INTERVIEW WITH DESIRAE HARP AND MICHAEL PRESTON (POM) OF RUN4SALMON
Desirae Harp a member of the Mishewal Wappo (Ona*tsátis) nation from the central coast of California and a descendant of the Diné Nation. She is a singer/songerwriter, educator, and community organizer. She performs across the country and gives workshops on expressive arts therapy, cultural revitalization, social justice, and environmental justice. She is the founder of the Mishewal Ona*tsaTis language revitalization program. She works with Chief Caleen Sisk and the Indian Cultural Organization to help coordinate the Run4salmon campaign and prayer journey to restore the California water ways, salmon runs, and indigenous ways of life. She helps to oppose the development of sacred sites and to advocate for California indigenous peoples to be at the forefront of discussions on climate change within the bay area.
Michael (Pomtahatot) Preston is a member of the Winnemem Wintu tribe and is the son of current Winnemem tribal chief Caleen Sisk. He has been dancing in the Winnemem way since he was 4 years old and grew up going to his sacred places. He continues to protect his sacred sites along the McCloud River which have been under threat of inundation from the Shasta Dam raise effort by the US Bureau of Reclamation. One of the ways he is helping to protect his river is through the Run4salmon, which is a 300 mile prayer run from the San Francisco Bay to the headwaters of the McCloud River. In this prayer journey they make prayers at specific points along the 300 miles of water ways for the return of the Chinook salmon, the health of the water and lands, as well as raise awareness about the Shasta dam raise and the bay delta tunnel’s threats to salmon and the overall water’s health. He has been a full participant in this 2 week pilgrimage journey for the past 3 years. This next year the Winnemem and supporters celebrate the 4 year commitment completion and culmination of the Run4salmon. He looks forward to sharing his experiences. May the salmon return.
- Why did you all start Run4Salmon
Chief Caleen Sisk is the spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu people and the Run4Salmon prayer journey. The prayer that became Run4Salmon started long before Run4Salmon. This prayer goes all the way back to a time before Chief Caleen Sisk was born. When the first fish hatchery came to the McCloud river in 1873, the Winnemem Wintu did not like how the salmon were being treated and they had a ceremonial war dance. The elders ceremonially sent the salmon spirit through the ice water fall in Mt Shasta to wait there where they would be protected. The shasta dam was finished in 1945, and the tribe was evicted from their territory as the waters rose and flooded their ceremonial grounds and homes. The salmon were prevented from coming up the river and eventually the high mountain salmon runs died out. In 2004 Chief Caleen and the Winnemem Wintu held a war dance to oppose the raising of Shasta dam. The war dance had not been carried out in over 100 years. During that time in 2004, the tribe received a message from New Zealand which told them that the descendants of the salmon that swam in their river were now swimming in New Zealand rivers. The fish hatchery on the McCloud river had sent Wild Chinook eyed eggs to New Zealand in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, but this was the Winnemem Wintu’s first time hearing about this. The tribe became aware that there is an ice waterfall on a mountain in New Zealand called Aoraki (Mt. Cook) and the Winnemem Wintu believe that the spirit of the salmon came through the ice water fall on Aoraki and protected the eyed eggs. in 2010, 28 members of the Winnemem Wintu tribe travelled to New Zealand to reconnect with their salmon relatives swimming in New Zealand rivers and to pray for them to come home to the McCloud river. This ceremony happened with the blessing and participation of the Maori people. When the Winnemem Wintu came back home they continued to have their annual ceremony called the Coonrod ceremony where they jump into the cold water below the waterfalls of the upper McCloud river in order to spiritually connect with the salmon and experience what the salmon experience as they swim upstream. The Run4Salmon was born out of this ceremonial practice. On the Run4Salmon prayer journey the Winnemem Wintu are leading the participants in a prayer as they follow the path that the salmon take from the delta to the McCloud river. As the participants travel on this journey, they learn how to move upstream together as one like the salmon and they learn how to overcome various obstacles as they travel. The Winnemem Wintu and the participants of the Run4salmon prayer journey are praying for the salmon to come home. This Run4Salmon prayer journey began in 2016 after Chief Caleen met with a well known musical artist named Nakho Bear who wanted to participate and offered to bring his horses on the prayer journey. Chief Caleen had also met with Corrina Gould of the Chochenyo Ohlone people before the journey began, and Corrina agreed to have the opening ceremony in her traditional territory at Sogorea Te. The prayer started building momentum and more people offered to lead various segments along the prayer journey that include walking, boating, bike riding, running, canoeing, and horseback riding. Chief Caleen wanted this Run4Salmon prayer journey to go on for 4 years, and this is the 4th year. As we are praying for the salmon to come home, we are also raising awareness around how the community can help bring the Salmon home and protect the water. The Winnemem Wintu had to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for DNA samples of the Winter Run Wild Chinook Salmon to be collected in New Zealand, and for the testing of the DNA samples to be done at UC Davis. All of this has to be done in order to prove to the Bureau of Reclamations that the salmon in New Zealand are the Winter Run Wild Chinook Salmon from the McCloud river. The tribe is also engaged in a political battle as they press for the building of a swim way around the Shasta dam for a natural salmon passage and to oppose the raising of the Shasta dam.
- What is the significance of Salmon
Salmon are a keystone species. Salmon feed everything throughout their entire life span all the way from when they are an egg to when they become a dead salmon in the rivers tributaries. The salmon swim upstream to spawn and die, and the salmon carcasses get spread by the eagles and the bears and all the other creatures who eat them. When the carcasses decompose then the nutrients from the ocean goes into the trees, and the forests depend on that nutrients. In other words, they are nitrogen rich and when they decompose they become fertilizer. They are an indicator of how healthy the waters are, because when their health declines the water is bad. You know the water is bad if the salmon are gone. The significance of the wild chinook salmon for the Winnemem Wintu people is that they have always fed the tribe, they are a part of the Winnemem Wintu creation story, and they are intertwined with the overall culture of the Winnemem Wintu. According to the Winnemem Wintu creation story, when the first beings came out of Mt Shasta the salmon gave up their voices for humans to be able to speak. Now the humans have a responsibility to speak for the salmon.
- What have you learned by holding and leading such a prayer
My name is Desirae Harp. Niria Alicia and myself were asked to be the lead coordinators of the Run4Salmon prayer journey in support of the Winnemem Wintu. Michael Preston (Pom) is Chief Caleen’s son and has been praying and working alongside the Winnemem Wintu to bring the salmon home his whole life. In the past 4 years, Pom and I have learned how to be strong like the salmon. This journey is led by spirit, so we have to get out of our heads. We know the salmon are coming home, because our ceremonies have showed us that the salmon are coming home. All that we can do is try our best, and let spirit do the rest. We may not always be on time according to western time, but we are always on time because we are always exactly where we need to be when we are meant to be there. Prayer is prioritized over the logistics, and prayer needs to be given space to breathe. As we are on this prayer journey we are reminded to know that the salmon are coming home despite what the laws say, because we understand that the current legal system is a reflection of the collective consciousness of humanity. It is through healing historical trauma that we can shift the collective consciousness. This prayer journey is helping us to heal from historical trauma through helping us to remember that we are reflections of the salmon. We are reflections of the waters. We are reflections of the mountains. In order for the salmon to go from salt water to fresh water, they have to be willing to transform. You have to be willing to transform just like the salmon, and that is what is going to help the salmon come home. We have to let go of our doubts and believe that we are capable of leading this prayer in a good way. If people want to join this prayerful path with us they are more than welcome, but we can’t go off the path to help drag someone along who doesn’t want to come. We have to learn how to set healthy boundaries. We can love people at a distance without letting everyone in our hearts, and we can’t absorb what everyone else is feeling. We have to let go of what is no longer ours to carry so that the weight doesn’t become so heavy that we can’t complete the journey. This journey tests everyone mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally. The leaders of this prayer journey cannot hold space for everyone. All that we can do is carry out the prayer and make sure that everyone is moving forward together as one so that the prayer can be felt by everyone who is a part of it.
- What is the current situation with Shasta Dam
There are a number of steps that need to take place before the official approval of the Shasta dam raise. By January, Congress will be considering the plan to raise Shasta Dam. Right now the California State Attorney General is suing Westlands Water District. Westlands Water District is a state agency, and a state agency cannot go against state law. Westlands is being accused of violating the wild and scenic rivers act. However, this lawsuit is not stopping the Bureau of Reclamations from building the dam. It is stopping Westlands participation in the California Environmental Quality Act process also known as the CEQA process. This is the report that you have to complete to show that the project meets certain environmental standards. The Winnemem Wintu is named in the lawsuit as a harmed party, but they are not included in the request for relief. The harms that they would suffer are being acknowledged but not addressed. Senator Feinstein and previous Governor Brown supported the California Water Fix Plan which would include two tunnels through the delta, the Shasta dam raise, and the sites reservoir. Governor Newsom has modified the California Water fix plan and has renamed it the California Delta Conveyence Plan. This plan would involve one tunnel and the sites reservoir. Newsom hasn’t said anything about the Shasta Dam Raise yet, but Chief Caleen Sisk believes that the Shasta Dam Raise is an integral part of the overall California water plan. In order for the dam to be raised, a biological opinion document needs to say how it wouldn’t be harmful to the salmon. This biological decision is called a BIOP. The federal court decision was based on the BIOP and required the reintroduction of salmon above 5 dams in California including Shasta Dam and the study of a fish passage around the dams. Behind the scenes, A new BIOP is currently being prepared. The new BIOP hasn’t been released yet. It recently came out in the Los Angeles times that a 1,123 page BIOP document was thrown away and the scientific team was replaced and it is projected that this new BIOP plan will be more friendly to the water exporters than the salmon.
- This will be the 4th prayer run – what have been some of the highlights and challenges so far?
- Putting Salmon and water issues into the consciousness of the public
- Meeting new people
- The growth from getting out of comfort zones. (performing, prayers, speaking)
- Overall support from the wider community
- Unifying people from all walks of life.
- All the Art
- Unifying the tribal peoples who are the caretakers of the lands and waters that we are traveling through
- Safety and security issues that come up on the roads and trails when you are running or biking or walking or horseback riding
- Safety and security issues that come up in the water when you are on the boats or canoeing or kayaking
- Recruiting people to join
- Finding enough funding.
- Logistical challenges of feeding and sheltering a varying number of people who join the pray journey over the 2 week span
- If people want to join how would you ask them to be
This is the etiquette we are asking people to follow.
Run4Salmon is an Indigenous Women led prayer journey
- Take direction from indigenous women leadership and those who they have assigned to give out information. You will not know a lot of things most of the time, focus on your prayer and how you can be of support to the group.
- Do not give direction unless leadership has specifically tasked you with that role .
- Ceremonial space: some events are open and some are not, be mindful of the impact your attendance may have on a particular space and if you have been invited.
- NO ALCOHOL, NO DRUGS, NO FIREARMS
- Dress modestly; no bare chests, revealing tops, low hanging pants, short shorts, etc
- Please abstain from sexual behavior
- No whistling after dark
- No photography or recording unless you are a designated media person who has received permission and guidance from the tribe
- We want to acknowledge the acting forces of settler colonialism, patriarchy, and white supremacist racism in America. We ask each person to be aware of their relative privileges and how this impacts dynamics within the space.
- The Winnemem Wintu culture and prayer is the guiding force of this prayer journey, as participants we are here to be in support, not to impose our beliefs or ideas.
- Stay aware of your impact in the space, who is talking, who is not talking, is it an appropriate time to offer your opinion or idea? Come here to listen. American culture rewards those who are loud and outspoken, come to this space ready to listen and be of service and respect indigenous leadership.
- Be mindful that asking questions about another’s culture can be taken as offensive depending on the context, best to wait until personal information (particularly spiritual and cultural) is offered.
- We make this happen together! The prayer is carried by many hands; we all need to pitch in with kitchen, clean up, etc
- Be prepared for protocol to shift as we move through different indigenous territories.
We have ceremonial protocols around Moon time aka menstrual cycle
To respect your body and others:
- If you are on your moon please check in with the designated moon time helpers for specific guidance and support about the day
- Someone will bring you food; please do not enter kitchen
- Remain on the outside of the ceremonial circle, often there will be a designated area to watch a short distance removed
- Please stay back from those in their regalia and ceremonial feathers
- This is your time to be in your ceremony and to be supported and tended to
If you do not want to follow this protocol, then you do not need to be in the space. if you do not understand the protocol, you still need to follow the protocol. People may not have time to tell you why all of our cultural values are the way that they are. If you come, then you are coming as a guest with the understanding that our cultural values need to be respected whether or not you agree with them.
- Meals will be served most days (refer to participant info)
- Elders are served first
- Children are served by parents or caregivers
- Run 4 Salmon relies on donations for the kitchen. If you have strict dietary restrictions, please plan for yourself accordingly. The lead cook Aki may offer to make special arrangements (i.e. vegan/vegetarian, gluten free) but this is not guaranteed. Other cooks will serve what is available and are not able to make special arrangements, notably when the Run enters Winnemem Territory. Please be gracious and grateful for the food that is offered.
- Please take care of yourself: drink plenty of water, wear a hat and sunscreen, bring snacks, dress in layers, rest as needed, be ready for plan changes!
- Keep necessary medications on you.
- Stay with the group
- Respect guidance and requests from Wellness Team.
7. How can people support this prayer?
- Stay informed: Run4Salmon, winnememwintu.us Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — #Run4Salmon
- Believe and pray for the return of the salmon
- Participate in the Run4Salmon prayer journey September 13-29. You can join in for all or any part of the journey
- Donate funds and/or needed services (printing, copying, cooking) or food (venison, salmon, acorn flour, breakfast breads)
- Loan boats, bikes or horses for the journey
- RESTORE & PROTECT THE WATERS — Oppose the Shasta Dam Raise being pushed by Westlands Water District. Info at shastadamraise.com
- Boycott Crystal Geyser and oppose water bottling companies taking Mt Shasta water. info at cawater.net
- Support the Return of McCloud River Chinook Salmon from New Zealand. info at winnememwintu.us
- Share information with family, friends & neighbors
- Follow Indigenous leadership
- Contact your federal and state legislators and advocate for healthy water systems
- Minimize plastic usage; Use reusable water bottles and shopping bags;
(For a brief critique of Shasta Reservoir by Jim Brobeck of Aqualliance go here)