[env-trinity] Sacred Water, Klamath People and the Struggle for Cultural Survival
hooparivers at gmail.com
Wed Feb 25 22:16:45 PST 2015
Sacred Water, Klamath People and the Struggle for Cultural Survival
February 25, 2015 (Upper Klamath Basin, Oregon)
Entangled in the heart of an arduous century long battle over water rights
in the Upper Klamath Basin, is the struggle of the Klamath, Modoc,
Yahooskin Peoples for cultural survivance.
Our elders have always told us that water is life, water is priceless. Our
water is so sacred it should never be quantified, compromised or negotiated.
But what happens to the future of a culture, whose spiritual foundation is
water, when even to tribal negotiators, the priceless becomes a mere
In a world where some believe everything has its price, many of us as
Klamath, Modoc, Yahooskin descendants hold strong to the values of our
The values of our ancestors have taught us that water, above all else, is
essential to our way of life as Indigenous People.
Our water sustains all our sacred foods and medicines, which have supported
us since time immemorial in the Upper Klamath Basin.
[image: Klamath people in dug out canoes, 19th century. Photo: Wikipedia.]
Klamath people in dug out canoes, 19th century. Photo: Wikipedia.
Without it, we cease to be a People.
We are the descendants of Kientpoos, Captain Jack, who refused to be tamed
by the United States and their destructive colonial agenda to tap our
aquifers, irrigate our beautiful homelands and degrade them into barren
On October 3, 1873 the US government sentenced Kientpoos (Captain Jack),
Schonchin John, Black Jim, and Boston Charley to death by hanging at Fort
Klamath. 9 years later in 1882, farmers introduced irrigation to the
In 1905, the Bureau of Reclamation’s massive project, otherwise known as
the Klamath Reclamation Project, replumbed the region.
Today, seven dams, 45 pumping stations, 185 miles of canals and 516 miles
of irrigation ditches stretch like a watery web over the land. Less than 25
percent of the original wetlands remain. Some 25,000 acres of those
wetlands have been leased to farmers while another 200,000 acres have been
turned into farmland. Agricultural runoff has altered the chemistry of the
lakes and wetlands and waterfowl populations have declined by two-thirds.
It is a familiar story in the arid West – water moved from where it was to
places where it should not be.
“What we have,” explains former Klamath Tribe Water Attorney Bud Ullman,
“is an over-commitment of the water resource and general ecosystem
degradation. There have been promises of water initially to Indians in the
Treaty…, then there were promises to the farmers in a big irrigation
project…, then promises for water to other farms. This all adds up to more
water than nature gives us to work with. (Winona Laduke, *Klamath Water,
Klamath Life* 2002)
The irrigable lands of the Klamath Project are in south-central Oregon (62
percent) and north-central California (38 percent). The Project currently
provides full service water to approximately 210,000 acres of cropland.
The two main sources that supply water for the project: Upper Klamath Lake
and the Klamath River; and Clear Lake Reservoir, Gerber Reservoir, and Lost
River, which are located in a closed basin. (www.usbr.gov)
An over commitment of water paired with climate change is hastily altering
the water cycle in the Klamath Basin. Snow pack levels melted out 2-4 weeks
early in 2014. In November 2014, Gerber Reservoir was reported to be 99
In an attempt to resolve conflicts between Indigenous senior water rights
holders and junior rights holders, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement
(KBRA) was introduced in 2009 and the final document was signed on February
18, 2010 in Salem, Oregon <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem%2c_Oregon>.
[image: Members of Klamath Tribal council and Klamath Tribes negotiation
team at the latest community meeting in Portland, OR 2/9/15. In order from
left to right: chairman Don Gentry, Kathy Hill, Vivian Kimbol, Anna
Bennett, Taylor Tupper [public information/news manager], and Shawn
Members of Klamath Tribal council and Klamath Tribes negotiation team at
the latest community meeting in Portland, OR 2/9/15. In order from left to
right: chairman Don Gentry, Kathy Hill, Vivian Kimbol, Anna Bennett, Taylor
Tupper [public information/news manager], and Shawn Jackson.
Since then, two more agreements have been drafted and introduced, the
Klamath Basin Hydroelectric Settlement (KHSA) on February 18, 2010 and the
Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement (UKBCA) on March 4, 2014.
While the Klamath Basin has glorified these agreements as a historical
reconciliation, Indian Water Settlement agreements similar to the KBRA have
been on the rise, and since 1989 congress has ratified at least 30.
Spring 2014, Klamath Tribal members were notified at a series of community
meetings in Portland, Eugene, Chiloquin and Klamath Falls that the UKBCA
had been finalized and referendum ballots would be mailed the following
week. This left tribal members only 19 days to review over 100 pages of
legal and scientific documentation and cast a vote to approve (or deny) and
direct the Klamath Tribal chairman, Donald Gentry, to sign the proposed
legislation. According to the Klamath Tribes Referendum Official Ballot,
“all ballots must be received by the US Post Office in Chiloquin by 9:00
a.m. Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Or they will not be counted.”
tribal members, primarily those who live out of area, either did
not receive their ballots or received their ballots after the deadline for
submission. 564 Tribal members voted yes, in favor of the Agreement, and
419 voted no. Less than one third of eligible voters cast a vote.
Lack in ethical leadership has affected business at home and many have not
been given the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. Administration
is not updating addresses for tribal members to tribal departments.
Members who live out of area have also had their ballots rejected because
addresses didn’t match elections. There were two tribal newsletters in 2014
which some still have not received. This has left countless tribal members
Numerous tribal members have now been questioning the motives of their own
tribal government and the tribal negotiators of these water agreements.
As of last week, Fidelity National Financial Ventures announced it had sold
the assets of Cascade Timberlands, LLC to Whitefish Cascade Forest
Resources, LLC, based in Singapore. The sale included the Mazama Tree Farm,
which is a key component in the Klamath Tribes negotiations regarding the
KBRA. This may now give the Klamath Tribes a special circumstance to file
for withdrawal from the agreements as outlined in section 33.2.2. in the
KBRA. This option is not currently being shared or discussed with Tribal
members. And the actions of Klamath Tribal negotiators regarding this issue
are yet to be determined.
Within this last year we have watched the UKBCA, turn into Senate Bill 2379
and witnessed it die in Senate at the end of 2014.
Every time a new document is drafted, new language is introduced.On January
8th 2015 Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon reintroduced the agreements as Senate
Direct quote from SB 133:
“Prohibits water allocations for fish and wildlife and National Wildlife
Refuge purposes from adversely affecting water allocations for irrigation
There were originally 80,000 acres of seasonal marshes in the Lower Klamath
National Wildlife Refuge. On average the Refuge served about 10 million
birds and had a large winter population of threatened Bald Eagles. At the
current status, the Refuge will essentially be a cracked lakebed.
Now a year after the signing of the UKBCA, for us as Tribal People whose
primary interest is to protect all sacred things that are outlined in the
1864 Treaty that pertain to our survivance as a culturally distinct
People, more is coming to light in regards to these documents along with
various reasons to not support them. These “agreements” do not secure that
which is necessary to protect what is promised under the Treaty. These
agreements do not protect that which is crucial to our spirituality and way
“The adverse effects of KBRA on water needed for fish became much clearer
during the dam removal EIS stage than they were earlier. Buried in the
klamathrestoration.gov list of engineering studies is a definitive report
showing that KBRA means less water during many key times than is currently
required by the BiOps protecting Coho Salmon., e.g., during dry year
months. The irrigators like this outcome but no one who wants Salmon to
thrive should be satisfied.” Tom Schlosser, legal counsel for Hoopa Valley
[image: Klamath member making dug out canoes.]
Klamath member making dug out canoes.
Signatory tribes, such as the Klamath, Yurok, and Karuk Tribes have hailed
the agreements as a path toward dam removal and fisheries
restoration. Through the KBRA and Upper Basin agreement those Basin Tribes
with water rights, or which have advocated for Salmon, have been promised
funding for restoration and economic development in exchange for not
pressing for increased flows in the Klamath River.
Klamath Tribal Members have been told the agreements do not relinquish any
rights, however, the agreements irrefutably contain language that limits
the federal trust responsibility. Both the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest
Indians (ATNI) and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) have
resolutions opposing any action that limits or abolishes the federal trust
responsibility. Nevertheless, signatory tribes have chosen to proceed into
The Hoopa Valley, Quartz Valley and Resighini tribes did not sign. They
argued the agreement subordinates priority tribal water rights and the
Endangered Species Act. They argued the lack of water effects Chinook and
Coho Salmon health and future salmon runs in the Klamath Basin. They
argued that the inexpensive, direct path to dam removal is restarting the
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process for these facilities. The
Klamath agreement has blocked this process for years.
The government is frequently conflicted in their obligation to protect
Tribes but often chooses to protect irrigators that have created a large
economy based on Tribal resources. The crux of the dispute is the United
States government has been involved by providing assets and paying for
resources to advance the cases (sell-out our rights), when they have a
fiduciary duty as trustee to protect Tribes.
Clearly, the Bureau of Reclamation is also pulling levers behind the scenes
with the Pacificorp power company. In 2014, salmon were sick and dying in
the Klamath River and BOR prompted Pacificorp to provide water, with the
promise to pay back that water the following year. Though residents
complain about the toxic river conditions, Pacificorp continues to operate
outside the guidelines of the clean water act.
The Klamath Basin long term plan for 2015 provides no water for the
In Sec. 2.5.1 footnote 8 and 4.3.1 n. 14 of the KBRA indicate that Upper
Klamath water will not be used to address lower Klamath fish health; the
Upper Klamath will be managed by the KID BiOp.
As it stands now, the most senior water right goes to support agriculture
and to the flooding of fields to prove usage, for increased farm subsidies
in the Upper Basin.
The KBRA and associated agreements are not at all an exercise in
self-determination but advocating for a blood oath from Tribes. Although,
we are faced with drought, contamination and over-consumption, the Klamath
Tribal council and Klamath Tribes Negotiation Team continue to support an
agreement that permits destructive acts against our culture, environment,
and our future as Klamath, Modoc, Yahooskin Peoples.
*Honor The Treaty of 1864* is a group of like minded individuals who want
to honor our ancestors and our 7th generation by protecting our resources
and our rights. While these ideas are not new and many people before us
stood for the same things we do, our group was officially formed in 2014.
We welcome all people who support our cause.
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