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

Native Nations Rise: Rise with Standing Rock TODAY!

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The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Indigenous grassroots leaders are calling on allies across the United States and around the world to peacefully March on Washington DC today, March 10th.

WEA rises in spirit, solidarity and allyship with the Indigenous peoples of the world whose rights protect our earth for the future generations of all.

As march organizes have stated, “The Standing Rock movement is bigger than one tribe. It has evolved into a powerful global phenomenon highlighting the necessity to respect Indigenous Nations and their right to protect their homelands, environment and future generations. We are asking our Native relatives from across Turtle Island to rise with us. This is not just about protecting the rights of one tribe, or standing with one nation. If we envision a world where Indigenous people led on environmental and climate issues, we have to protect the rights of all tribal nations and all Indigenous Peoples.”

Indigenous Rights mean Climate Justice.

Indigenous Rights protect water, air, and land.

If you are in the Washington DC area today, please rise in solidarity and allyship with those who are marching for Indigenous rights and the rights of our earth and future generations. More information on the Washington DC march can be found here.

If you’re not in the DC area today, there are solidarity marches taking place all over the country, including a march in San Francisco tonight by Idle No More SF Bay, and we encourage everyone to come out and stand alongside our sisters and brothers.

Visit for all the details and ways to support this critical and historic action!

Photos Show Why The North Dakota Pipeline Is Problematic

Project: Shedding Light on Environmental Violence in North America

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A protester is arrested for standing on the outer layer of barricades that separate the protest site from the police line and construction zone on Monday morning. Photo: Daniella Zalcman
A protester is arrested for standing on the outer layer of barricades that separate the protest site from the police line and construction zone on Monday morning. Photo: Daniella Zalcman

Last week, the U.S. federal government gave approved the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which will run for 1,172 miles to transport crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oilfields to Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline would travel through lands sacred to the Lakota people, and cross under the Missouri, Mississippi, and Big Sioux rivers. Just one spill would mean contaminating farmland and drinking water for millions.

Hundreds of land defenders and protectors, including Indigenous community members and their allies, are gathering at the Sacred Stone Camp to say no to the pipeline.

This article from Buzzfeed shows what’s happening on the ground through a series of beautiful photos. And this article by Democracy Now! features an interview with Indigenous leaders and those standing on the frontlines of this battle.

“Violence on the Land, Violence on our Bodies” report published

Project: Shedding Light on Environmental Violence in North America

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Last month, and after two years in the making, WEA and the Native Youth Sexual Health Network officially launched Violence on the Land, Violence on our Bodies: Building an Indigenous Response to Environmental Violence” a community-based report and toolkit for action. But we didn’t want it to be just a launch; instead, we wanted to use that moment as a unique opportunity to mobilize our community and raise our voices to bring awareness to the connection between violence on the land and the destructive impacts it has on the health and safety of Indigenous women. That’s what the #LandBodyDefense Week of Action on June 6-10, 2016 was all about.

And we want to be sure that everyone who took part in this call to action knows that your participation, engagement and support during the Week of Action made all the difference.

  • On Twitter, more than 1,025 friends and allies shared and posted tweets using the #LandBodyDefense hashtag, helping us to reach nearly 200,000 people and organizations.
  • On Facebook, hundreds of you visited the Week of Action event page, and your messages, posts and shares helped us to reach nearly 3,000 people and organizations.
  • Organizations and media outlets also featured stories or blogs about this work as well, including: TeleSur, Story of Stuff, Sierra Club, and Planet Experts.


Thank you, everyone, for sharing this community-based report and toolkit with your networks, and for posting your own “Hand to the Land” or chestplate stencil photos. Thank you especially for believing in the urgent need to support Indigenous women and young people’s messages of resistance.

This work is just the beginning. Over the next few months, please continue to share photos and stories related to the social impacts of extreme energy extraction using the #LandBodyDefense hashtag. WEA will also be sharing more on this work and how the resources in the toolkit are being used across impacted communities. Be sure to stay connected!

Leading from a Place of History and Learning

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By Kahea Pacheco, WEA Advocacy Network Coordinator

I grew up in a tiny, rural town on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island of Hawai’i called Honomu.  We are maybe 550 people large, and are a remnant of the old sugar plantation days when the Big 5 sugar companies were king and villages would crop up along coastlines where sugar mills were located. It’s a beautiful, multicultural landscape where eating sugar straight from the cane stalks, watching our fathers throw cast nets down at the ocean, and swimming or catching ‘opae (shrimp) in the streams and waterfalls seemed ordinary.

The first time I can remember recognizing that I was indigenous was when I was sent to a summer camp for Native Hawaiian kids in the fifth grade.  It was a week-long program on a different island from the one I lived on, and I remember knowing I should feel lucky I could go.  That going and learning about my culture was something special, and not everyone had that opportunity.

The second time this happened was when I was accepted into Kamehameha Schools, Kapalama Campus—a private boarding and day school for Native Hawaiian students.  The school, one of the largest philanthropic trusts in the United States, was founded by Ke Ali’i (Chiefess) Bernice Pauahi Bishop, great granddaughter of King Kamehameha I, after she bore witness to the decline of the Hawaiian people as a result of colonization and the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, and felt education was key to our survival.  At Kamehameha, I learned about my legacy, culture, history and language.  I was given opportunities—through school programs, mentorship and scholarships—that allowed me to graduate, to go to college, then law school.

All of this, because I’m Native Hawaiian, and I am a result of our unique history.

For me, being indigenous has been a privilege, both spiritually and practically.  I feel extremely fortunate to have grown up in a space that not only taught me about my history, about myself, but that celebrated it.  Because of this, I also recognize my responsibility.  I have a responsibility to be a leader and a student all at once, to be a good role model, and to give back and uplift my community just like it has uplifted me.  I have a responsibility to those who came before me—my kupuna (grandparents, elders), my ancestors—as well as those who will come after me, for generations and generations to come.

“You will be living the haole time, and the wise thing to do is to move with the time, because time is a thing that belongs to no one….There’s only one thing I ask of you, my children—You are Hawai’i, and I would appreciate that you remain Hawai’i.”
– Pilahi Paki (in Then There Were None by Martha H. Noyes)

It’s this journey, however short it’s been so far, that has led me to Women’s Earth Alliance.

I first joined WEA as a Legal Research Intern for the North America Program in 2011.  At the time, I’d been out of law school for two years, had just left from a job that left me feeling disconnected from all the ways I wanted to be present in the world, and so accepted the internship feeling a sense of…relief.  Relief that I would once again be contributing to work I felt most accountable for—supporting Indigenous peoples and communities like my own.

In the two and half years since joining the team, my sense of purpose and responsibility has only been strengthened, particularly in this last year as I’ve stepped into my new role as Advocacy Network Coordinator for the North America Program.  I now find that I am a leader as much as a student, that I am called to make decisions as much as seek insight and advice and guidance.  With this new role then also comes the fear I think many people, particularly young people like myself, have felt when stepping up and being called to share their mana’o (knowledge): fear of not being ready, of making mistakes, of saying or doing the wrong things at the wrong times, of not knowing.

“There are cultures still that understand the importance of being lost.  In fact, they celebrate it, because they know that just beneath the surface, something rich and potent is stirring.  They know that the point at which the latitude of the mind meets the longitude of the heart is the centerpoint.  It is the stillpoint of the wayfinder.”
– Dr. Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey, PhD (TEDxWomen 2012)

But it’s times like these, when stepping up, that we need to remind ourselves that we are rarely stepping up alone.  Instead, we are surrounded by the knowledge passed to us from our elders, from our mentors, from our own experiences.  And there are those we defer to, whose expertise is so much more vast than our own—their knowledge is to be recognized and celebrated as well.

For me, this has meant listening deeply to not only myself, but to my sisters, my parents, my grandparents, stretching all the way back to my ancestors, my beginnings.  Stretching all the way across to encompass my larger community—my friends, my colleagues, and the grassroots leaders engaged in this work.  It has meant asking questions, being courageous in my conversations, and honoring those who have shared their stories, knowledge and expertise with me.  This is where my ability and my drive to contribute comes from—from that place of learning and listening and growing.

This is where, I think, as women, as Indigenous peoples, as allies, we all find our strength to contribute.