May 18, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Native American Leaders in Aoteroa to Woo Salmon back home

4 min read

(By Dan Bacher) Two dozen members of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe are now on a spiritual mission in New Zealand to ask Chinook salmon native to the, a tributary of the Sacramento River, to return home to northern California. Tribal representatives will gather on the banks of the Rakaia River, in Canterbury, on Sunday, March 28 to apologize to the winter run Chinook salmon a species that was introduced to the river over 100 years ago.

Click to view TVNZ's piece

The winter Chinook is also known as quinnat in New Zealand.

At the culmination of a four-day ceremony, tribal members will perform the nur chonas winyupus or middle water salmon dance, according to a news release from Tourism New Zealand.

In California, the winter run is a listed as an endangered species under state and federal law. Only 4,483 adult winter Chinook returned to spawn in the Sacramento River below Shasta Dam in 2009, down from approximately 120,000 fish in 1969.

The decline has been caused by an array of factors, including massive water exports from the California Delta, unscreened diversions, water pollution and the failure of the state and federal governments to provide fish passage to the fishs original spawning grounds in the McCloud River above Shasta Dam.

The tribal group who are collaborating with New Zealand leaders (mana whenua) of the South Island Ngai Tahu tribe to organise the ceremony was welcomed to New Zealand yesterday with a traditional Maori powhiri, the release stated.

Caleen Sisk-Franco, Winnemem Wintu Chief, says the tribe came to New Zealand on a vision quest based on a higher spiritual calling.

The spirits came into the fire area here and they said youve got to get it done.

The construction of Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River stopped the salmon from ascending the McCloud as they did for thousands and thousands of years, breaking a sacred covenant that the tribe had with the fish, according to the Winnemem. The tribe says that New Zealand salmon are descended from eggs taken from the McCloud and they are hoping to reintroduce eggs from this original stock back into their homeland.

The tribes journey received national and international attention on March 21 when the New York Times published an outstanding article written by Jesse McKinley about the tribes trip.

The Francos say they intend to ask local fish and game officials if they can bring back some of New Zealands salmon eggs once of California stock back to the McCloud. We have to do more than pray, Ms. Callen Sisk-Franco said. We have to follow through, according to McKinley.

Click to view a Larger Map of the area

Representatives of the Winnemem scraped together the $60,000 needed for the trip by selling trinkets, soliciting help from wealthier tribes, and through Facebook. For the riverside ceremony, the delegation has brought ceremonial regalia including eagle headgear, a container of sacred water, weapons and a ceremonial drum.

Mark Franco, Winnemem Wintu headman, announced the tribes plans to go to New Zealand during his keynote speech at the Organic Capital Celebration of Sustainability, sponsored by Organic Sacramento and Friends of the River, in Sacramento on December 9. He received an award, on behalf of the tribe, for the tribes many efforts to stop the raising of Shasta Dam, to restore the Delta and bring salmon back to the McCloud River above Shasta Dam.

The tribes journey comes at crucial time for Central Valley salmon populations. The Sacramento River fall Chinook salmon run, the driver of West Coast salmon fisheries, collapsed from nearly 800,000 fish in 2002, to only 39,500 fish in fall 2009. Endangered winter run and spring run chinook run chinook runs have also crashed, due to massive water exports from the California Delta to corporate agribusiness and southern California, declining water quality and other factors.

Ironically, while salmon populations have declined dramatically in their native California waters, they now thrive in New Zealand rivers and coastal waters. The salmon was introduced into New Zealand waters between 1901 and 1907. The salmon has established spawning runs in the Rangitata, Opihi, Ashburton, Rakaia, Waimakariri, Hurunui and Waiau rivers in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

I strongly urge you to contribute to the tribes battle to restore McCloud River salmon and their many other efforts on behalf of environmental justice, go to their Facebook page for more information. All recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, conservationists, tribal members and environmental justice advocates should support the Winnemem Wintu in their campaign to bring the salmon home, defend sacred sites and regain federal recognition.

3 thoughts on “Native American Leaders in Aoteroa to Woo Salmon back home

  1. PT2

    She said the regalia should be given the same exemption as museum items when they were transported around the world.

    The feathered items represented the tribe's relatives and were a significant part of the ceremony, she said.

    Tribe members were hosted by the Ngai Tahu Mamoe Fisher People group in New Zealand.

    Group chairman John Wilkie said he was disgusted with the damage to the items.

    "If I could get the guy who packed those feathers out the back and I said `jump', he couldn't jump high enough, because he would still get the boot up his backside. It is not on," he said.

    A spokeswoman for Biosecurity New Zealand said great care was taken to ensure the regalia was not damaged.

    "One of the tribe members was in the lab when packaging was taking place and it was all done under his supervision.

    "We don't usually allow people into the lab, but we went out of our way to make sure it was fine," the spokeswoman said.

    "The only explanation we can think of is something happened during the courier process."

    She said the treatment had to be completed.

    Quinnat salmon in South Island rivers are descendants of fish spawned from eggs taken from the McCloud River in the 1870s. The tribe is investigating whether it can take salmon eggs from the Rakaia back to the US to repopulate the McCloud River.

    Sisk-Franco said the ceremony was successful, despite the damaged regalia.

    "We danced for four days and four nights.

    "It was beautiful there," she said.

    "We saw the salmon jump in the river while we were performing the ceremony."

  2. Damage to regalia angers tribe
    By CHARLIE GATES – The Press

    The Native American tribe intent on returning their salmon to California from Canterbury are upset their ceremonial regalia was damaged by New Zealand border security.

    The Winnemem Wintu tribe flew back to the United States yesterday after completing a ceremony on the banks of the Rakaia River.

    The ceremony involved four days of singing and dancing and was designed to re-establish the tribe's relationship with the native quinnat salmon, which were exported to New Zealand from northern California last century, but no longer live in their home river.

    The tribe has a spiritual connection with the salmon, but fish populations have fallen in the McCloud River in northern California since a dam was built in the 1940s.

    Tribe chief Caleen Sisk-Franco said biosecurity staff seized firewood and ceremonial clothing when members of the tribe arrived last month and treated the items to kill fungi and invertebrates.

    "We had to inspect and repair our regalia.

    "Somehow, the laws of the country have no place for our religious items," Sisk-Franco said.

    "One of the things that had happened to the regalia was that whatever was sprayed on them made them rubbery. We had some difficulty keeping the pieces from falling off. It broke them down.

    "Some of the feathers that came back were broken and sprayed with something. We tried to wash it off.

    "That was the hard part – seeing the condition of the regalia.

    "It was very sad."

  3. Beautiful story and amazing that this iwi should have to come all the way to Aotearoa just to be reunited with their whanaunga.

    We wish them all the best and hope the transition home goes smoothly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.