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SCS & the Sac Bee: Gov. Newsom Needs to Give More Than Lip Service to At-Risk CA Native Tribes

Adult Chinook Salmon holding in a deep pool within the canyon portion of Butte Creek.

(CDFW photo)


Article by Morning Star Gali, Special to The Sacramento Bee, November 18, 2019

Original article and audio version of article can be found at:

Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a proclamation declaring October 14, 2019 “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in California. In this proclamation, he acknowledged that native people were stewards of the land before the conquest of California.

I thank the governor for the proclamation. However, last month -- on California Native American Day -- the governor also vetoed legislation, Senate Bill 1, that could have helped the state protect our salmon from Trump’s environmental rollbacks. This is unacceptable.

We need more than lip service from the governor. We need action.

In October, President Donald Trump’s administration released a new review of the Central Valley Water Project. This fisheries review replaces an earlier one which concluded that Trump’s Water Plan (to maximize water deliveries for Central Valley agriculture) jeopardizes every Endangered Species Act-listed fish species in the Delta, San Joaquin and Sacramento River systems. In a truly Orwellian fashion, the new review claims fish do not need water.

For many of California’s tribes, water and salmon are life. The Trump plan would harm the state’s drinking water supply and salmon. It negatively impacts the Sacramento, McCloud, San Joaquin, Yuba, American and Feather rivers by increasing water deliveries to agriculture by 23 to 39 percent. This means reductions to the state water project, which serves people.

It also impacts the Klamath River through Trinity River diversions.

The governor should honor Native people by acting to save our salmon.

California needs to change course on water. Even without the new water operations, California has been facing a crisis. Nearly half of our fish are in danger of going extinct. If something does not change, the Central Valley’s water will be unusable due to pollution and diversions. This year, the Klamath salmon run did not show up. These salmon are a major food source for the state’s three largest tribes, which live in rural areas and face food insecurity.

The fact is that our once-abundant salmon have been devastated by dams and diversions. Salmon runs that once numbered in the millions, nourished Native peoples and fed the state’s economy now return each year in the hundreds or less. We are on the brink of losing the salmon.

This loss would have widespread health, economic and cultural impacts. Already some of California’s native communities have suicide rates that are 12 times the national average, and diabetes and heart disease rates that are over 3 times the average. Studies have linked these health issues to the loss of salmon.

No statistics can express what losing the salmon has done to our culture and well-being as communities. Unlike many other salmon states, very few of California’s tribes have established rights to a harvestable surplus of salmon and a land base, and no California tribes are actually able to catch enough salmon to feed their families.

Many tribes do not even have clean water due to policies that favor irrigators and polluters. In fact, many experts have called the sudden loss of salmon to California Native communities cultural genocide. Despite this fact, we are left out of decisions that impact us and our water and fishing rights are not respected.

It is hypocritical that the state of California and cities like San Francisco to honor Native people while fighting us on needed salmon restoration.

We can do better, and there are examples. This year Attorney General Becerra litigated against Westlands Water District’s ability to raise the Shasta dam because it violated state law by flooding a wild and scenic river. The dam raise would also flood Winnemem Wintu sacred sites.

Last month, Eureka, California returned a sacred site that was taken after a massacre to the Wiyot People. Last year, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to support a flow restoration decision to support salmon. Mayor London Breed vetoed it.

We need more than lip service to California’s tribal peoples. We need to stand up to corporations, including agribusiness, to protect our water and declining salmon populations.

Gov. Newsom campaigned on fighting the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks. We need him to follow through.

His veto of SB 1 was disappointing, but he has an opportunity to redeem himself now by litigating against this latest assault on California’s environment and by supporting tribes’ actions to protect water and regain land.

Words, without action, do not constitute an apology. This is a moment for concrete truth and action to protect our salmon and all that is sacred.

Morning Star Gali is the Tribal Water Organizer for Save California Salmon and a member of the Pit River Tribe.

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