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"Salmon Die, We Die" - The Run4Salmon as an Indigenous-Centered Conservation Movement

Authors: Marc Dadigan*, University of California - Davis
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Cultural Ecology, Natural Resources
Keywords: Indigenous Epistemologies, Colonialism, History
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Despite California Indigenous people having millennia-long cultural and spiritual relationships with Chinook salmon, preservation movements have largely been led by an insular band of environmental and fishing organizations.

However, as California salmon are increasingly imperiled by drought and extreme water diversions for agriculture, Winnemem Wintu people of the McCloud River watershed have, since 2016, organized an Indigenous-centered salmon protection movement known as the Run4Salmon, which has inspired hundreds of Indigenous allies, social justice advocates, artists and musicians to become passionate salmon protectors.

During the two-week Run4Salmon "prayer journey", participants walk, bicycle, run, and paddle more than 300 miles, tracing the salmon's spawning path from the San Joaquin/Sacramento Delta to the McCloud River. The arduous nature of Run4Salmon re-enforces the connection between human and salmon and that our fates are intertwined.

Through qualitative interviews with tribal members and participants, I explore if endangered species protection movements have greater potential for transformative and lasting impacts by foregrounding Indigenous leadership and sacred relationships with animal relatives.

The unifying narrative of the Run4Salmon is Winnemem Wintu people's origin story - salmon gave its voice to human, who in turn owe a great debt - and their conception of salmon as a self-sacrificing relative who cleans the water and nourishes the entire ecosystems.

While grounded in ancestral memory, the Run4Salmon envisions a future severed from settler colonialist methodologies of "management" and control. In this future, protection is guided by Indigenous people's traditional ecological knowledge and relationship with a sacred relative

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