Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Racism and Genocide Denial in the Klamath River Basin

As it has before during times of tension over water management and environmental needs, racism has once again surfaced in the Klamath River Basin. The occasion this time was a series of formal public hearings to take testimony on the draft Klamath Facilities Removal EIS/EIR. That environmental review is intended to inform a decision by Secretary of Interior Ken Salizar. Salizar is scheduled to decide whether or not to implement the controversial Klamath Dam and Water Deals which were developed during years of closed-door negotiations. 

The Deals have split long-time Klamath River allies and exposed fault lines in Klamath River Basin communities. Among the Basin’s federal tribes, three tribal councils -those representing the Yurok, Karuk and Klamath Tribes - have signed the deals and are among their chief promoters; three tribal councils - those of the Hoopa, Quartz Valley and Resighini Rancheria tribes – have rejected the deals.

Prayer Pole at the stronghold where Kientpus and other Modoc's held off the US Army.
They only wanted to be left alone to live in their ancestral territory.

The environmental community is also split with several national groups in support while local and regional groups are on both sides of the split. Other regional groups support the Deals in principle but want changes to address what they see as major deal flaws.  A table listing the positions environmental organizations have taken on the Dam and Water Deals can be found at the end of this post. 

Vocal Basin residents who oppose dam removal, however, do not recognize these distinctions. As is typical of racialized attitudes, Indigenous natives and environmentalists are homogenized and objectified. In the eyes of the Klamath River Basin racist all “Indians” want to destroy “our” dams and all “environmentalists” are “radical” and want to destroy “our way of life.” 

Denial is a common feature of today’s racism. In the Klamath River Basin denial of contemporary anti-Indigenous racism and denial of the historical genocides visited upon Indigenous natives during the conquest era are both evident. The proper response to racism is non-acceptance; the proper response to the denial that racism exists is disclosure.

This post reports on contemporary racism in the Klamath River Basin and chronicles the denial of historical genocides with evidence drawn from contemporary and historic sources.  We then suggest what is needed to deal with racism in the Basin and who we believe should be leading that effort.