Skip to main content

Berkeley Art Auction Benefits Winnemen Tribe

  • Author:
  • Updated:

The McCloud River used to be home to salmon galore, enough to nourish and maintain the Winnemem Wintu (McCloud River) Tribe. But then came the Shasta Dam in 1945, flooding more than 90 percent of the Winnemem’s territory, including numerous cultural and sacred sites. The salmon that had once served as a source of food and cultural sustenance were decimated.

“Today, the Winnemem are fighting to prevent the federal government from raising the Shasta Dam higher, and to restore salmon runs to the McCloud River,” said Winnemem Wintu Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk-Franco. “We are fighting to maintain our traditions and way of life.”

Sisk-Franco and other Winnemem leaders are urging people to attend the February 3 benefit for Winnemem Journey to Justice. The event, sponsored by the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Sacred Land Film Project, Women's Earth Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council, includes an auction of works by Winnemem and local artists.

Tickets are $15 to $25 (no one will be turned away due to lack of funds). All proceeds go directly to the tribe. Tickets are available at the door or at the tribe's website. It goes from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the David Brower Center at 2150 Allston Way in Berkeley.

The evening of film, food and silent auction will assist the Winnemem Wintu (McCloud River) Tribe in its efforts to protect sacred sites and get chinook salmon returned to the McCloud River. Sisk-Franco will officiate. Highlights will include clips from a documentary in progress, a new Sacred Land Film Project by Will Doolittle called Dancing Salmon Home.

The Winnemem Wintu are a traditional tribe located in Redding. Ancestral lands lie along the McCloud River and stretch from Mount Shasta to the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary. They are a water and salmon people.

In March-April 2010, 30 members of the tribe went to New Zealand to conduct joint ceremonies with the Maori Nation to bring back the winter run chinook salmon to the McCloud River above Shasta Dam. Ironically, while winter run chinook from the McCloud are now thriving in the Rakaira and other New Zealand rivers, the fish no longer run up their native river.

The tribe is putting pressure on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service to allow its members to bring back winter run eggs from New Zealand to be reintroduced into the McCloud. The tribe would like to provide passage around the dam for the salmon by connecting Dry Creek above the dam with Cow Creek below the dam. They want to build support among fishermen, environmentalists and other Indian tribes to restore salmon to the McCloud.

This effort by the Tribe to restore winter run chinook salmon to the McCloud River occurs at a time when Central Valley salmon populations are in their greatest ever crisis. The Sacramento River fall chinook salmon run declined from nearly 800,000 fish in 2002 to only 39,530 fish in 2009. Although the federal government claims that ocean conditions spurred the collapse, tribes, fishermen and independent scientists point to increasing water exports out of the California Delta in recent years and declining water quality as the key factors behind the unprecedented collapse.

While the Maori and New Zealand governments said they would provide winter chinook eggs to be reintroduced into the McCloud, the U.S. government is reluctant to do this, claiming that the fish have adapted to a shorter river and estuary and may not re-adapt to the Sacramento system and Bay-Delta, according to Sisk-Franco.

“While these governments are working with us, it’s our own government that is saying that we must do these studies to find out whether the salmon will survive the 300 mile journey,” said Sisk-Franco at the Salmon Summit in Half Moon Bay on December 4.

“We are asking the commercial and recreational fishermen to work with us in getting these fish to come back to the McCloud,” she said. “The Indian people know that if the salmon are gone, so are we.”