Running the Salmon Home: Celebrating the Women Leading the Way

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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 Run4Salmon, read our first post in this series here and our second post here.

Photo: Toby McLeod

From the historic gathering of Indigenous Nations at the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock last year, to women-led grassroots groups organizing environmentally-centered social movements in South Asia; from the Lenca peoples’ effort to obstruct the Agua Zarca Dam alongside Berta Cáceres in Honduras, to West African women working to solve the water crises in their communities, women are at the forefront of environmental movements around the world. As Mohawk elder Katsi Cook teaches, “Women are the first environment.”  

For Indigenous communities –– particularly Indigenous women –– this connection between land, body, and community is deeply felt; our previous post about the Winnemem Wintu’s sacred responsibility to Salmon shared that the harm caused by environmental destruction and environmental violence affects both the physical and spiritual health of landscapes and the lives that depend on them, both human and non-human alike.

This is why extractive industries and large-scale infrastructure projects like the Shasta Dam that alter –– and often damage –– indigenous territories are so harmful. The same can be said about the proposed construction of a $1.4-billion, thirty meter telescope at the summit of sacred Mauna Kea, which has activated strong resistance from Native Hawaiians and their allies. It is also why the Dakota Access Pipeline, which cuts through sacred territory and burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux and poses an insurmountable threat to clean water sources in the region, led to historic inter-tribal gathering of Indigenous Nations and allies standing together in solidarity as water protectors.

A participant in the 2016 Run4Salmon demonstrates outside the California State Capitol. Photo: Toby McLeod

The relationships and networks that exist between these movements for social change, environmental justice, and Indigenous rights are more visible now than ever before with technology and social media networks emerging as powerful tools for global connectivity. But these ties existed long before online platforms provided the accessibility and ease of information exchange we are used to today; this is work that indigenous communities and women leaders have been doing for centuries.

The Women of the Run4Salmon

“In a way I do this work to honor my ancestors and to fulfill my purpose and my duty on this planet to protect Mother Earth and to protect our waters. If you have a belly button, and if you bleed red, these are your causes too.”

–– Niria Alicia (Xicana), Honor the Earth Fellow

Here in Northern California, women leaders like Chief Caleen Sisk (Winnemem Wintu), Corrina Gould (Confederated Villages of Lisjan/Ohlone), Niria Alicia (Xicana), and Desirae Harp (Mishewal OnastaTis, Diné) are working with a coalition of native and non-native supporters to organize the Run4Salmon, a prayerful journey that highlights the intersectional nature of Indigenous peoples, women, and our collective sacred connection to the environment. During the Run, for example, security teams will be led by women volunteers, and women activists and organizers have been instrumental in guiding this year’s journey.

Widespread support for the Winnemem’s efforts has come pouring in from allies around the world and is visible on the Run4Salmon Instagram, and the movement has also brought together women from many different places and backgrounds, uniting under a common cause for Indigenous rights and environmental and social justice.

Here are a few of the inspirational women leaders involved in the Run4Salmon and other movements for Indigenous rights and Mother Earth:  

  • Chief Caleen Sisk is the spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu. Guided by the mentorship of her great-aunt Florence Jones, who was the Winnemem spiritual leader for 68 years, Caleen has led the tribe’s resistance against the Shasta Dam, as well as their efforts to return to customary Winnemem ceremonies and bring the sacred Winter-run Chinook salmon home to their traditional spawning waters along the McCloud River.
Chief Caleen Sisk at the 2016 Run4Salmon. Photo: Jessica Abbe
  • Corrina Gould is the Co-Founder and Lead Organizer of Indian People Organizing for Change (IPOC), an organization working on Indigenous issues in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most recently, IPOC has been facilitating the resistance against proposed development of an ancient Ohlone shellmound site in West Berkeley. Led by Corrina’s guidance, activists recently put forth an alternative proposal for the site, which features a museum, a monument to the Ohlone people and their sacred sites, and would re-surface Strawberry Creek, which was diverted underground during the first developments of the land. As the Run4Salmon begins in Ohlone territory, Corrina has been involved in organizing the opening days of the event, which will include a ceremony at the West Berkeley Shellmound to honor the Ohlone people and their lands.
Corrina Gould at the site of the historic Ohlone shellmound in West Berkeley. Photo: Toby McLeod.
  • Pua Case and Hāwane Rios (Kanaka Maoli) are a mother-daughter team whose efforts to protect sacred sites and lifeways in Hawai`i have brought them from Mauna Kea to Mount Shasta, to stand with and sing alongside Indigenous peoples around the world in a collective effort to preserve the mountains and waters that give and support life. Their songs are unforgettable, their message unignorable, as they call for solidarity and strength in the name of aloha ʻāina. They participated in the 2016 Run4Salmon and will be joining the Winnemem again for this year’s run.
Pua Case and Hāwane Rios at Coonrod, an annual Winnemem Ceremony, in 2015. Photo: Toby McLeod.
  • Winona LaDuke is the Executive Director of Honor the Earth, which she co-founded with the Indigo Girls in 1993, and has worked for decades to advocate for the preservation of tribal land claims and traditional Indigenous lifeways. Winona is an environmentalist, activist, and orator, and she has been an active presence in Indigenous movements from Standing Rock to the Run4Salmon.

“It’s the Winnemem Wintu’s right to exist and the right of an ecosystem to live . . . And to stand here with the Wintu is important to my own person, as a spiritual being and a person who is a beneficiary of this ecosystem, and then also because it is this chance to do the right thing.”

–– Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe), Executive Director of Honor the Earth

Winona LaDuke and Caleen Sisk. Photo: Toby McLeod.

In a video called “Salmon Will Run,” which was recently released by Nahko and Medicine for the People, the voices of many of these women leaders help us understand the vital importance of supporting efforts like the Run4Salmon and standing in solidarity with movements for the protection of Indigenous peoples rights and lifeways, and the amplification of Native voices everywhere.

Nahko Bear at the 2016 Run4Salmon. Photo: Jessica Abbe.

For more information on the Run4Salmon, read our previous posts in the Running the Salmon Home series here and here. You can also follow the Run4Salmon journey on Instagram and Facebook.

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

The Run4Salmon begins with a Shellmound Ceremony at the West Berkeley Shellmound TOMORROW, September 8th. You can see a full schedule of R4S gatherings and the official itinerary here.

To volunteer for the 2017 Run4Salmon or register to participate in the journey, visit here.

 

Blog post by Fiona McLeod, WEA Program + Operations Intern

Together for H2OPE begins training community leaders in WASH

Project: Together for H2OPE

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Our Together for H2OPE: India Project team  — led by implementing partner Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET) — recently brought together a group of community leaders and volunteers from the Tonganagaon Tea Estate to build good practices in water management, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) through demonstrations, home visits, and educational events. The goal of this “Training of Trainers” (ToT) program is to give these volunteers the background knowledge, skills and experience that would be helpful to them as they go on to provide training and technical assistance to members of their community.

One of the primary activities of the ToT was the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) activity facilitated by a water expert from the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED). The activity asked participants to draw a map of the tea estate using different colors to represent different areas (e.g. roadside, temple, etc.) and highlighting where open defecation still occurs — an ongoing and complex issue in India. The water expert then led a discussion of where this fecal matter goes and how it travels, and participants were able to make the connection that some of it might even flow into the food they eat and water they drink.

It’s been incredible to support these community leaders as they step into their new roles as trainers, growing their own commitment to providing their families and neighbors with critical information on access and practices to ensure safe and clean water.

In addition to the CLTS activity, the ToT phase of our Together for H2OPE Project also included a trip for these emerging trainers to Digboi College. There, they were able to view water samples under a microscope, learn the more technical aspects of safe versus contaminated water, and solidify their awareness about the water their tea community consumes and where it comes from.

We look forward to seeing these leaders implement their new training skills as they share their knowledge and expertise with other members of the Tonganagaon Tea Estate. This is truly a community-led efforts, and we are honored to be a part of it!

To learn more about our H2OPE project, please visit our project page.

WISE Clean Cookstoves Training: An update from our Clean Cookstoves Women Entrepreneurs

Project: WISE Women's Clean Cookstoves Project

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On August 15th, the Atan Care Business Enterprise Team (one of the 15 two-person teams participating in WEA and WISE Nigeria’s Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training) hosted a community outreach event to share more about life-saving clean cookstoves with women in their local village.

Countless studies point to the adoption of affordable, effective, and durable clean cooking technologies as a key influencer on our planet. WEA works in Nigeria with women-led NGO, WISE, to train women in clean cookstoves entrepreneurship and to build a replicable training model for other regions. Around 93,000 people die each year of smoke-related illnesses in Nigeria, and globally 3 billion people cook over open fires, producing 2-5% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Shifting to clean cookstoves reduces emissions while also protecting women’s health.

The training participants (in teams of two) have returned to their communities, equipped with new skills and seed grants to launch clean energy initiatives based on their business plans. They’ve hit the ground running – hosting outreach events to demonstrate the benefits of cookstoves and to motivate community members to purchase this life-saving solution.

Check out photos from an outreach event below, where clean cookstove entrepreneurs Anna Avong and Angelina Boye presented clean cookstoves to their community. Anna and Angelina’s Atan Care Business Enterprise Team chose to demonstrate the benefits of these stoves by cooking Nigerian jollof rice – a local favorite. Not surprisingly, participants immediately lined up to purchase stoves!

It continues to be such an honor to stand alongside these women leaders as they grow their business and advocacy skills, and create demand for clean cookstoves in their communities. It’s even more uplifting to see the collaboration, support and solidarity they offer each other – the key to success in our WEA training model.

Photos: WISE

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

[In the News] Climate Change and Food Security in Nepal

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

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Over the past few years, Nepal has faced troubling weather events and a substantial body of evidence points to climate change as a primary cause. Longer droughts, frequent flooding of rivers (due to melting glaciers), and extended summer seasons have directly impacted agricultural production and the availability of food, most especially for poorer communities. This recent article by The Diplomat discusses this in more depth.

There is a substantial body of evidence that points to climate change as jeopardizing food security in Nepal. A recent study by the WFP concludes that food security in Nepal is highly sensitive to climate risks. The study highlights that recent climate-related events in Nepal like droughts, floods, and glacial melt impact crop production, people’s access to markets, and income. As per data revealed by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) of Nepal, “over the last decade, around 30,845 hectares of land owned by almost five percent of households became uncultivable due to the climate-related hazards.” Studies have predicted that if climate change continues to jeopardize agricultural production in Nepal, the livelihoods of two-thirds of the people will be at risk.

Climate change not only affects agricultural production and availability of food in Nepal, but also has a negative impact on access to food for the poor. Climate-related events have contributed to decreases in agricultural production in Nepal, which in turn has caused high inflation in the food market. The WFP’s report stated that the percentage of households spending a “very high” proportion of their income on food has increased in Nepal, which sequentially has exacerbated poverty and hunger in the country.


Nepal is not the only developing country whose food security is in jeopardy as a result o climate change. Many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia face similar threats as well. To counter this food crisis, the article posits that a tangible policy response is needed — specifically, the international community has an obligation to support our fellow community members in those countries, like Nepal, that are often hit hardest by climate change-induced food insecurity.

WEA’s South Asia Small Grants Initiative reflects our commitment to these efforts. From 2012-2015, this initiative provided women-led grassroots organizations with strategic small grants to fuel collective efforts and social movements in India and Nepal. Today, the groups we partnered with continue to work tirelessly to ensure food sovereignty, environmental sustainability, climate justice and dignified livelihoods for women in their communities and regions.

Read the full article by The Diplomat here, and for more information on our South Asia Small Grants Initiative, visit our project page.

WEAre Together for H2OPE: How Tea Saved a Village

Project: Together for H2OPE

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In the Spring of 2016, Numi Foundation and WEA launched the Together for H2OPE Project, an innovative partnership to ensure clean, safe drinking water to the 6,500 residents of the Tonganagaon tea community in Northern Assam, India. Since its launch, our project team on the ground has been busy building partnerships, hosting capacity building and leadership trainings for community members around water, sanitation and hygiene, and growing our own knowledge about the challenges and needs of women and families in the tea community.

In this blog post featuring Project Partner Numi Foundation, blogger Hannah Theisen invites you on a journey to the Tonganagaon tea estate (the largest Fair Trade tea estate in India) to learn more about the history of this once-struggling tea community, and how a little bit of “H2OPE” allowed it — and the thousands of men, women and children who rely on it for income — to thrive.

Photo: Hannah Thiesen

It’s a monumental task, and one that would be impossible to tackle without partners willing to pay a fair price for the tea the estate produces. Companies like Numi, who pay fair trade prices for each kilo of Tonganagaon tea, have provided much of the funds used to improve standards of living in Tonganagaon’s villages with items like cooking stoves and other household goods (Numi alone has contributed more than $100,000 in fair trade premiums to-date in Assam). Numi and Chamong’s partnership on the Together for H2OPE campaign is a beautiful example of the change that happens when both producer and consumer care about the people behind a product.

Before I visited Tonganagaon Tea Estate, I wasn’t sure exactly what story I wanted to tell… Little did I know that the story that would inspire me the most was learning about how tea “saved” a village, and how companies like Chamong and Numi are making unconventional business decisions that put people’s lives before easy profits.

Read the full blog post here, and for more information on the Together for H2OPE Project, visit our project page.