Hoopa Indian Tribe and Water Rights

By Maria Kochis, Engineering Librarian, Reference Department

I was able to attend a local protest in Roseville on Monday, March 15th. The protest occurred at the Northern California Power Agency in Roseville. The objective: to demand that Roseville withdraw from a lawsuit that has stopped river restoration on the Trinity River, the river that has provided sustenance and a way of life for members of the Hoopa Vally Indian tribe for generations. see story

Currently, 90% of the river can be pumped through diversion tunnels into the Sacramento River. That percentage seems staggeringly high. Apparently, water began to be diverted from the Trinity River in large quantities following severe droughts in California that took place in the early 1970s. Much of the water goes to corporate farms in the Westlands Water District of the San Joaquin Valley.

During an opening prayer ceremony, tribal chairman Clifford Lyle Marshall explained that the Hoopa tribe and other California communities had set up an environmental/ fisheries department on the river and had been monitoring the ecosystems of the Trinity for several decades. He said it was their scientific findings that led Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to sign a Record of Decision in 2000, creating the Trinity Restoration plan. This plan requires that 47% of the river be used for maintaining healthy fish populations and 53% of the flow be used for agricultural and power purposes.

However, organizations joined with the Westlands Water District to block this decision by filing suit. SMUD was one of the original litigants, but has since backed out of the legal battle after pressure by Indian tribes, fishermen, and environmentalists. The city of Roseville is another litigant. The protest was held at the Northern California Power Agency because Roseville is a member of the NCPA.

The protest was a peaceful event. About eighty members of the Hoopa tribe joined with local activists to make signs in the morning at a nearby park. Protesters marched several blocks to the NCPA offices carrying large silvery salmon puppets and photos of the river after fishkills had occurred. We marched in solidarity with protesters around the globe to commemorate the International Day of Action against Dams on March 14. To learn more about the International Day of Action against Dams, go the website of the International Rivers Network at www.irn.org. To learn more about the Hoopa Valley Indian Tribe, go to http://www.hoopa-nsn.gov/

For me, the most significant part of the protest was remembering that there are living communities of indigenous Americans still trying to sustain ways of life very different from the mainstream. As an educator, I wish there were more opportunities in our schools and universities to learn from these communities directly, particularly since the cultural values of these communities seem intrinsically tied to preserving local ecosystems. Meeting the Hoopa tribe reminded me again why preserving diversity is such a better route to travel than demanding assimilation.