Featured image: Salmon Barbecue at the 53rd Klamath Salmon Festival (photo: Yurok Tribe/Facebook)
The Yurok Tribe, the largest Indian Tribe in California with over 6,000 members, has banned genetically engineered salmon and all Genetically Engineered Organisms (GEOs) on their reservation on the Klamath River in the state’s northwest region. The Yurok ban comes in the wake of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decision on November 19 to approve genetically engineered salmon, dubbed “Frankenfish,” as being fit for human consumption, in spite of massive public opposition to the decision by fishermen, Tribes, environmental organizations and public interest organizations.
On December 10, 2015, the Yurok Tribal Council unanimously voted to enact the Yurok Tribe Genetically Engineered Organism (“GEO”) Ordinance. The vote took place after several months of committee drafting and opportunity for public comment, according to a news release from the Tribe and Northern California Tribal Court Coalition (NCTCC). This ordinance is apparently the first of its kind in the U.S. to address the FDA’s approval of AquaBounty Technologies’ application for AquAdvantage Salmon, an Atlantic salmon that reaches market size more quickly than non-GE farm-raised Atlantic salmon, as well as all GMOs.
“The Tribal GEO Ordinance prohibits the propagation, raising, growing, spawning, incubating, or releasing genetically engineered organisms (such as growing GMO crops or releasing genetically engineered salmon) within the Tribe’s territory and declares the Yurok Reservation to be a GMO-free zone. While other Tribes, such as the Dine’ (Navajo) Nation, have declared GMO-free zones by resolution, this ordinance appears to be the first of its kind in the nation,” the Tribe said.
“On April 11, 2013, the Yurok Tribe enacted a resolution opposing genetically engineered salmon, and then secured a grant from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) to support the Tribe’s work in continuing to protect its ancestral lands, including: waters, traditional learning and teaching systems, seeds, animal-based foods, medicinal plants, salmon, sacred places, and the health and well-being of the Tribe’s families and villages. GMO farms, whether they are cultivating fish or for fresh produce, have a huge, negative impact on watersheds the world over,” the Tribe stated.
“The Yurok People have managed and relied upon the abundance of salmon on the Klamath River since time immemorial. The Tribe has a vital interest in the viability and survival of the wild, native Klamath River salmon species and all other traditional food resources,” the release said.
James Dunlap, Chairman of the Yurok Tribe, said, “The Yurok People have the responsibility to care for our natural world, including the plants and animals we use for our foods and medicines. This Ordinance is a necessary step to protect our food sovereignty and to ensure the spiritual, cultural and physical health of the Yurok People. GMO food production systems, which are inherently dependent on the overuse of herbicides, pesticides and antibiotics, are not our best interest.”
The Ordinance allows for enforcement of violations through the Yurok Tribal Court. Yurok Chief Judge Abby Abinanti stated, “It is the inherent sovereign right of the Yurok People to grow plants from natural traditional seeds and to sustainably harvest plants, salmon and other fish, animals, and other life-giving foods and medicines, in order to sustain our families and communities as we have successfully done since time immemorial; our Court will enforce any violations of these inherent, and now codified, rights.”
The Yurok Tribe is working with other Tribes in a regional collaborative as part of the Northern California Tribal Court Coalition (NCTCC), and the Tribe and NCTCC are co-hosting an Indigenous Food Sovereignty Summit in Klamath in the spring of 2016. A signed copy of the ordinance can be found on NCTCC’s website.
The Tribal Council passed the ordinance at a critical time for West Coast salmon and steelhead. The Klamath River, located on the Tribe’s homeland, is plagued by massive algal blooms, exacerbated by agricultural runoff and antiquated hydroelectric dams, that turn the river toxic each summer. The Tribe is working with other Tribes, environmentalists, fishing groups and elected officials to remove four dams on the Klamath River to restore the river’s salmon, steelhead and other fish populations. The Tribe in September withdrew from the controversial Klamath Agreements and in December announced it “strongly opposes” draft legislation from US Representative Greg Walden of Oregon to address Klamath River Basin water issues.
The Klamath’s salmon and other fish populations are also threatened by Jerry Brown’s California Water Fix to build the Delta Tunnels. The massive tunnels proposed for construction under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas, would export water to corporate agribusiness interests, Southern California water agencies and oil companies conducting fracking and other extreme oil extraction methods in Kern County.
A large proportion of the water of the Trinity River, the Klamath’s largest tributary, is diverted from Trinity Reservoir to the Sacramento River basin via Whiskeytown Reservoir to irrigate almonds, pistachios and other crops on drainage impaired land in the Westlands Water District on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. The giant tunnels would imperil Chinook salmon, coho salmon, steelhead and lamprey populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers, as well as hastening the extinction of Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail and green sturgeon populations.