Winnemem Wintu - The Journey to Justice

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Location: Redding, CA, United States

Saturday, February 27, 2010

New Zealand Salmon

I would like to thank all of the folks who have offered support and donated to the Tribe's ceremony for the salmon living on the Rakaia River.
Currently, the USF&WS as well as NOAA have been working on a salmon restoration project to return salmon to the waters above the impoundment dams on the west coast. When I spoke with them at a meeting in Sacramento, they were surprised that the genetic stock from the McCloud Baird hatchery were thriving in the rivers of New Zealand. This information was what they had hoped for as the original stock fish are what the projects call for. By bringing the roe of the ancestors of the McCloud fish home, we hope to reverse the decline of salmon we all are suffering from.
Anyway, the video link for youtube, is a short description of the ceremony and its importance (along with some other discussion, we made in Eugene Oregon this week for the PIELC law conference. We hope you enjoy it and it answers some of your questions about why we are headed to the Pacific.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ecuador Part 4

Well, following the last supper (so to speak), Charlie, Myrna and I headed out via bus to banana country (about 175 miles south of Guayaquil). I have ridden in cabs in New York and Washington DC and let me tell you: the drivers in the north cannot carry a fix-a-flat for these vaqueros in South America. I do not think we stayed on our side of the road the entire trip for any longer than to hug the rail as approaching cars pushed our way. I saw people jumping out of the way, construction crews ducking to avoid getting a mirror to their melons, and better marksmanship that Sgt. York as the drivers we had (coming and going) hit every pothole in the road.
Bouncing along and getting one rest stop (at a company sponsored bodega along the roadway, we finally made it to Guabas and the free market banana plantation where Marcos, our guide drove us into the bush and then on foot to look at banana gathering first hand.
I have a new appreciation for the bananas we get here. It was hot in the plantation and the men and women working their labor extremely hard for the fruit many seem to think merely grow on trees. In fact, I learned that these plants are like mini water drums: the water soaks up the stalk of the plant, they grow bigger and eventually a red colored flower appears. This flower is bagged and marked with a colored strip and the folks continue on their way doing this until the plants are covered with multi-colored tags indicating how long the bananas have matured. Inside the flower are these petal that look like tiny baby bananas, and as they grow they are watched until the fruit finally gets to the familiar shape we all know from the store. The thing you don't see, is that as they grow, someone is constantly tending them, pruning them out and then finally harvesting them (after about 12 weeks). The photo of the fellow with the bunch on his shoulder is carrying about 80 kilos in weight (160 lbs?). He carried that about 50 meters to a drag line where the fruit was chained to a pulley and cable system and them drug to the sorting and washing /packing shed. The person in the white shirt of the photo above is the woman who owns this particular plantation.
In the shed area, the bananas were measured (like on the crab boats where they see if they are the right size) but in this case, if the fruit is too big (long and wide) they are tossed in a pile to the side. Seems the delicate mouths of the eaters in Europe and the US can only handle a particular size banana...crazy huh?
Anyway, I asked what happened to the ones chucked to the side (I was eating them by the way - I guess my little mouth was just right for the discards). These bananas are sent to a processor who purees them, packs the mess and ships it to Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream where it becomes...tada..Chunky Monkey Ice Cream. So the next time you enjoy a pint of that delicious desert, remember that it once lay on the jungle floor, after being lugged by a fellow half the size of you, and then, tossed aside because no one would eat it as it was too big.
The free trade farms, allowed the owners to hire permanent staff, and upwards of 50 additional staff to harvest. They did not make a fortune but it was a decent wage for their economy and was guaranteed throughout the year, so that was good. Health care, educational assistance and commods were provided to the permanent staff as well. I am taking a closer look at free trade and the implications of its application across other crops here and in South America.

Anyway, we finished, had a nice little dinner back at the hotel and I traveled home where I now finish this travelogue for you. It was fun writing this, as it brought back a lot of good memories and reminded me that I have friends south of all the borders who are just like me and you, so all is swell again.
We are heading to New Zealand next month for the Salmon ceremony on the Rakaia River. Hopefully I will have some snaps of that trip to share with you.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Ecuador Part 3

We had a tour of the "marginalized urban communities" near Malvinas and Flor de Bastion I believe they were called. Much like the folks out on the island we saw the day before, these folks had a spirit that burned bright in each and every one. We went to one house where, much to my chagrin, I learned the woman who was deeply involved in the community action network had passed away. I was unprepared to enter this house and worked my way back to the door to listen as the children of this woman explained how the struggle was so great but that their mother carried them through. I was reminded of the women in my life who have passed and the struggles they saw us through and felt a great empathy for these young people, now on their own.

We went to another house where the folks gathered to talk with us and we heard how the water agencies were not meeting their own standards and how the people were still without sufficient water or sanitation. Much like our own central valley communities, these people need access to clean, affordable, reliable water systems for their daily needs (wait that sounds like the human right to water that we fought for here in California but saw vetoed by the Governator this past session!) The Ecuadorian government has added this Human right to their constitution, as well as greater protections for women and children and a reserved Right for Nature! I wonder if the US will ever progress beyond these so-called 3rd worlders who seem to be so much better adapted to change and acceptance of the natural world.

Eventually, we made it back to the hotel to cool off a bit, gather our thoughts and then, for me, a presentation for and meeting with indigenous and social movement leaders in an auditorium of the Central Bank of Ecuador.

I may have mentioned that upon my departure to Ecuador from Atlanta, the plane was delayed. Apparently my luggage sat on the tarmac in the rain for several hours, soaking up the local flavor I guess. Any way, all of my clothes was soaked and as luck would have it, also stained a pretty shade of pink from my cheap suitcase. Anyway, I had to buy a shirt..the final cost for this masterwork was $35 American - I say this like that because, while it fit around me, it was too short in the body and in the arms.

So, wearing my new shirt, I walked into the building with my colleagues, and was immediately set upon by a news camera crew (who were supposed to interview me the day before) for an interview...just before speaking with the folks who came to the auditorium. Being a guest in this country, I talked with the news people because when local people have an issue in any country, I have found, if the norte americanos show up, they will get their mugs on the page. I accepted the challenge and the interview I gave was about the Mi Cometa and Observatorios and the issues they had presented to me during the preceding days. If they wouldn't talk to the locals, I would use my big American tribal voice to speak for them. (Sort o like our commitment to the salmon don't you think?).

I talked for about an hour after that about our issues here in Winnemem land as well as the condition of tribal people in this "great" country, much to the enjoyment of the audience. A Q&A session followed and I found that many of the folks, after my talk, openly expressed that they too were indigenous tribal people, but had been told not to tell. They were moved to step up and joined with their fellows in pledging to help the environment and the needs of all their relations. They also, in the form of the people who were heading up the Observatorios, pledged in the open forum in front of those who came, to included tribal people in the highest levels of their programs and in the government agencies they represented. Not a bad days work for a big old Winnemem on walk about eh?

We closed the day with a farewell dinner for our group and had any of the people who are risking it all for the betterment of their people on hand to share a last meal together. Many of our group were headed to the Galapagos for a tour, I and Charlie and Myrna were heading to the banana plantation in the morning. So we ate, laughed and shared contact information. Hopefully we will be able to assist each other and can recruit others to aiding these folks way down south.

The Banana Plantation and the return to California when we next meet.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Ecuador Part 2

So, having made it through the first night and into the second day, we headed aboard a bus that took us to the South Guasmo neighborhood where the office of "Mi Cometa" are located. This center houses many projects for the community, including the Utopia Radio station, the door on the bottom left is their entrance (see the kite design). Mi Cometa means My Kite. Any way, the projects also included a music program, housing assistance, a mico-loan program for the community members that the center offers and manages.

We had a luncheon served to us by the folks and then, a musical presentation from the program children (the young man in the green shirt was the lead singer - they sang some wicked Santana).

We finished the day at the Center by walking through the neighborhood, looking at several houses that Mi Cometa had help facilitate the construction for. We saw some in first stage bare walls, open windows and doorways and then on to others that were completed, painted and shiny. I was slightly jealous because these places were cinder block buildings, attached to the foundation (although with limited re-bar) as opposed to the trailers the folks in our own village live in. I was impressed by the willingness of the folks in these areas to help themselves and although they had no real running water or sanitation, for the most part they survived and were happy to have a united community. This message was important to see and one that I will share with whomever I talk with about this trip.

We closed out the day with a visit to the Regulatory agency ECAPAG ( This agency was, in a word, slimy. They had all the answer but seemed to not truly provide regulation or oversight. The waters of Ecuador are privatized. There is raw sewage and untreated water pouring into the rivers and this regulator organ of the government was seemingly casting a blind eye at the problems, to the detriment of the population. I asked the General Director of social communication and community relations, Stalin Poveda, about the dams on the river and how they were impacting the rivers, the lack of water quality assurance and the threat of additional dams to meet the needs of the unabashed development. He neatly sidestepped the question, actually stating that the dams were now allowing for more water to flow in the river than before they were built. He also said that there was plenty of water and thy would never need more dams for supply. Curious note: 45% of the people do not have fresh water and if I remember correctly 65% or more do not have access to sanitation (like sewer or septic). I said they were slimy, I think I know what they are slimy with.

Later this week - the Guayas River Boat trip and the Isla Santay.

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