By Thea Skinner
Triplicate staff writer
Runners traveled a salmon's path Friday at the day-long Fifth Annual Salmon Relay River Run.
The run mimicked the salmon path that occurred abundantly before the 2002 fish disease outbreak, which killed more than 72,000 salmon in the Klamath River.
The fishkill was a result of political powers diverting water from the river into Oregon agricultural areas. PacifiCorp's hydraulic dams detoured the water.
The relay run began at the mouth of the Klamath River for the first time this year. Runners traveled upstream via roadways, matching the salmon's span on the Klamath and Trinity rivers.
A ceremony involving two wooden fish and a real fish that is placed in a cooler was performed at the mouth of the Klamath. The ceremony is based on ancient rituals of the Yurok, Hoopa and Karuk tribes.
"The real fish symbolizes the first salmon of the year," said Yadao Inong, prevention coordinator for Yurok Social Services, who co-organized the relay run. "Every tribe around here had a first salmon rite which took place after the fish began to arrive every year.
"For the Yurok people, the first salmon rites at Weyhl-kwel were a 10-day ceremony with the prayers and support of all the people of nearby villages awaiting its result."
Two wooden salmon are used in the relay as a batons.
"One wooden salmon will follow each river, again symbolizing those runs of salmon that run each river every year," he said. "People pay tribute to (the fish) to pay respect to all the salmon and ensure they (salmon) feel respected and honored and continue to give their lives to us, so that we may live."
The relay run ended at Hoopa High School at the Humboldt County line.
Five years ago, four young members of several regional tribes created the initiative to raise awareness about the plight of river water and fish populations.
Tribal members Kala Carpenter, Erika Chase, Chelsea Reed, and Tasha Norton co-founded the relay run. They created the relay run while at Hoopa Valley High School to unite cultures, promote health and foster political involvement to ensure that the fish blight will not continue.
Chase, now a freshman at Stanford University, said that PacifiCorp's new federal license agreement states that they have to install fish ladders.
"It will be more money to install the ladders," Chase said.
PacifiCorp's license governs the dams for 50 years.
"Before, I think they wanted to bus the fish from one area to another," she said. "From an economic standpoint it is not good business to install the fish ladders."
The only way to get a license is to create the fish passage or take out the dams, which would be cheaper, she said.
Chase traveled to Omaha, Neb., and talked to Warren Buffett, the owner of Pacific Corp. She is a comparative studies of race and ethnicity major with a focus in governance and self-determination.
"They (the founders) are looking at their futures and now there is hope," said Melody George, the relay run coordinator and a Hoopa Valley High School teacher.
"They wrote an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle," she said. "Stanford is training youth to get involved and do community oriented things."
Chase attended the Wing Spread Theory series of conferences held in Wisconsin this month. About 20 students from U.S. universities attended the conference titled Young People, Climate Change and the Campaign of 2008.
"They are recognizing the need to elect an environmentally conscious president," she said.
Chase is involved in other initiatives for social and environmental change. A representative with the Campus Climate Change Challenge, an initiative to make schools green and get people of color involved and aware submitted her name.
Through this social network, she was sponsored by the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative in Washington, D.C.
"We planned in strategic ways to raise awareness of issues and targeted the 18-29 voter demographic," Chase said. "Having the youth vote is a threat to the 2008 campaign.
"It will make candidates pay attention to issues."
Carpenter also is attending Stanford University as a freshman. She is majoring in linguistics.
"There are not many speakers left of Hoopa and Yurok languages," she said.
Carpenter was elected co-chair of the Stanford American Indian organization, an umbrella organization for all indigenous groups on campus.
The organization puts on campus events and sponsors speakers to talk about pressing community issues.
"We are hoping to focus more on environmental issues that are effecting indigenous populations," Carpenter said. "Alaskan native communities and Pacific Island communities are being displaced. In a few decades places will be underwater."
The four women were asked to speak at the International Rivers Network lunch on restoring rivers and water rights in San Francisco on May 17. Chase spoke at the lunch.
"Their focus is on South America. At the conference I just got back from, they see environmental and social justice as two separate things, but I do not see that," Chase said. "Our people lived and thrived on these rivers for thousands of years and it (water and fish blight) threatens our people."
She recognizes that several protests have occurred throughout the United States, such as in Portland, Ore.
Carpenter said, "We went to a service learning conference in Eureka and saw this huge need that people were not aware of." The blight affected "our social and emotional needs."
"A University of California at Davis study linked decline in fish population to the dams with high rates of depression, high blood pressure, and diabetes," she said. "These were higher in the Karuk tribe than other cultures."
The Karuk tribe resides in the upper Klamath area.
Carpenter was inspired by Joan Baez's quote: "Action is the antidote to despair."