Indians protest lack of voice at conference
Alex Breitler, The Record Searchlight, July 11, 2003
SACRAMENTO — Angry over a lack of representation, about 150 American Indians from the Klamath River area protested Thursday outside a regional water conference here. Members of the Yurok tribe piled into buses and cars as early as 12:30 a.m. Thursday for the roughly 300-mile drive to Sacramento, said the tribe's Executive Director Troy Fletcher.
While American Indians were invited to attend the federal government's conference, none participated, Fletcher said. "It was just disappointing," said Fletcher. "It was terrible for us."
About 33,000 salmon died last year on the Klamath River, due in part to low flows. American Indians who depend on the fish have criticized government policy that diverts water to farms in the upper Klamath Basin.
Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Jeff McCracken said one American Indian was invited to participate in a conference panel. But, he said, that representative — from a Nevada tribe — was unable to attend. "Circumstances just caught up with us," said McCracken. "We just never had an opportunity to replace him. We just went ahead and held the event today as best we could."
It would only make sense, Fletcher said, to invite members from tribes involved in the hotly debated Klamath River issue. But the "Water 2025" conference — the third of eight regional meetings to discuss ways to prevent water conflicts in the future — wasn't devoted solely to the woes of the Klamath, McCracken said.
U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced the Water 2025 strategy last month to boost water supplies, promote conservation, increase efficiency and bank water for dry years. But the look to the future has brought critics from the present. "It's surprising that Bureau of Reclamation came here with a vision for 2025 with no vision for 2003," said Craig Tucker of Friends of the River, which joined the tribe and the Sierra Club in protesting the conference.
The Yuroks, joined by members of the Hoopa tribe and some environmental groups, held what Fletcher called a "respectful, peaceful" demonstration, not only against their lack of participation but against the government's water policy in general. Tribe members stood outside a hotel holding signs with sayings such as, "Fish need water stupid" and "Got water? Give some to the fish."
Fletcher said he thinks he knows why American Indians weren't more involved in the meeting. "If they asked the Yurok tribe to speak, we would tell it like it is," Fletcher said. "There's too much demand on a limited supply" of water.
McCracken said the conference's 500 participants saw the beginning of a dialogue that should continue into the future. Besides holding the regional meetings, the government has a "Water 2025" plan that would seek voluntary water transfers, reduce the cost of advanced water treatment and install new water management technologies.
"People recognized what the administration's focus here is, and it's a good one," McCracken said. Fletcher said the Yuroks were at least pleased that they got their point across. "We're extremely concerned that unless the Bureau of Reclamation identifies real solutions today, at present, there won't be fish around — at least on the Klamath — in any meaningful numbers in 2025," he said.