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'We are the salmon and the salmon are us' | A Northern California tribe's journey to bring back the salmon

For the seventh year in a row, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe and others embarked on Run4Salmon, a 300-mile Prayer Journey to restore salmon to the Mount Shasta area.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For the seventh year in a row and led by Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, California Native Americans, activists, and allies embarked on Run4Salmon, a 300-mile Prayer Journey to restore salmon to the Mount Shasta area.

"The importance of the run for salmon is that we are bringing back that connection that we have with our waterways," said Desirae Harp, a lead organizer for the Run4Salmon prayer journey. "And something that we always say is that we are the salmon and the salmon are us. And so in the same way, that the prayers are being laid out there, for the salmon to come home, the salmon are also helping us to remember our connection with these waters."

Run4Salmon History

According to the organization, issues started when the Shasta Dam was built in 1945, hindering the Chinook salmon of the Mount Shasta area from returning to their spawning grounds in the McCloud River.

Starting back in 2016, Chief Caleen Sisk and others began carrying out a journey that follows the historical pathway of our salmon. The route follows a once historic "salmon run" from the spawning beds of Chinook salmon on the upper McCloud River, down the Sacramento River, through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and into the San Francisco Bay.

According to the Run4Salmon website, this was done to "lay down prayers for their return as well as to raise awareness about the policies and issues threatening water, fish, and Indigenous lifeways."

Related: Endangered salmon will swim in California river for first time in 80 years (LA Times)

Now seven years later, the prayer journey has gathered momentum and has seen support from not just local Native American communities in California but from people around the world.

According to the organization, "Run4Salmon was named a UNESCO Green Citizen Project this past year, and it is also internationally recognized by the United Nations as a viable indigenous-led solution to the multitude of climate challenges California is facing."

Watch: Chief Caleen Sisk Speaks at the Run4Salmon Fundraiser, May 2021

Bringing the wild Chinook salmon home

"Right now, we have progress because we have the baby salmon that have been released above the dam," Harp said. "But that's really just the beginning."

Harp says the return of the salmon was recorded in a prophecy known to the Winnemem Wintu people.

"The prophecy said that someday the salmon that they are going to go away, but that they're going to come back through the ice glacier," she said. "And so what happened was that there was salmon eggs that were actually sent around the world, and one of the places that they were sent to was in Aotearoa (or) New Zealand."

Sometime later Harp says Chief Caleen Sisk was contacted by people in New Zealand who said "Hey, we have your salmon."

"We have been doing DNA testing, and through that DNA testing, we've been trying to show this government how those salmon they are from here," Harp says. "And so Chief Caleen is saying that we don't just need hatchery fish in these waters, we need wild Chinook salmon in these waters again."

Moving forward, Harp says the organization is trying to ask the government to build a swim way around the dam and also to bring the wild chinook salmon home.

"It's taken a long time for her (Chief Caleen) to be able to be seen as an equal with these government agencies," Harp said. "Because a lot of the times the traditional ecological knowledge of the indigenous people gets overlooked."

As it stands right now, according to Harp, there are hatchery fish swimming below the dam and baby salmon above the dam.

"Right now, people need to understand how this is so big what we're doing," Harp said. "Because it's not just about one group of people. It's about waking people up, and so the more people that wake up to what is happening to our waters, then we can actually take action."

Posted by Run4Salmon on Saturday, July 30, 2022

How to stay connected

The prayer journey this year started on July 8 and is set to end on July 31. To stay up to date on the organization's mission, visit their website here or follow their social media profiles:

Watch: Sacramento Native American youth speak on growing up indigenous

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