KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Each spring and fall in the old days, Chinook salmon swam up the Klamath River, crossing the Cascade Mountains, to Upper Klamath Lake, 4,000 feet above sea level. For millenniums, the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin Band of Snake Indians fished salmon from the lake and the river. The Klamath had agreements with the downriver tribes — the Karuk, Hoopa and Yurok among them — to let fish pass so that some could swim all the way back to their spawning grounds.
After dams were built on the river starting in 1912, the salmon were blocked. Today the only “c’iyaals hoches” (salmon runs) are enacted by the Klamath Tribes, whose members carry carved cedar salmon on a 300-mile symbolic journey from the ocean to the traditional spawning grounds to bring home the spirit of the fish.
The Klamath River’s dams are scheduled to be demolished by 2020, in what will be one of the largest river restorations in American history. But there’s a threat to the dream of a revitalized river — a project that would put a newly unobstructed Klamath at risk of contamination while simultaneously contributing to climate change, desecrating grave sites and trampling the traditional territory of the Klamath people. If you’ve read anything at all about the protests near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, you might be able to guess what that threat is.
It’s a pipeline.