Kānaka Maoli Scholars Against Desecration

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Last Updated on Thursday, 02 April 2009 10:22

Kānaka Maoli Scholars Against Desecration - Second Statement on Naue, March 24, 2009 (First Statement)

(for more information, questions or letters of support, please contact J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Ph.D. at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

As Kānaka Maoli scholars we write to follow-up on our statement from September 13, 2008 publicly condemning the state-sponsored desecration of a Native Hawaiian burial site at Wainiha, Kaua`i resulting from the construction of a new home at Naue Point by California real estate developer Joseph Brescia.  Both the state abuse of power and the desecration continue unabated and must come to a halt.

In the late 1980s, in response to a massive burial site disturbance at Honokahua, Maui, Kanaka Maoli came together to challenge the laws that allowed this type of sacrilege. As a result of this history, five Island Burial Councils were created and are administratively attached to the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) of the Department of Land and Natural Resources to address concerns relating to Native Hawaiian burial sites.  By Hawai`i state statute, the composition of each island Burial Council must consist of a majority of Kānaka Maoli.  The preservation criteria established by state law favor the “preservation in place” of burial sites that contain a “concentration of skeletal remains,” or are “pre-contact” or “historic period” burial sites associated with important individuals and events.

At Naue, there are 30 known burial remains within less than half of an acre, with a high likelihood that more remains are present. Naue is a significant historical site that is frequently acknowledged in hula, oli, mele, and other Hawaiian knowledge sources.  Accordingly, the Kaua`i-Ni`ihau Island Burial Council appropriately voted to preserve in place the burial site on the property claimed by Brescia.  

In complete contradiction to both their own state law, and the April 3, 2008 determination adopted by the island Burial Council to preserve the burials in place, the SHPD improperly approved a “Burial Treatment Plan” for Brescia without the required consultation with the island Burial Council.  The Burial Treatment Plan was submitted by Mike Dega, the archaeologist hired by Joseph Brescia as a consultant in support of his building a private home atop of the burial site.   

The SHPD’s own rules empower the island Burial Council to determine the disposition of previously known burials.  The island Burial Council’s decision on this issue is supposed to be binding. Yet, SHPD deputy administrator Nancy McMahon sanctioned the use of vertical buffers and concrete caps on the burials to make way for installing the footings of Brescia’s house.  Her authorization for such an intrusive “preservation” measure is a fundamental repudiation of the power allocated to all of the island Burial Councils.  
By ignoring the decision of the island Burial Council, her actions undermine both the very concept of historic preservation and the reason for the founding of the island Burial Councils.  Tragically, before a court could intervene, and based on McMahon’s unauthorized agreements, Brescia’s team managed to install massive house foundations on a portion of the cemetery.  

The Kaua`i Planning Commission’s approval of Brescia’s house plans included a specific condition issued in a letter dated December 12, 2007 that “No building permit shall be issued until requirements of the State Historic Preservation Division and the Burial Council have been met.”  The requirements of the island Burial Council have not been met; the Council recommended that there be no building upon the cemetery.  SHPD covered up the island Burial Council’s decision by trying to pretend that vertical buffers and concrete jackets constitute “preservation”; they do not.  

During the consultation required by the preliminary October 2008 court ruling, on November 6, 2008, the island Burial Council recommended that the SHPD reject the revised Burial Treatment Proposal submitted by Dega. Therefore, Brescia still has not met the requirements of the island Burial Council and thus, the building permit should be revoked.  Because the Kaua`i Planning Commission’s December 2007 approval was specifically conditioned on Brescia’s meeting the island Burial Council’s requirements, there is no real approval of Brescia’s house plans.  The island Burial Council made clear the proposal to build on the burial site was culturally unacceptable to its members, which is why the Council rejected the revised Burial Treatment Plan.  The Kaua`i Planning Commission should be held accountable to rescind the conditional approval it gave, since its requirements were not met. 

In the midst of this ongoing desecration, last month, on February 4, 2009, the SHPD wrote a letter to Dega acknowledging his sixth proposed Burial Treatment Plan.  This is the same Burial Treatment Plan that McMahon circulated to Native Hawaiian Organizations for consultation as part of a court order by Judge Watanabe on October 2, 2008.  The outcome of this consultation with Native Hawaiian Organizations was their sweeping rejection of the proposal.  Without any regard for this rejection, the SHPD letter to Dega states, “at this time we cannot accept the Burial Treatment Plan without some revisions which are to be addressed below” and then outlines seven concerns for him to deal with such as detailing a landscape plan for burials outside of the house footprint. In other words, the letter basically instructs Dega to revise the Burial Treatment Plan in order for SHPD to approve it.  This is unacceptable; if McMahon’s decision is reaffirmed despite the outcome of the consultation with Native Hawaiian Organizations that clearly rejected the proposal, it would set a dangerous precedent and strip the island Burial Councils of any meaningful authority.  

To date, 5th Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe has denied requests for a temporary restraining order and has even refused to grant a temporary injunction to stop further construction until the full civil suit is adjudicated by the state court.   The civil suit—
Joseph Brescia v. Ka`iulani Huff, et al.— currently in progress is a travesty.  Brescia is suing at least 17 individuals—almost all of whom are Kānaka Maoli —implicated in protecting the burial site from his construction work. Beside trespass, Brescia has accused them of five other counts: private nuisance and harassment, tortious interference with contract, civil conspiracy described as “terroristic threatening”, intentional interference, ejectment, and slander of title.  We stand in solidarity with the defendants.  Brescia has no one else to blame but himself; he knowingly took the chance of building his house over a grave site when the essence of the island Burial Council’s action was to preserve all burials remains in place.

We must remind the state agencies that their own law, Hawai`i revised statute 711-1107 on Desecration, specifically states that no one may commit the offense of desecrating “a place of worship or burial,” and the statute defines “desecrate” as “defacing, damaging, polluting, or otherwise physically mistreating in a way that the defendant knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the defendant's action.”  

We call on all people of conscience to join in our condemnation of the desecration of the ancestral remains by:

holding the Kaua`i Planning Commission accountable for upholding their own condition by finding Brescia in violation of it by starting to build;
demanding that the SHPD honor the Kaua`i-Ni`ihau Island Burial Council’s original decision to preserve the burial site without any construction;
insisting that the SHPD respect the outcome of the court-ordered consultation process and reject the Burial Treatment Plan;
supporting an end to the illegal construction supported by the state; and
protesting Brescia’s lawsuit targeted at those who have served to prevent the further degradation of the bones of our kūpuna.


Hokulani Aikau, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Political Science, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa

Carlos Andrade, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa

Maile Arvin, M.A. candidate, Department of Ethnic Studies, University of California San Diego

J. Leilani Basham, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Hawaiian Studies, University of Hawai`i at West O`ahu

Kamanamaikalani Beamer, Ph.D., Mellon-Hawai`i Postdoctoral Fellow, Kohala Center, Hawai`i

Kealani Robinson Cook, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, University of Michigan

Lani Cupchoy, Ph.D. Candidate, History, University of California, Irvine

Lisa Kahaleole Hall, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Women’s Studies, Wells College

Sydney Lehua Iaukea, Ph.D., Mellon-Hawai`i Postdoctoral Fellow, Kohala Center, Hawai`i

Kū Kahakalau, Ph.D., founder and director of Kanu o ka ‘Āina New Century
Public Charter School

Lilikalā Kame`eleihiwa, Ph.D., Professor, Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Anthropology and American Studies, Wesleyan University

Kanani K. M. Lee, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Geology & Geophysics, Yale University

Jon Kamakawiwo`ole Osorio, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa

Lessa Kanani`opua Pelayo, M.L.I.S. Candidate, B.A., University of California, Los Angeles

Kekailoa Perry, J.D. Assistant Professor, Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa

Keanu Sai, Ph.D., Lecturer Kapiolani Community College

Noenoe K. Silva, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Political Science, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa

Stephanie Nohelani Teves, Ph.D. Candidate, Program in American Culture, University of

Ty Kāwika Tengan, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Anthropology and Ethnic Studies, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa

Haunani-Kay Trask, Ph.D., Professor, Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, University of Hawai`i, Mānoa

Liza Keanuenueokalani Williams, Ph.D. student, New York University

Erin Kahunawaika`ala Wright, Ph.D. Director of Native Hawaiian Student Services, Hawai'inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge

For more information, contact: J. Kehaulani Kauanui
Ph: 860-638-1264
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Write the Kaua`i Planning Commission, State Historic Preservation Division Officials, Governor Linda Lingle, Joseph Brecia, and the Mayor of Kaua`i. See addresses below.  
Please cc: all letters and emails to:  J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Center for the Americas, Wesleyan University, 255 High Street, Middletown, CT 06459. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Ian Costa
Director of Planning
County of Kaua`i
4444 Rice Street, Suite 473
Lihue, HI 96766
(no email available)

Laura Thielan, Chairperson
State of Hawaii, Department of Land and Natural Resources
State Historic Preservation Division
601 Kamokila Blvd., Room 555
Kapolei, HI 96707
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Pua Aiu, Administrator
State Historic Preservation Division
601 Kamokila Blvd., Room 555
Kapolei, HI 96707
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Nancy McMahon, Deputy Administrator
State Historic Preservation Division
601 Kamokila Blvd., Room 555
Kapolei, HI 96707
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Governor Linda Lingle
State of Hawai`i
Executive Chambers
State Capitol
Honolulu, Hawai`i  96813
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Joseph Brescia, President
Architectural Glass & Aluminum
1151 Marina Village Parkway, Suite 101
Alameda, CA 94501
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Bernard P. Carvalho, Jr.
Mayor, County of Kauai
4444 Rice St., Suite 235
Lihue, HI 96766
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Tribal Economic Development Bonds

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 July 2009 10:28

(article reprinted with permission from Brian Pierson)

Tribal Economic Development Bonds - An Executive Summary for Tribal Leaders

What Law Authorizes Tribal Economic Development Bonds?

On February 13, 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 ("ARRA" or "Recovery Act"), a $787 billion recovery package intended to stimulate the U.S. economy out of recession. The ARRA consists of supplemental appropriations for federal spending, as well as tax incentives, state fiscal relief and other provisions. Section 1402 of the ARRA amends the Indian Tribal Governmental Tax Status Act of 1982, 26 U.S.C. §7871 ("Indian Tax Status Act") to permit, for the first time, "Tribal Economic Development Bonds" (TEDBs).

What is a Tax-Exempt Bond and Why is the Authority to Issue Tax-Exempt Bonds Important?

A bond is a type of loan. The issuer (except in the case of private activity) is the borrower. The purchaser of a bond is the lender. A bond normally has a longer term than a business loan and is capable of being freely bought and sold by the bondholders. When a bond qualifies as tax-exempt under the Internal Revenue Code, the holders of the bonds do not have to pay federal income tax on the interest payments they receive. This normally means that they are willing to accept a lower rate of interest because the tax exemption increases their net return on investment. The result for the borrower is lower debt costs.

What Bonds Could Tribes Issue Before the Recovery Act?

Until now, under the Indian Tribal Governmental Tax Status Act tribes could issue tax-exempt bonds to finance "essential government functions," such as schools, streets and sewers. The Internal Revenue Service, however, has long limited the types of activities that tribal governments can finance with these bonds by mandating that the financed activity must have been conducted by numerous state and local governments, for many years, and that the activity must not be a commercial or industrial activity. There has been a vigorous debate over tribes' efforts to finance golf courses, hotels and convention centers with tax-exempt bonds.

How was the Tribes' Authority different from State and Municipal Bond Authority Before the Recovery Act?

State and local governments are not restricted to essential government functions with respect to their tax-exempt bond authority. They have been able to use tax-exempt bonds to finance certain activities, such as the development of convention centers, hotels, sports facilities and even gaming-related facilities that Indian tribes have not been allowed to finance because of the "essential government function" limitation in the Indian Tax Status Act.  
In addition, under Section 141(e) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, state and local governments are able to use tax-exempt bonds to finance certain activities, even if the proceeds of the bond issuance ultimately accrue to private parties. Indian tribal governments have never been authorized to issue these "private activity bonds."
How do Tribal Economic Development Bonds Help Equalize the Treatment of Tribes and States?

Section 1402 authorizes the allocation of up to $2 billion worth of "Tribal Economic Development Bonds."  TEDBs can be used by Indian tribal governments to finance any activity that a state or local government can finance using tax-exempt bonds, except that (1) proceeds may not be used to finance "any portion of a building in which class II or III gaming is conducted or housed or any other property actually used in the conduct of such gaming," and (2) the project must not be "located outside the Indian reservation." 
Tribal Economic Development Bonds are important because they
  • remove the disparity as to the types of government-owned facilities that can be financed with tax-exempt bonds by state and local governments, on the one hand, and tribal governments, on the other, and 
  • open the door to the issuance by tribal governments of certain qualified private activity bonds. 
What Three Types of Bonds are Tribes now Authorized to Issue?
As a result of the ARRA, tribes now have the authority to issue three different types of bonds:

1. Essential Government Function Bonds
These are the bonds that were authorized by the Indian Tribal Status Act of 1982. There is no limit to the amounts of these bonds that tribes can issue. They can be used to finance traditional government facilities such as

  • Roads
  • Parks
  • Water and Wastewater systems
  • Government buildings 
  • Schools
  • Etc.
2. Tribal Economic Development Government Bonds
Tribal Economic Development Government Bonds are one of the types of Tribal Economic Development Bonds authorized for the first time by the ARRA. They are subject to a $2 billion cap. They can be used to finance projects and facilities owned by tribes but outside the scope of "essential governmental function" bonds, such as
  • Convention centers
  • Golf courses
  • Sports facilities
  • Hotels
  • Restaurants
  • Water parks
  • Entertainment facilities
  • Marinas
  • Etc.
3. Qualified Private Activity Tribal Economic Development Bonds
Private activity bonds are bonds issued by states, municipalities and now tribes, the proceeds of which are re-loaned to private entities. While a project financed by a Tribal Economic Development Government Bond, discussed above, must be owned by the tribe that issues the bonds, a project that is financed by a qualified private activity bond can be owned by a tribal joint venture or third party investor.
Generally, a bond is a "private activity bond" if more than 10% of the proceeds of the bond are used in a trade or business carried on by a person other than a governmental unit (a "private business use"), and if the payment of more than 10% of the principal of and interest on a bond issue is secured by an interest in, or payments made with respect to, property used in such a trade or business. 
If a private activity bond is issued by a state or local government, or, with respect to the $2 billion worth of Tribal Economic Development Bonds, by an Indian tribal government, interest on the bond will only be exempt from federal income tax if the bond is one of seven types of "qualified bonds" used for purposes that the U.S. Congress has deemed deserving of public support.
A full discussion of private activity bonds is beyond the scope of this executive summary. There are strict limitations and qualifications on the issuance of private activity bonds that must be carefully reviewed to determine their suitability for a particular project. Types of qualified private activity bonds include:
  • Exempt Facilities Bonds to finance the construction of (i) water and sewage facilities, (ii) residential rental projects, (iii) local district heating or cooling facilities falling within the parameters of the IRC, (iv) qualified hazardous waste facilities, (v) environmental enhancements of hydroelectric generating facilities, (vi) qualified public educational facilities, subject to caps, and (vii) certain other defined facilities described at IRS Section 142. 
  • Qualified mortgage bonds to finance the purchase, and in some cases, the repair or rehabilitation, of owner-occupied single-family homes located in the jurisdiction of the issuer, provided IRS requirements are met.  
  • Qualified veterans' mortgage bonds are tax-exempt bonds that may be issued to finance veterans' purchases of owner-occupied single-family homes.  However, under Section 142(l)(2) of the Code, qualified veterans' mortgage bonds may only be issued by a state that issued such bonds before June 22, 1984.
  • Qualified small issue bonds to finance manufacturing facilities (more commonly known as industrial development revenue bonds). 
  • Qualified student loan bonds under Section 144(b) of the Code.
  • Qualified redevelopment bonds to finance the redevelopment of blighted areas, or areas determined to be blighted based on the substantial presence of certain factors, including excessive vacant land on which structures were previously located, abandoned or vacant buildings, substandard structures, vacancies, and property tax delinquencies. 
  • Qualified 501(c)(3) bonds to fund the exempt activities (and not the unrelated businesses, if any) of a 501(c)(3) organization, and if any property provided by the bond proceeds is owned by a 501(c)(3) organization or a governmental unit. 
Applying for Tribal Economic Development Bonds Section 1402 of the ARRA provides that "[t]he Secretary shall allocate the national tribal economic development bond limitation among the Indian tribal governments in such manner as the Secretary [of the Treasury], in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior, determines appropriate." The national limit is $2 billion. Neither the Act itself nor the "Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference" provides additional information regarding the allocation process. Since Section 1402 also requires that the Secretary perform a study on the law and report back to Congress within one year, some expeditious means of allocation seems necessary.  The Treasury Department is accepting comments on the allocation process until March 30th.

For further information please contact Brian Pierson, Attorney Indian Nations Team Leader, Godfrey & Kahn, S.C. Attorneys at Law, 780 North Water Street, Milwaukee, WI, 53202-3590. Phone 414.273.3500, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or visit http://www.gklaw.com


Indigenous Mapping Network Reaches Out to Berkeley Campus

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Sunday, 22 March 2009 19:53

On February 25, the Indigenous Mapping Network hosted an outreach meeting on the UC Berkeley campus.  About twenty-five attendees bridged various fields of information technology, environmental science, cultural geography, and indigenous rights — all with a common interest in indigenous mapping. 
The group discussed the opportunities and limitations of maps.  “Indigenous mapping can be challenging.  How do you talk about cultural things and put this into mapping language?  How do you put oral histories on a map?” said Tammie Grant, who has taught tribal GIS for many years.  Other mapping practitioners in the room confirmed that maps can tell community stories through the landscape.  Gregor MacLennan from the indigenous rights group Amazon Watch spoke about  mapping as a powerful tool that can support indigenous communities in defining their territory boundaries, especially when communities make and own their own maps.  

Another concern was mapping technologies being out of reach for local communities.  Open-source software engineer Brian Hamlin responded that the technologies have been much improved, “There are new tools for analyzing GIS information through interactive, accessible, and low cost methods.  It is a new era.  Maps can be relationship and story-oriented.”  Yet there are still issues with who gains access to traditional knowledge, and the technology must be used with care and meaningful consent.    

There are real opportunities for positive initiatives, linking Berkeley with indigenous communities.   Cultural geography Sandy Nichols spoke about her interest in using maps in her research with indigenous farmworker communities, coming to California from Oaxaca.  Karuk tribal leader Ron Reed discussed working with Berkeley to connect traditional science and western science.  Ron is collaborating with campus supporters to establish an eco-cultural revitalization camp for youth.  “I am teaching traditional ecological knowledge, and Berkeley has the ability to teach western science.  So the kids learn both,” he explained.

Given the history of struggle between the university and native communities, such Berkeley collaborations without controversy.  But mapping could also be used to address historic problems.  For example, our group discussed how mapping could offer an opportunity for education on indigenous rights issues, such as providing geographic information on the origins of ancestral remains of Native Americans currently held at UC Berkeley.

The take-home message from the meeting was that indigenous mapping is an important opportunity that must be pursued in a respectful manner.  Ideas for moving forward with collaboration between indigenous communities and supporters from UC Berkeley, Bay Area NGOs, and local technology innovators include:
  • Demonstrations of indigenous mapping & discussions of “lessons learned”
  • Instruction from practitioners on technology & software tools
  • Generating a shared project database for networking

The Indigenous Mapping Network node at Berkeley is hoping to receive recommendations on additional individuals to involve, resources to share, and indigenous mapping projects requiring broader community support.  “We hope to work with the Berkeley community to develop a platform for collaboration and to link indigenous communities with emerging technologies,” said IMN board member Rosemarie McKeon.  

We will continue our discussion of the issues of indigenous mapping from the perspective of communities and researchers at our next meeting, on April 1, 2009, 6-8PM, at South Hall on the UC Berkeley Campus (located just west of the Campanile tower.)  All are welcome to attend.  Please write to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with any questions.

Winning Back Traditional Food: The Karuk Tribe and Salmon Fishing

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 March 2009 22:13

The Klamath River Basin is an ecologically diverse watershed that spans from the deserts of southern Oregon to the redwood forests of northern California. The Basin is also home to many indigenous communities whom have called this land home for countless generations: the Klamath, Shasta, and Modoc in the north and the Hoopa, Karuk, and Yurok in the south. These people have lived in the basin along the rivers since before the settlement of this land by Euro-Americans and still hold to it strong spiritual ties. The Klamath River Basin communities once subsisted on a lifestyle centered around the fish that spawn in these rivers, most specifically salmon. Not only were they considered a source of nourishment, but they were also focuses of worship and occupied the core of many religious beliefs.

 The Basin is drained by the Klamath River, which was once the third most productive salmon fishery on the Pacific Coast. Since the early 20th century, populations of anadromous, or freshwater-spawning, fish have seen a drastic loss in numbers in Klamath River due to historically recent environmental pressures. A decrease in fish population is certainly detrimental to commercial fisheries and recreational businesses, but more importantly it is dire to the tribes who have traditionally relied on the health of the river and their ceremonies, both of which are equally important to them, to bring the spawning fish back every year. What is at stake is the health of the ecosystem that provides so many services to those who live in it and depend on it for sustenance and as the basis of their heritage.

Ron Reed Fishing for Salmon

 Ron Reed, a member of the Karuk nation, knows firsthand about how the declining health of the Klamath River affects his people. Although federally recognized, they were a landless tribe (without a reservation provided by the government after their land was taken by incoming settlers) until they paid those who took it for its rights back. The land exists today as a government-held tribal trust. Today the problem is not lack of land, but lack of environmental quality.

 The Karuk tribe has suffered extensively from a number of hardships imposed upon them since the California Goldrush, but few have been as lingering as the absence of traditional foods, he said. In earlier times, the Karuk nourished themselves on wild game such as deer and bear, river fish, acorns that were pound into grain and paste, and various fruits and vegetables. As one of eighteen tribes without a ratified treaty with the U.S. government, they possess no hunting, fishing, or gathering rights. This means they can either pay for licenses, which many cannot afford, or risk legal prosecution to acquire local food, create clothing from local materials, or collect ingredients for regalia and ceremonial artisanwork.

 The land on which the Karuk have lived “since time immemorial” is not just vitally important as a source of foodstuffs and cultural materials, but it is the foundation for their identity in this world. And they value it so strongly for a good reason: it was once, and has potential to become once more, a naturally  extraordinary provider.

 The Klamath River Basin was once an intricate network of rivers, lakes, mountains, floodplains, and wetlands, working in harmony to produce a biologically rich landscape that supported large populations of anadromous and freshwater fish. In the early 20th century, working under the old American philosophy that “undeveloped land is land gone to waste,” the US Reclamation Service carried out a massive land transformation undertaking in the Basin called the Klamath Reclamation Project. This project sought to turn thousands of acres of “undesirable land” into arable farmland and relegate the U.S. Forest Service to upland development for timber production. Upriver communities of farmers began to be established, and dams were constructed to provide power and regulate water flow and use. As a result, in lock step with most historical agricultural development, the wetlands and lakes that characterized the land were drained and planted with non-native food crops. For the Karuk, this not only meant the disturbance of a working ecosystem that provided them with a healthy river, it also threatened the local extinction of many plant species they collected for medicines, regalia, basketry, and craftwork.  

 To date, four dams have been constructed on the Klamath River. The water flow below the dams downstream was dramatically altered, and a suite of other problems have arisen in response, including algal blooms in the still upstream water and riverine temperature rises, both encouraging fish disease. These dams have both physically and symbolically separated the two communities: those below the dams who relied on the salmon, and those above the dams who never saw the salmon they blocked.

 The driving force for salmon reduction has most arguably been the greatest impediment to their ages old upstream migration: the four obstructing dams, currently maintained by Pacific Power. For years the regional tribes have appealed to the corporation to remove the dams and restore the upstream path to the salmonsʼ ancient spawning grounds, along with improving conditions for many of the other fish they depend on, including the Pacific lamprey which they call “eel”, sturgeons, steelheads, and trout. The function of fishing, at least for the Karuk, is not only to obtain a meal; they are also used for ceremonies and barter. But most vital is the spiritual connection between fish and human that helps the Karuk place themselves in the world. The salmon are one of the keystones of their identity, and although their meat sustains the people, their existence as a healthy, teeming visitor to the Klamath River each year is more essential to preserve what it means to be Karuk.

 In November 2008, local and federal government convened with PacifiCorp, the parent organization, and finally decided on a timeline to remove the four Klamath dams by 2020. This would be the largest dam removal in US history, and a sure step towards a better future for those who rely on the salmon as a way of life. Dam removal would help reconnect the two communities upriver and downriver that have been at odds for more than one hundred years. Further, it would ensure the land makes a steady transition from stressed to functioning once again. And a functioning ecosystem is beneficial to all who dwell within it and make use of its resources, whether they be fishermen or farmers.

 But to take ecosystem function to the next level, which is to ensure its health for future generations, smart management must be administered to recreate the relationship that existed between human and environment before population influx and distrust of native knowledge. The Karuk, as any people who have traditionally shaped their land to provide for them, still possess the management knowledge that produced the bountiful land Euro-American settlers found when they flooded in during the gold rush. Ironically enough, when the old science that spoke of undeveloped land as waste is compared with modern ecological theory, the old knowledge of the Karuk resembles more closely what one would find in the articles of recent ecology journals, just in different language. Both speak of a system approach to ecological management, in which every organismʼs action and fate affects others in the system.

 Ron Reed compared the Karukʼs way of thinking of managing land to curing the human body of an ailment using holistic medicine: the heart is the river, the veins the tributaries, the kidneys the wetlands, and so on. When one is impaired the whole suffers. Some modern practices like intensive monocultural agriculture still reflect the old school strategy of “force system to produce commodity”, but the current trend is more along the lines of “coax system to produce commodity while supporting greater ecological community”. The old way is certainly not a gleaming example of sustainability. The “new” way is actually not new at all, but in fact much older than the “old” way. But unfortunately, the Karuk and other tribes living on tribal trusts are not allowed to practice their traditional management without the presence of significant legal barriers.

 Currently, fire suppression and other poor management practices, vestiges of the old ways, are deteriorating the very ecological communities they were put in place to protect. Lack of fire in environments that depend on seasonal fires for growth cycles and extermination of invading plants leads to a drastic shifting of floral power, resulting in a reordering of native communities. Some ninety percent of the Karukʼs medicinal plants, all native species, are kept in proliferation by fires. The residents understand this relationship but nonetheless are prevented from exercising their wisdom.

 Even if these dams are all removed and the river is once again unclogged with barriers to breeding fish, there will be no assurance the land will be sustained without the activity of its knowledgeable inhabitants. For this reason, Ron Reed is working with other tribal members and UC Berkeley to create a K-12 culture camp for children in the tribe. This camp will operate on a seasonal lesson schedule, emphasizing different aspects of land management and culture each season through oral history, ceremony, and traditional practice. According to Ron, itʼs no good to fix the world on the outside if you still have problems on the inside. Therefore, he remains firm that education of tribal youth in traditional knowledge should be a top priority in order to ensure the survival of both the land and his people as a nation.

 There are many indigenous people like Ron Reed around the world that seek to convey to the scientific world that indigenous knowledge can legitimately manage an ecosystem. These people not only understand how to manage their land, but they are willing and eager. There exist two kinds of barriers to indigenous management: physical, as in dams, and political, as in legal restrictions. It is in everyoneʼs best interest that both are lifted to pave the way for a future of healthier ecosystems that nourish our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.

1. “Agreement in Principle Marks First Critical Step on Presumptive Path to Remove Four Klamath River Dams”. http://www.doi.gov/news/08_News_Releases/111308.html. November 13, 2008.
2.Klamath Riverkeeper. http://www.klamathriver.org/.
3.Reed, Ron. Personal communication.
4.Rymer, Russ. “Reuniting a River”. National Geographic. December 2008.

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