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Scotsman.com Heritage & Culture - Scotland's People - Our links to Native Americans' struggles

Our links to Native Americans' struggles

CRAIG HOWIE Reporting from California

WHEN the rosebud bushes on the banks of the Klamath River blossom bright pink, and the dogwood trees native to the Pacific Northwest turn a pale yellow, the Native Americans of California's Klamath basin know the first harvest of their sacred river is not far away.

But the spring run of salmon so revered by the four tribes here - the Karuk, Yurok, Hupa and Klamath - has not struggled upstream for years now, with much of the chinook species forced out of its 350 miles of traditional breeding ground by a system of six dams operated by a Scottish electricity giant. The adverse effects of this on the 7,000-year-old settlements are clear to see.

Chuckie Carpenter and his Hupa tribe are fortunate to still have access to salmon in the California tributaries.

Chuckie Carpenter and his Hupa tribe are fortunate to still have access to salmon in the California tributaries.

It is this situation that Chuckie Carpenter, a religious chief of the Hupa tribe, believes ties the tribes to Scotland. Carpenter refers to the Scots - another ancient people that has traditionally struggled to live free from outside interference in its affairs - and its clans as "cousins".

Carpenter met many Scots on a visit to Edinburgh last year, when he and the elders of the four tribes lobbied ScottishPower's annual meeting of shareholders (AGM) on the dam issue, and retains fond memories of a people he considers "noble and honest" and one which he for one found very welcoming.

He recounts tales of friendly banter with locals, of smiles and intrigue at the ornate tribal costumes. When one unenlightened - but maybe over-watered - Scot accused him of killing John Wayne, Carpenter responded with his trademark booming laugh and a bear-hug befitting his sturdy frame.

This week the tribes return to Scotland, and though ScottishPower (SP) last month sold its US subsidiary, PacifiCorp, which operated the dams, to an investment company owned by Warren Buffet, the tribes believe that SP chairman Ian Russell can still fulfil his pledge to listen to their concerns before his company relinquished control.

Leaf Hillman, the high priest of the Karuk tribe's annual "world renewal" ceremonies, and one of two leaders to address the AGM last year, also believes that the tribes have a common bond with Scots.

Visitors are welcome at the Hupa tribe in the village of Hoopa.

Visitors are welcome at the Hupa tribe in the village of Hoopa.

Sitting in the cabin of his pick-up truck near the village of Orleans, in northern California, he says: "The time we were in Scotland we felt a sense of compassion in the Scottish people, the way we were treated in the shareholder meeting, in restaurants, in pubs. We felt that the Scottish people related in their struggles and the similarities with our predicament today.

"All of us feel pretty special in the way we were treated," Hillman notes, "even though we didn't expect the sentiment to carry over into the AGM, when we stood and spoke the feeling that although the ScottishPower shareholders had a vested interest in the success of the dam project, the overwhelming sense of support for the issues we brought was very emotional and for us unexpected."

Fifteen delegates from the four tribes plan to attend SP's meeting in Edinburgh on Friday.

A spokesman for SP, which is based in Glasgow, says the delegates should take up the issue with PacifiCorp and federal energy regulators in Washington who have the authority to make a decision on the dams.

Jon Coney, PacifiCorp spokesman, tells scotsman.com: "The Klamath relicensing process has been a long-term established process, and not a whole lot has changed [with the sale of PacifiCorp]. The terms and conditions of the hydro [dam] project are set by the federal government. We are currently undergoing a process of negotiations with the tribes in hope of a settlement. It is not an easy undertaking."

PacifiCorp's position was strengthened late last week when a US judge threw out a $1 billion (570 million) lawsuit filed by the Native Americans against SP. In dismissing the case, an Oregon judge called the matter untimely.

Leif Hillman of the Karuk tribe shows off some arrows.

Leif Hillman of the Karuk tribe shows off some arrows.

However, the tribes have all along said they will not be cowed if they feel their interests have been taken lightly.

Hillman says: "People in these struggles have to understand that tribes are never afraid to fight - and this fight has the potential to destroy us, that's how much is at stake. Folks need to understand that we are worthy opponents, we are not going away."

Further similarities exist between the clans of Scotland and the structure of tribal life both past and present: a predominantly paternal bloodline ensures succession of religious elders, alongside a governing council of democratically elected representatives.

In days gone by, the tribes had no reason to fight over abundant resources, confirms tribal spokesman Craig Tucker, and though not sharing a common language, members of separate tribes would often work together to ensure collective survival. Ensuring safe inter-breeding was just one way the tribes cooperated, another was by ensuring passage of royal bloodlines from one generation to the next.

In more modern times, the Karuk and Yurok tribes were granted sovereignty over their land in the mid-1980s, giving them a bigger say in negotiations with the federal government on issues such as land, commerce, health and education. They stand at once independent of the greater economic power, but irreversibly linked.

Tucker says the tribes have now worked together to produce an economic analysis of the effect of the dams, following another survey reported in the Washington Post which showed the massive health implications of a western diet imposed on the tribes in place of their traditional diet.

As a result of a lack of salmon and a reliance on western foods, diabetes rates in the Karuk tribe, the peer-reviewed study says, now stand at twice the national average; heart disease rates are three times higher than across the US. Over 50,000 salmon died on the lower stretches of the Klamath in 2002 in a mass "fish kill" down river.

"In terms of balances," Hillman says, "you can see the human cost to the area. Ultimately it creates the environment you can begin to frame as a human-rights issue, in terms of health and well-being and way of life."

Carpenter, whose Hupa tribe is fortunate to have access to one of the six Klamath tributaries that is not dammed, claims with a smile that the traditional salmon diet is the reason why "we Indians have such big heads. Our main diet is fish, food for the head. We were never a big people, our diet was the early Atkins - salmon, eel, deer meat and acorn soup."

More seriously, he continues: "It isn't just the salmon. This is our world, our ancestors protected their world, it's now our obligation to protect ours for our children, and the children who are but a twinkle in their eyes."

This article: http://heritage.scotsman.com/people.cfm?id=1647082005

Last updated: 19-Jul-05 10:59 GMT

Tribesmen in energy protest - Evening Times
Tribesmen in energy protest
A GROUP of native American Indian tribesmen is protesting in Glasgow this week against energy giant Scottish Power.

A 15-strong delegation from four tribes in Oregon and California is protesting against dams built by the company's US subsidiary PacifiCorp, which it claims are damaging its natural environment.

The tribe will perform a ceremonial dance outside the firm's HQ at Atlantic Quay tomorrow.




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