By Kelly Bessem
An historic moment in Humboldt State’s Native American forum occurred on Tuesday, Sept. 13, when young tribal members from the Klamath region met with indigenous community members from Sarawak, Malaysia to show solidarity in anti-dam activism around the world.
The Indigenous River Defenders forum came in the wake of success at both localities– the official Klamath River dam removal deal and the cancellation of the Baram Dam in Sarawak.
The Klamath dam removal signed April 7 of this year is set to be the largest dam removal project ever seen in the United States
. Action that profound is needed to prevent the massive fish die-offs in the tens of thousands seen in past years, and the toxic algae growth that forces closure of the river to pets and humans every year.
“Having all of those people here with different parts of the same story has been profoundly meaningful,” said Judith Mayer, one of the major organizers of the forum.
Mayer is an HSU Environmental Planning professor and one of the original founders of the Borneo Project, which uses community-led efforts to protect human rights and environmental integrity in Borneo. She was honored to help put together a space for indigenous communities from two opposite sides of the world to exchange experiences firsthand.
“The important thing is that stories came out in people’s own voices but as one story,” said Mayer. “All of our diverse stories are part of the same story.”
Yurok tribe members from the Klamath River region feel strongly about this international connection, and have traveled to places such as the Amazon and Malaysia to stand in solidarity with others resisting dams.
Struggle could be heard in the voice of Hoopa Tribal member Dania Rose Colegrove-Powell, who had just returned from a Standing Rock protest in the Dakotas, as she shared her experiences with the global struggle of the indigenous.
The legacy of indigenous oppression was felt when Sammy Gensaw III, 22, explained how– though hidden in the background of U.S. history– genocide fragmented his family tree and still affects his Yurok family to this day. There was respect and intense attention coming from everyone in the room.
“It’s our job to allow the world to be what it wants to be and allow things to run smoothly,” said Gensaw III.
He said he’s seen the progress that’s possible when people take control of the fight for a better future. By bringing activists together through forming Klamath Ancestral Guard, he spread understanding of the Klamath dam issue throughout the region and was an important part of the successful push to remove the dams. He reminds everyone that we all need to get out and do our part.
Forum speaker Rebekah Shirley, a UC Berkeley graduate student, explained how her and the director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Lab, Dr. Daniel Kammen, put together a report entitled Kampung Capacity: Local Solutions for Sustainable Rural Energy in the Baram River Basin that proved megadams are not the solution. This report has given many rural areas the backing they need for their anti-dam arguments.
Peter Kallang, director of the SAVE-Rivers, a group which also spreads awareness about dam effects throughout the local community in Sarawak, spoke about how media coverage of issues was also effective in capturing the attention of politicians.
He and the other Sarawak activists have remained upbeat despite having to face censorship, prison, and even murder. This is due to the sense of kinship and collective struggle they find when among their “river relatives,” like those who welcomed them into the Klamath region.
A copy of the forum can be checked out at the HSU library by anyone wanting to better understand the many amazing stories shared there.