With streams in their own community threatened by dams, teens from Chile joined local tribal youth for a three-week tour of the Klamath River from its headwaters to its mouth.
The Rios to Rivers youth exchange involved both sets of teens journeying by boat and by car. Along the way they learned about the Klamath’s fisheries, water quality, dams, water allocation as well as food security and the cultural traditions of the tribes that call the watershed home.
The teens — including 17 from the Klamath Basin and eight from Patagonia, Chile — will conclude their journey at Requa today. More than 50 people will welcome them to shore in traditional redwood dugout canoes, rafts and kayaks.
The teens will celebrate the end of their journey with a traditional Yurok ceremony, food, art and presentations, according to a Rios to Rivers press release.
“The experience with the Klamath youth was that they felt a lot less alone in the world,” said Konrad Fisher, director of the Klamath River Keeper, who volunteered to accompany the teens on their “source-to-sea” adventure. “A lot of people here in the Klamath basin feel like the problems they face are theirs and theirs alone and are foreign to the rest of the world. But spending time with youth from Chile helped them recognize that their struggle is not isolated.”
The Klamath Basin teens included youth from the Klamath, Karuk, Hoopa and Yurok tribes.
For the Chilean youth, the streams they’re worried about are the Baker and Pascua rivers. According to Juanita Ringeling, a Chilean actress and activist, although plans for a dam project on the two rivers had been scrapped, the company behind it, Endesa, still owns the water rights.
“They’re still threatened,” she said. “(The dams) were stopped by a huge social pressure and a huge campaign, but still the water rights belong to this company. Basically they still can do whatever they want.”
Alejandra Chodil, 15, of Tortel, Chile, noted the similarities between the Klamath River and the stream she knows best, the Baker River.
“The stories we learned on the banks of the Klamath River resemble my dear Baker River in Chile,” she said in a written statement. “Let’s help the Klamath River; it’s sick from the dams.”
During their expedition, the youth were treated to a welcoming dinner from the Klamath Tribe and a tour of its fish hatchery. Speakers included representatives from the Nature Conservancy as well as PacifiCorp, who provided a tour of one of the dams slated for removal in 2020, Fisher said.
The exchange program also included volunteers from the Ancestral Guard, the Warrior Institute and Rios to Rivers.
Fisher said that even though PacifiCorp, local tribes, environmentalists and other stakeholders have agreed that removing the Klamath dams is best for the river, they didn’t reach that conclusion without some conflict.
“I think a lot of the youth have recognized their power to effect change,” he said. “We hear a lot about the Kumbaya that resulted in the Klamath removal, but there was a lot of direct action, protest and lawsuits that got us to where we are today.”
Ringeling echoed Fisher’s earlier statement about the Chilean youth realizing that despite the differences, their concerns and their love for their rivers is similar to their Klamath basin counterparts.
“When nature is crying and begging for help we need human voices,” she said. “These young people realized that they are the voice of these rivers, and this is driving their life today. They’re building their own opinions about rivers, about economies, about conservation.”
Jon-Luke Gensaw, a 19-year-old Yurok Tribe member with the Ancestral Guard said despite feeling the effects of the dams, he had never seen them or the upper Klamath basin.
“The last few weeks have opened my eyes to the problems we share on a global scale,” he said.