Siskiyou, South County, Yreka

Tribal Youth Train for Descent of the Klamath River Following the Much-Anticipated Removal of Dams.

Photos: Yurok Tribe

Press release from the Yurok Tribe:

At 1:00 pm on Tuesday, July 26 at the Requa Boat Ramp, the Yurok Tribe will greet fourteen local indigenous youth who recently completed an intensive whitewater kayak training to prepare to lead the first decent of the Klamath River following the much-anticipated removal of four dams. Representing the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley Tribes as well as the Klamath Tribes of Oregon, the teens are expected land in Requa just before 1pm. Please come out and show your support for the courageous local youth!

Maqlaqs Paddle and Ríos to Rivers organized the two-and-a-half-week-long Paddle Tribal Waters Program, which provided participants the diversity of skills required to safely run the river in a kayak. The acclaimed World Class Kayak Academy and local Otter Bar Lodge Kayak School taught the teens every aspect of swift-water boating, such as how to identify risks and maneuver through large rapids. The group also learned self-rescue techniques, how to read the water and much more. During the skill-building exercise, the youth worked on developing river advocacy skills too.

“Tribal people from the Klamath’s headwaters to the coast have fought so hard for dam

removal because it is the single biggest action we can take to restore the river for our youth and the generations to come,” said Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “I can’t wait to see these kids paddle down the free-flowing river.”

“As a teen of the Klamath River Basin I’ve been hearing about the removal of the dams almost whole life. I went to my first protest about the dams over 10 years ago and I’m starting to build a career around protecting my homelands because of this fight. Being a part of The Paddle Tribal Waters Program has been one of the most inspiring experiences of my life, watching the youth of the Klamath basin enjoy their home rivers and learn how to protect them has reminded me why we fight so hard for these things. We fight so that our future generations can have these opportunities to connect with their homes and people, including our past and future generations.” Danielle R. Frank, Hoopa/Yurok Youth and Save California Salmon Youth Coordinator

“Paddling has given me a way of experiencing rivers outside of just showing up to fight for rivers’ health or for our traditional food systems. To also be able to recreate on my ancestral waterways inspires me endlessly,” added Paul Wilson, Ríos to Rivers Chief Storyteller, Co-founder of Maqlaqs Paddle, and Klamath Tribes Member.

In previous years, Ríos to Rivers has organized river trips with indigenous youth from North and South America, including teens from local tribes. This year, in anticipation of dam removal, the river advocacy organization decided to invite tribal youth from the Klamath Basin.

Fourteen local youth between the ages 14 and 18 completed the Paddle Tribal Waters Program. Many of the Program participants learned how to kayak for the first time. Jackson Kayaks donated 16 high-end, fully furnished boats for the training. Werner Paddles donated kayak paddles and Northwest River Supplies (NRS) donated life jackets, helmets and other safety gear. The kayaks and gear will remain in the Klamath Basin for more local youth to learn boating skills before the dams are removed.

Filmmakers Paul Wilson and Rush Sturges are making a documentary film about the process of the tribal youth learning to kayak and preparing to be the first people to navigate the river after dam removal.

The Federal Regulatory Commission along with PacifiCorp, the State of California, and the State of Oregon are expected to soon sign off on the removal of the lower four dams on the Klamath River, which include: J.C. Boyle Dam in Oregon and Copco 1, Copco 2, and Iron Gate Dam in California. Representing the largest river restoration project in US history, the removal of the dams will open up more than 300 miles of historic salmon spawning habitat. It will establish a more natural flow regime and other important natural processes. The decommissioning of the antiquated structures will also greatly reduce concentrations of toxic blue-green algae, making the river safe for recreational activities, such as whitewater kayaking.

Maqlaqs Paddle – Paddle Tribal Waters is led by Maqlaqs Paddle, a kayak club founded by Ríos to Rivers alumni Paul and Ashia Wilson in 2018. The club was founded to provide community access to the waters and marshlands of the Klamath Tribes in Southern Oregon. They use donated kayaks to harvest wocus and elk – two of their staple First Foods. The gathered foods are shared both locally and inter-Tribally, which initiate ceremony, revitalization, and community gatherings.

Ríos to Rivers – Founded in 2012, Ríos to Rivers exchanges’ have connected 224 underserved and indigenous students from 20 endangered river basins in seven countries. The programs have included students and community leaders from 14 indigenous nations. Ríos to Rivers mission is to facilitate place-based educational experiences that inspire and empower the next generation of river stewards.

World Class Kayak Academy – World Class Kayak Academy is a traveling high school for students who want to earn their education while exploring unique rivers and cultures around the world. WCKA is providing its kayak training curriculum, coaches who have years of experience teaching teenagers to kayak, vehicles, kayak trailers, and administrative support to make Paddle Tribal Waters possible.

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