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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.

[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.

 

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

U.S. withdraws from Paris Accord, and the impact on women

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Yesterday, U.S. government officials announced their decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement endorsed by almost all countries in the world. This agreement expresses a unified commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change.

A key question we are asking at WEA: What will this mean for women?

It’s no secret that women are often the most devastatingly impacted by climate change and environmental degradation — and this likelihood increases for women who face compounded issues of poverty and other socioeconomic disadvantages. In 2009, the United Nations Population Fund explained this dynamic in its “State of the World Population” report:

“Women — particularly those in poor countries — will be affected differently than men. They are among the most vulnerable to climate change, partly because in many countries they make up the larger share of the agricultural work force and partly because they tend to have access to fewer income-earning opportunities. Women manage households and care for family members, which often limits their mobility and increases their vulnerability to sudden weather-related natural disasters. Drought and erratic rainfall force women to work harder to secure food, water and energy for their homes. Girls drop out of school to help their mothers with these tasks. This cycle of deprivation, poverty and inequality undermines the social capital needed to deal effectively with climate change.”

The Paris Climate Accord, while not legally binding, is a key step down the path of outlining a plan for the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the most significant driver of climate change. Specifically, participating nations pledged to reduce their emissions by different amounts and report back on their progress. Under the Obama Administration, the U.S. committed to a 26-28% decrease in emissions by 2025.

And while the Accord sadly lacks a full gendered lens and analysis, the preamble does call for increased equality and women’s empowerment as necessary to combatting climate change. As Cathy Russell, former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, stated, ”improving the lives of women and girls is ‘mission critical’ for saving the planet.

WEA was built to address this “mission critical” piece of the puzzle. As a global community, we cannot comprehensively address our world’s most pressing issues — of food, land, water, energy and, yes, climate change — without centering the importance of women’s agency. Women are the backbone of the community — they are the family caretakers, the food and fuel providers, and those who most often go without so that their children don’t need to. They are best positioned with the solutions that will see us through these challenging times.

Are we troubled by our government’s recent decision and current view on climate change? Yes, deeply. As this article shares:

“Refusing to acknowledge climate change’s detrimental effects on the world also means a refusal to acknowledge the ways it puts the lives and livelihood of many women around the world at risk. Removing the U.S. from the international agreement to combat harmful emissions not only proves the environment isn’t a priority for the Trump administration, it proves women aren’t a priority, either.”

That’s why we believe it’s a moment to double down on investing in our world’s grassroots women leaders. We look to our partners, to the grassroots women leaders around the world whose work on the ground for their communities, the earth, and future generations never retreats. We cannot wait for our governments to follow through on pledges of gender equality and environmental commitment. More than ever, we need to counteract global warming, environmental injustice and nationalistic separatism with creative investments in bridge-building, grassroots movement-building, and women.

Here is a roundup of a few articles addressing the impact that the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord will have on women:

 

WEA and WISE’s Clean Cookstoves Training gets national coverage in Nigeria!

Project: WISE Women's Clean Cookstoves Project

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This past April, WEA and WISE (Women’s Initiative for Sustainable Environment) kicked off a series of two training intensives as part of our joint WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training in Kaduna, Nigeria. These trainings aimed not only to provide women in Nigeria with access to life-saving clean cookstoves, but also to equip them with the skills, tools, networks and resources they need to start and scale their own clean cookstove businesses, causing a ripple of clean energy impact throughout their communities.

Why is this so important? Because clean cookstoves saves lives. According to a study done by the World Health Organization, 98,000 Nigerians — mostly women — die annually as a result of smoke inhaled while cooking with firewood. If a woman cooks breakfast, lunch, and dinner for her family with a traditional cookstove, it is the equivalent to smoking 3 to 20 packets of cigarettes a day.

WEA Project Lead and Founder/Director of WISE, Olanike Olugboji, had a chance to talk to some media outlets at the close of the project’s second week-long training intensive at the end of May, and shared with them her own insights on the critical need for this work and women’s entrepreneurial and environmental leadership.

WEA and WISE’s Clean Cookstove Training participants

“This project, according to Olugboji, would help to curb deaths resulting from inhalation of smoke from firewood, which she puts at more than [98,000] death annually in the country. She explained that the second phase of the training, which would end on Friday, was designed to strengthen the women’s marketing strategy in promoting the use of clean cook stove…Similarly, a resource person, Ms. Happy Amos, described clean cook stove as “a social enterprise”, not only for its financial gains, but also for its social and environmental impact.” —  Nigeria News Network

We’re incredibly honored to be involved in this project, and are so inspired by the continued effort and commitment of the women who participated in the training and are now entrepreneurs in their communities!

We’ll be sharing updates with you as we hear back from training participants on the launch of their own businesses, but until then, here’s a roundup of articles that covered this groundbreaking training: