community, they are still not legally recognized as farmers. This is because of current land ownership laws — ownership of land by women is not something that is protected or governed under the law. This often exacerbates unequal gendered norms, such as a lack of access to bank loans, crop insurance, and other government subsidies and benefits for farmers.

Source: Express Photo By Prashant Ravi

As many as 87 per cent of women do not own their land; only 12.7 per cent of them do. There are two primary reasons for the alarmingly low number: One, land being a state subject is not governed by the constitution under a uniform law that applies equally to all citizens but rather is governed by personal religious laws, which tend to discriminate against women when it comes to land inheritance. Second, the cultural aspect of the deep-rooted biases that hinder women’s ownership of land in patriarchal societies cannot be discounted.

Providing women with access to secure land is key to incentivising the majority of India’s women farmers. This, coupled with the need to make investments to improve harvests, will result in increased productivity and improve household food security and nutrition. As has been determined from numerous studies conducted worldwide, women have a greater propensity to use their income for the needs of their households. Land-owning women’s offspring thus receive better nourishment and have better health indicators. Land-owning mothers also tend to invest in their children’s education. Ultimately, this is a win-win situation all around — for the farmer, her family and the larger ecosystem.

Another recent article published by The Daily Mail discusses this issue of a lack of land ownership recognition of women even further:

Nearly three-quarters of rural women in India depend on land for a livelihood compared to about 60 percent of rural men, as lower farm incomes push many men to the cities for jobs. Yet land titles are nearly always in the man’s name. Only about 13 percent of rural women own land, which keeps them from accessing cheap bank loans, crop insurance and other government subsidies and benefits for farmers.

The macro-level results of securing women farmers’ land tenure are clear, but consider for a moment the impact it would have at the micro-level — the wiping away of the debilitating feelings of insecurity and vulnerability for rural women. The chance of propertied women being physically abused is reduced from 49 per cent to 7 per cent due to an increase in the wife’s bargaining power. If female farmers are provided security of land tenure, they will be officially recognised as farmers and hence, will see their household bargaining power increase. Women farmers’ self-confidence and agency will slowly grow and expand outside just their household.

These articles underscore the need for investments in locally-led grassroots efforts to secure land rights for women farmers. For these reasons and more, WEA Projects over the years have focused on these very issues. For more on our work to support rural women farmers in India, visit our Projects page.

Read the full article by The Indian Press here, and the full article by The Daily Mail here.

 

First Public Preview of Land and Lens Photographs

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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In March, WEA’s Seeds of Resilience Project partner Vanastree, a women farmer’s seed-saving collective in Karnataka State, India, held their first photography training for project participants and community members, kicking off the storytelling component of this work called Land and Lens. This unique initiative supports the project’s ongoing efforts to ensure rural women farmers are equipped with multimedia and storytelling tools that will enable them to tell their stories of seed sovereignty, food sovereignty, and the future they envision for their communities.

We’re thrilled to share this first public preview of photographs taken by project participants trained through Land and Lens.

Showcased in this video is the photography of 9 intergenerational women from rural India — none of them had ever held a professional-level camera before. As part of Land and Lens, each photography student received basic camera training and as many as 3 week-long, self-guided sessions with their donated camera. The photos you see in this video were taken during those independent sessions.

For more information on Land and Lens, visit the official Facebook page for this initiative. For more on the Seeds of Resilience Project, visit our project page.

WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves entrepreneurs take next steps in their clean energy businesses

Project: WISE Women's Clean Cookstoves Project

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The WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves entrepreneurs have been busy lately! Recently, representatives from each cookstove micro-enterprise team gathered together with our project partner WISE in Kaduna city to meet their new project financial advisor, Mrs. Regina Poto. We are thrilled to have her as an advisor because of her long tenure in the banking sector — she is a perfect fit for our WISE team!

During this meeting, the women entrepreneurs were given a refresher course on the financial topics and tools covered during our April and May training intensives. In addition, they also had the opportunity to update their business plans based on real order numbers and operating costs they’ve experienced since being in the field these past two months.

It has been so inspiring to watch these leaders grow their commitment and businesses to provide clean, safe cooking solutions to their communities!

To learn more about the WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Project, be sure to visit our project page!