“Fish are very important to me, to my family, my culture.”
“It’s surprising how much you rely on traditional foods if you’re in a community like we are. You don’t necessarily realize it until you don’t have it . . . especially salmon.”
“If the water quality got better, rivers and creeks would be much better and it would bring back the fish.”
These are the voices of youth from the Karuk tribe in the Klamath River watershed, as heard in a new video that explores the connections between ecosystem health and tribal well-being. Healthy local waterways and the traditional foods they support are considered irreplaceable by indigenous peoples. A new program is seeking to tap into tribal understanding of natural resources to ensure their voices are being heard and to provide a more expansive approach to how state and tribal programs can align in the management of rivers, fisheries, and forests.
As part of this effort, the state is participating in a series of “forest gatherings,” which bring people working on natural resource issues to local watersheds in events hosted by a tribe from that place. “Place matters,” said Debbie Franco, community and rural affairs advisor in the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. “Gathering in a watershed with tribal people who have been managing that place for thousands of years is a way to more deeply understand their perspective that forests, fish, water, and food are by nature integrated and connected.”
The gatherings are an opportunity for those in attendance to explore questions such as: How can the traditional land management practices of indigenous peoples inform how we can work better together in managing the land? What ecological ideal should we strive for? How do we connect the work of indigenous peoples with statewide policy discussions?
Each gathering is designed by a team with members from local NGOs, county and US Forest Service representatives, state representatives, and the host tribe. Invitees have included academics, policy experts, local governments, indigenous people, logging interests, and regional and state agencies.
“The idea is to find the people whose relationships are necessary to do good upper watershed management and to bring them together to build relationships and create a voluntary learning environment,” said Franco.
In addition to sharing ideas, participants may find themselves physically connecting with the watershed. An upper watershed gathering this August, for example, had participants rafting the Klamath River with a tribal person and stopping at a tributary along the way to help create better environmental conditions for spawning salmon.
Franco noted that indigenous knowledge can bring new solutions to problems facing watersheds today. “It goes well beyond what we know from our 150 years here. These forest gatherings are bringing more people to the understanding that the answers to our water challenges lie in the connections between us and our natural systems.”