The Winnemem Wintu Tribe has had a busy year in 2023 reintroducing Winter Run Chinook to the Winnemem Waywaket (McCloud River). In May 2023, the Winnemem Wintu signed historic agreements with both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to become equal decision making partners in efforts to reintroduce winter run Chinook above Shasta Dam.
These actions are a part of our Tribe’s overall goal to return the Nur (salmon) to the Winnemem Waywaket. The pilot project with NOAA and CDFW includes reintroducing salmon eggs from hatcheries to the river, and our overall goal is to bring back our ancestral Nur who currently live in New Zealand.
Through our partnership with California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this summer we had 3 separate deliveries of salmon eggs by helicopter to Wayelporhormas. Even more exciting is that this year, the Winnemem Wintu have our own innovative incubation system set up along the banks of the Winnemem Waywaket (McCloud River) in addition to the hatchery setup used last year. Our system was developed in partnership with UC Davis and imitates a natural spawning bed that allows for salmon alevin to swim upright and go out into the waters of our river when they are ready. Currently, we have salmon in various stages of life in each of the tanks, as well as a school of salmon enjoying a shaded pool on the side of the Winnemem Waywaket, waiting for the right time to head downstream.
The Winnemem Wintu signed an historic agreement with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to co-steward McCloud River Salmon Restoration Projects, which include bringing eyed eggs from wild New Zealand salmon to the Winnemem Waywaket (McCloud River), designing a volitional passage for the salmon up to our river, and beginning restoration projects along the watershed.
Salmon urgently need defenders, but clashes between traditional and scientific approaches make for uneasy coalitions. In 2022, Winnemem Wintu Tribe members worked with personnel from NOAA Fisheries, the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, and Dept. of Water Resources to create a way forward.
On an October site visit to a research site on Shasta Reservoir, where surface water temperatures had reached 84 degrees, Chief Caleen Sisk described how Chinook salmon changed after the dams went in: “They started getting sick, they started getting soft—and we stopped fishing.”
Nemonte Nenquimo, president of the Waorani of Pastaza, was welcomed by Chief Caleen Sisk to Buliyum Puyuuk (Mt. Shasta). Nemonte’s lawsuit against the Ecuadorian government protected 500,000 acres of Waorani ancestral territory in the Amazon rainforest from oil industry exploitation. Awarded a Goldman Environmental Prize, she was also named a UN Environment Programme Champion of the Earth, and one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2020 by Time Magazine.
Nemonte and her family enjoyed camping, singing, dancing, and swimming in the Winnemem Waywacket (McCloud River) with the Tribe. Thanks to filmmaker Will Parrinello for making the introductions. Here’s a link to his 8-minute film about Nemonte’s work.
On July 11, 2022, salmon eggs were returned to the cold waters of the Winnemem Waywacket (McCloud River) for the first time since dam construction blocked their way in the 1940s. Winnemem Wintu children placed the eyed eggs into an incubator. In a few weeks, if all goes well, fry will swim out into the river.
Run4Salmon, named a UNESCO Green Citizen Project this year, will cover 300 miles over three weeks in July. Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk will lead the seventh annual prayer journey from Mt. Shasta to the Pacific. Runners, walkers, and participants in boats, on bikes and on
horseback follow the path of migrating young salmon. The Run is a closed ceremony, but the public is invited to join online. For more information, visit run4salmon.org
After the late October storms, Chinook salmon returned to Dry Creek for the first time in years, just down the road from Tuiimyali village. One day—when our planned swimway comes into being—salmon will once again swim all the way to the cold waters of the high country, no longer blocked by dams.
Seeing the miracle fish swim and spawn was so poignant. Just a month before, wildfire had raced across the drought-parched terrain and burned to the doorsteps of the village. People and animals were evacuated as firefighters settled the flames down on Winnemem Wintu land, preventing it from burning neighboring homes.
Thank you to all who have given generously to the Indian Cultural Organization during a tough time!
Since the fire, ICO has received new funding for cultural burning and fire resilience, enabling Winnemem Wintu to train for and put traditional skills to use protecting forests from megafires. The rains filled the dry pond, and created opportunities for practicing water skills for next year’s Run4Salmon.
On Sept. 25, 2021, the Fawn Fire north of Redding burned to our doorsteps. The land of Tuimyalii village was scorched but the homes and structures were saved, and the oaks are still standing. Chief Caleen Sisk thanks all who fought the fire, helped evacuate people and animals, and put down prayers. Many Winnemem Wintu residents were put up by Redding Rancheria at their hotel. People and animals all are OK and looking forward to returning home. Thank you all.
It was a very close call. Other properties in the fire area were devastated and our thoughts are with those neighbors who lost their homes. On Sept. 27, two days later, a light gentle rain has arrived.
For two weeks in July we walked, biked, ran, rode horseback, and paddled the Run4Salmon, our annual prayer journey following the path of migrating Chinook. From Mt. Shasta to San Francisco Bay we shared Winnemem Wintu ecological knowledge, built solidarity among California tribes, provided lessons and curriculum to teachers, and encouraged young activists to take the values of Run4Salmon to their own communities.
Salmon start their journey as freshwater fish. When they reach the bay, they change into saltwater fish for their years at sea.
Change is what we all need, for our future Winnemem generations and all people to thrive.