The salmon is a sacred animal for the Native Nations of American Pacific Northwest. Deconstructing dams acknowledges it.
by Massimo Introvigne
The salmon is an important source of food from time immemorial for the Native Nations of American Pacific Northwest but it is much more than that. Salmon is regarded as a gift from the Creator God, which symbolizes abundance, prosperity, and fertility. It is a sacred animal, and several tribes honor it in yearly religious ceremonies.
For this reason, Yurok, Karuk, and other Native Nations have protested for decades the damming of the Klamath River as an assault not only on their economic interests but on their religion and beliefs as well.
The Klamath River runs for some 250 miles from Oregon to the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. The Klamath was historically rich in salmons, but dams built since 1912 made it difficult for the fishes to migrate upstream. Unlike in other dams, no passage systems allowing salmons to pass and go upstream were built.
As a result, according to academic studies, the salmon population decreased from a pre-damming estimate of 500,000 to 30,000. Native Nations fought for decades against the dams.
Federal and state authorities have now heard their claims and agreed to remove four of the Klamath’ six dams. The work to deconstruct the first dam started at the end of June and should be completed by September. The other three undamming projects will be completed in 2024. It is the largest dam removal project in the world.
It is a good start—and an acknowledgment of the cultural and religious significance of the salmon, in addition to its economic value, for the Pacific Northwest’s Native Nations.