Monday, June 20, 2011

Diana Hartel: An artist/writer tackles Klamath Restoration

For the second time High Country News - whose motto is "for those who care about the West" - has done a major feature on the Klamath River. The new article is by the multi-talented - Diana Hartel - who spent her youth in the Klamath River Basin, built a career in New York City and now lives in Ashland, Oregon. Hartel provides a fresh perspective linking the current conflict over water, dams, agriculture and fisheries to local and US history, including her personal family history, as well as to the diabetes epidemic affecting Indigenous Native communities in the Klamath River Basin and nation-wide. Here are three excerpts:

      ...My relatives and their neighbors were against dam removal. Their arguments had a lot to do with settler pride of place, how we took this wild river and made it useful -- building cheap hydropower, irrigating onions, growing potatoes for Frito-Lay, watering livestock.  My family's arrival in California in 1870 was an oft-told tale that gave us our rightful place in the West. But the land had changed since then. In summer, the river was too warm, its color a neon yellow-green. In some years, stretches of the Shasta and Scott tributaries dried up...

     ...By the 1870s, when my great-grandmother came to California, the indigenous population on the Klamath had already declined by 75 percent. A century later, diabetes, once virtually unknown in the tribes, stalked the descendants of the survivors...  
     ...Much as all Westerners, Native and non-Native, might wish this history away, we have to face it together. We live in one watershed. In these times, we are easily disconnected from life rhythms millions of years old. And once disconnected, we can wreak havoc on everything around us.The diabetes epidemic that robs us of vitality, making us crave hollow substitutes for the true sweetness of life, is an indiscriminate killer. On the tribal elder's scored war staff, we need to include the uncounted lives lost to diseases in our disrupted landscape.....

The full article is well worth the read. 

And here's one of Diana's paintings:

 Klamath Cove Dawn

Hartel's hope is that the Dam and Water Deals will provide impetus to the impulse for restoration in the Klamath River Basin. That may or may not pan out. But whatever becomes of the KBRA and KHSA, she has pointed to aspects of Basin society which need attention. Hartel speaks of the connections between personal, social and ecosystem health and of the history of this Basin. Her approach suggests that - if the goal is restoration - we have a lot more work to do and not just on the River. As a river basin society we have yet to come to terms with our history and that failure continues to poisons inter-group relations - and restoration - today.

Diana Hartel is a major force behind Madrona Arts which "is an Oregon-based nonprofit dedicated to ecological awareness through art. The organization was founded in 2008 by Diana with a group of artists participating in a community multi-arts project called Inner Geography that began in 2004." A current project - Freeing the Klamath River - includes interviews with individuals active in Klamath River Basin issues as part of the Over the River Oral History Project.

The idea that the Klamath River is one of the few major rivers in America that can still be substantially restored has captured the imagination of activists, writers, politicians and artists. Each has in the past and will in the future play a role in whether the idea of restoration becomes a reality. Diana Hartel's work is proof that integrating art and activism is possible and can be an effective tool to promote ecological awareness and restoration of the natural world. 

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