Running the Salmon Home: Lifeways and Waters of the Winnemem Wintu

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When we first bubbled out of our sacred spring on Mt. Shasta at the time of creation, we were helpless and unable to speak. It was salmon, the Nur, who took pity on us humans and gave us their voice. In return, we promised to always speak for them.  

― Winnemem Wintu Spiritual and Cultural Belief

Photo Courtesy of Toby McLeod

The Winnemem Wintu are the indigenous peoples whose homelands are found in Northern California along the McCloud River. With the Sacramento River to the west and Pit River to the east, Winnemem Wintu means “Middle Water People,” and for thousands of years, the tribe has protected the sacred waters that give them their name.

As their creation story shares, when the Winnemem emerged from a sacred spring on Mt. Shasta, they were unable to speak. Salmon took pity on them and gave the Winnemem their voice. In exchange, the Winnemem promised that they would forever honor this gift by speaking for and defending Salmon. However, their abilities to uphold this promise and maintain this sacred relationship have been compromised over time by chemical agriculture, extractive industry, and resource development in the region. During the California Gold Rush, the Winnemem population decreased from around 14,000 to 395 in a period of about 50 years, and settlers devastated the tribe’s ability to access and carry out traditional practices such as hunting and fishing. Today, the tribe’s population is approximately 150.

But in strength, resilience and prayer, the Winnemem Wintu have fought to honor their lifeways time and again. In the face of a settler society and the injustices it has imposed upon this land’s indigenous peoples over time, the Winnemem stand up to government officials and disruptful tourists alike in order to continue their traditional customs and ceremonies. WEA is honored to have worked with the Winnemem Wintu and Chief Caleen Sisk –– Spiritual Leader and Tribal Chief –– through our Advocacy Network, which coordinated legal advocacy services for indigenous environmental campaigns in North America. WEA stands alongside them this year for the second annual Run4Salmon event to raise awareness for protecting their waters, lifeways, and sacred relationship with Salmon.

Photo Courtesy of Toby McLeod
The Run4Salmon

In September of 2016, Chief Sisk led the Winnemem in organizing the first Run4Salmon, a 300-mile journey from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region to the tribe’s historic village site on the McCloud river. The two-week long event marks a call to action for public awareness about the need to restore the endangered winter-run Chinook salmon, which were once abundant along the McCloud River but are now severely threatened by climate change and construction of dams in the area, namely the Shasta and Keswick dams, which block the fishes’ access to their spawning waters. A philosophy of respect and reciprocity is central to the Winnemem way of life, and the entire Run4Salmon campaign is informed by this understanding of the importance of honoring and maintaining the ecological and spiritual balance of the lands, waters, and our place within that cycle.

After last year’s Run4Salmon, the Winnemem were able to meet with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to request that their proposed plan for restoration of the winter-run Chinook be considered for funding. Planning for this year’s Run4Salmon –– which will take place from September 9-23 –– is well underway. Rooted in prayer, advocacy, and care, the Run4Salmon invites allies and community members to support the Winnemem in this remarkable effort to lay down blessings and guide the salmon home.

The Run4Salmon honors an ancient bond and facilitates the formation of a widespread alliance of warriors and protectors. This blog series intends to spread awareness about the Run4Salmon and the important work that indigenous women lead in our immediate community as part of a larger movement for indigenous rights and the rights of Mother Earth.

Read Part 2 of the Running the Salmon Home series here.

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 immediately support the Winnemem Wintu in their efforts to bring the salmon home, visit here.

 

Blog post by Fiona McLeod, WEA Program + Operations Intern

Malnad Mela Festival in Sirsi celebrates seeds and artists

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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In June, WEA’s Seeds of Resilience project partner, Vanastree, held their 17th Malnad Mela in Sirsi, India. Vanastree has held this festival every year since 2001. The Mela — a community biodiversity festival where farmers and producers can gather to display and share their produce and products — strives to bring awareness to the environmental challenges in the Western Ghats region of India, and highlight the important role of women as ambassadors for food security and seed sovereignty in their local communities.

Vanastree vendors talking with Mela visitors.

The Mela is a community affair — bustling and full of action. Highlights from the festival included displays of organic seeds, tubers and diverse planting materials, traditional foods and crafts and even a pickling competition! In addition to the goods and demonstrations available for visitors, Dr. A.R. Vasavi, social anthropologist and founder of Punarchith (a trust based in Chamarajnagar that also partners with Vanastree), also gave a keynote address discussing the critical challenges faced by rural and agricultural communities, especially women.

“It is imperative and urgent that the women of Malnad recognize the wealth that is within their boundaries and their own roles and positions that are tied to this.…At a time when social changes are taking place at a pace far faster than we can comprehend and adapt, it is important that we recognize that seeds are for the wellbeing and future of communities. They are meant to be shared, sold, and exchanged among people and as the Vanastree members have shown us over the years, their place is with and among us as it is in this mela.”

– Dr. Vasavi, founder of Punarchith, giving the keynote address of the Malnad Mela

An exciting addition to the June’s Mela was a photo presentation given by women and youth photographers participating in Land and Lens – the new storytelling component of the Seeds of Resilience project. Land and Lens has three simple goals:

  1. Mentor rural women and youth in advanced camera skills
  2. Encourage participants to fearlessly reveal their land, lives and inherent creativity through the camera lens
  3. Provide rural women and youth with venues, as artists, to share their work.

At the Mela, Land and Lens artists and Vanastree members answered questions and fielded interest in the program, while showcasing their stunning photography of their connection to the lands and environment they live in. For the first time, Vanastree also had select Land and Lens photographers be the official photographers for event.

Land and Lens booth, where Mela visitors ask questions of the photographers about their art.

Land and Lens…is an extension of [our] mission — in discovering the many talents that individuals in our community did not know they had, and then applying those talents to further enhance and protect the natural and social environment of their home lands.”

– Sunita Rao, founder of Vanastree

Many participants and visitors of Sirsi’s Malnad Mela reported back that this annual festival is about more than just trade; the value of the Malnad Mela each year has been a day of gathering, conversation, seeds, plant and information exchange and an atmosphere of conviviality. This is the sort of thing that has no price tag, and we couldn’t be happier to have been involved!

 

Meet the Interns: Hey, Laura!

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We are so excited to welcome another incredible young women to our WEA internship team this Summer! Meet Laura, who is poised to make a significant impact on the world. Laura will be supporting our Programs + Operations this month. We can’t wait to learn from her and weave her into WEA’s fabric. Please help us give her a warm welcome!

Name: Laura Lira

Hometown: Hayward, CA

If you had a superpower, what would it would be (and why)?: The ability to shapeshift! I could turn into whichever animal I want and be big or small, fly or swim.

How did you find WEA? I found WEA through a dear mentor and teacher who thought that this organization was doing great things! She really wanted me to learn about WEA and the work they do to support powerful women and a protected environment. My teacher knew I was passionate about both of these two fundamental issues (critical to improving our communities), so I was really fortunate she made that connection for me.

Why did you want to intern with WEA? I wanted to intern at WEA because I became so on-board with the idea of creating opportunities for women to thrive and protect the environment. It is important to provide women with the tools they need so they are capable of creating strong communities. WEA’s work tackles more than one problem.

Tell us about a woman who inspires you. It is hard to name one person as I draw inspirations from multiple women in my life. My mom, my look-alike aunt, and one of my former English teachers all have qualities (independence, strength, love, and simplicity towards life) that I admire and want to integrate in myself.
Why women and why the environment? Women are a powerful force. We live in a world that has forced women to be dependent, and held back, so giving them the resources they need to rise is very necessary. The disregard to the environment has also gone on way longer than it should have, and continuing that will bring about terrible ends. Throughout trips I have taken I have held all my encounters with nature close to me. It’s important that we stop delaying change and instead create a more conscious and healthy relationship with the earth and all that it provides us.

What does your life outside WEA look like? Outside of WEA, I spend my time teaching martial arts, volunteering at the zoo, and rooting for the San Francisco Giants! I also really like drawing and learning about animals. Raising awareness to the public about the ways human activities affect wildlife and their environment has grown to be a part of my life. As I spread the word, I also work to eliminate the things I know I’m doing that negatively affect the environment.

What’s your favorite thing to do in the Bay Area? My favorite thing to do in the Bay Area is to explore new places. I’ve lived here all my life and I still have so many places to see, hike, and just adventure through with friends.

What are you currently reading / watching / listening to? I’m currently reading State of Wonder and trying to catch up on The Flash.

The Kurama Women Enterprise team shares clean cookstove technology with their community

Project: WISE Women's Clean Cookstoves Project

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Earlier this spring, WEA and WISE (Women’s Initiative for Sustainable Environment) hosted two week-long training intensives for the women participants of the WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Project, which trains local women leaders from Kaduna State in Nigeria to use, promote and sell clean cookstoves. After growing their skills through business training, leadership and advocacy development, and financial planning, these entrepreneurs have launched their own clean cookstove businesses and are well on their way to improving the health and safety of countless women in their home communities, reducing deforestation and greenhouse gases, and increasing their own — and others — household savings.

The Kurama Women Enterprise is just one 15 two-person teams that took part in the WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training. After completing our both training intensives in April and May, entrepreneurs Elizabeth Bawa and Rifkatu Yakubu have been busy organizing outreach events in their community to spread the word about this life-saving technology. Their plan is to sell 120 clean cookstoves in their first 6 months!

Here’s an inside look at one of their recent community demonstrations:


 
To learn more about the WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Project, visit our project page.

The data is in…

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In case you missed it, WEA’s latest WEAvings newsletter is dedicated to Drawdown, the New York Times best seller that maps, measures, models, and describes the 100 most substantive solutions for reversing the buildup of atmospheric carbon within 30 years. Author, environmentalist, entrepreneur, and WEA Board member, Paul Hawken is also an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, and for years has emphasized the cascading benefits that occur in societies when women are supported to thrive. In Drawdown, the data speaks for itself. The top two solutions (family planning and educating girls) combine to make “…empowering girls and women…the most impactful tool for achieving drawdown.” Several other key solutions like Women Smallholders and Clean Cookstoves also underscore the critical importance of investing in our world’s women.

Every day, WEA training participants, trainers, and leaders model this most basic truth: when women are equipped with resources, agency, and support, they not only profoundly impact their local environment, but they create a positive ripple effect that lifts up entire countries.

As Drawdown describes:

“Due to existing inequalities, women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable to [the impacts of global warming], from disease to natural disaster. At the same time, women and girls are pivotal to addressing global warming successfully — and to humanity’s overall resilience…Suppression and marginalization along gender lines actually hurt[s] everyone, while equity is good for all. These solutions show that enhancing the rights and well-being of women and girls could improve the future of life on this planet.”

Within our newsletter, you can check out our project highlights and learn how WEA participants implement specific drawdown solutions for reversing global warming. Read on here.

Cheers to drawing down and reaching up!