Tribes take protest on road
April 30, 2007
by Hilary Corrigan, Triplicate
On Friday evening,
Yurok Tribal member Bob
McConnell towed a 20-foot long
redwood canoe across the Nevada
dessert, leading a caravan on a
mission to America's heartland.
Area tribes, conservation groups
and fishermen have taken the
Klamath River's problems on the
In a high-profile bid to prompt
the removal of dams on the
waterway, about 35 participants
will petition Warren Buffett's
company, Berkshire Hathaway,
during the company's annual
shareholder meeting in Omaha,
Neb., on May 5.
"What is the cost of that
business to literally tens of
thousands of people and to
tribal cultures?" McConnell
said. "They need to learn who we
Berkshire Hathaway owns
MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co.
that last year bought Portland,
Ore.-based PacifiCorp, the power
company that operates four dams
on the Klamath River.
In full regalia, several Yurok,
Karuk and Hoopa Valley tribal
world renewal priests – after
fasting in the days leading up
to the event in order to
strengthen their prayers' power
– will lead a healing ceremony
between the Missouri River and
the Qwest Center, where Buffett
will address his associates at
about the same time.
"The Karuk, Hoopa and Yurok have
always worked together whenever
there's been desperate times and
these are desperate times," said
Karuk Tribe Klamath Campaign
coordinator Craig Tucker.
For years, tribal members,
fishermen and conservationists
have called for the dams'
removal as PacifiCorp seeks to
renew a license to run them for
another 50 years. The groups
have pointed to poor water
quality, toxic algae blooms,
dwindling salmon populations and
a 2002 fish kill when more than
50,000 salmon washed ashore.
They also note the offshore
commercial salmon fishing season
closure last year, based on the
low Klamath River stock, that
devastated the industry along
the California and Oregon coast.
"There's too many signs that
it's going down," McConnell said
of the river.
The 57-year-old remembers, as a
teenager, watching thousands of
salmon stream along the Klamath.
"Nowadays, you gotta go to
Alaska to see stuff like that
and we had it right there, right
there in that river," said
McConnell, who gave up his river
guide business in the 1980s when
clients failed to catch fish.
"There's just a vast difference
in what it was and what it is
Restoration, not money
The group started the trip with
a rally in San Francisco on
Thursday, traveled to Sacramento
for a press conference on the
California Capital steps
yesterday and now head for Salt
Lake City, Utah, where they will
protest outside the offices of
In Omaha, they will host a
traditional salmon bake and a
brush dance at the Heartland of
America Park in the days leading
up to the shareholders meeting.
The groups are reenacting the
tactic they used in 2004 and
2005 when they traveled to
Glasgow, Scotland and hosted
similar rallies near the site of
the annual shareholder's meeting
for Scottish Power that owned
PacifiCorp at the time.
"People in Scotland really
related to the tribe," Tucker
said, comparing Scottish
resistence to British rule and
Native American tribes'
resistence to the U.S.
Government. "They really got
Scottish Power sold PacifiCorp
to Buffett's holdings.
"PacifiCorp's not been a very
good negotiating partner,"
Tucker said, complaining that
the company has withheld water
quality data. "It's necessary,
basically, to climb the
corporate ladder and take the
case directly to Warren Buffett."
The group will pass out
financial information to about
20,000 shareholders expected to
attend the meeting. Flyers will
break down costs of removing the
dams compared to costs of
operating them with expensive
mitigation measures, including
fish ladders, that the federal
government would require.
McConnell, though, plans to
appeal to Buffett's moral and
Group members know that the
reknowned philanthropist who
gives billions of dollars to
organizations probably receives
all sorts of requests.
"We're not looking for money.
We're looking for restored
ecosystems that will restore
economies, that will restore
cultures," said McConnell, a
member of the largest and
poorest tribe in California,
which relies on salmon for food
and lacks electricity on more
than half of its reservation. "I
really want these guys to know
how much that river means to the
tribal people, and actually the
He recalled the waterway's
"The steelhead capital of the
world. It's not anymore,"
Reach Hilary Corrigan at