Sunday, March 21, 2010

From rural California to rural New Zealand and back: It's all for the fish

Jesse McKinley reports in today's New York Times on efforts by the tiny Winnemem Wintu tribe to apologize to the fish, which are less plentiful than they once were in the McCloud River, near the tribe's ancestral home in Shasta County, in northern California. Sixty members of the tribe, which is not recognized by the federal government, have traveled to the Rakaia River in New Zealand to apologize to the Chinook salmon there.

Here's an excerpt that explains some of the history:
As the Winnemem see it, the tribe’s troubles began in early 1940s, with the completion of the Shasta Dam, which blocked the Sacramento River and cut off the lower McCloud River, obstructing seasonal salmon runs, and according to the tribe, breaking a covenant with the fish.
A tribal leader is quoted as saying they should have fought harder to prevent the dam, and now they must atone to the fish. So, how does New Zealand come into the picture? McKinley explains:
As luck would have it, the United States government once bred millions of Chinook eggs from the McCloud and shipped them around the world in hopes of creating new fisheries, including a batch that went to the South Island of New Zealand, where the fish thrived.
* * *
Once in New Zealand, the Winnemem plan to rendezvous with local Maori leaders and stage a four-day ceremony starting March 28 that will culminate with the rare “nur chonas winyupus,” or middle water salmon dance.
The Winnemem believe their fate is closely linked to the salmon; if they as a tribe are to make a come back, the salmon must, too.

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