Actualizing Water Justice and Equity in California Through Educational and Environmental Policy

Save California Salmon (SCS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to policy change and community advocacy for Northern California’s salmon and fish-dependent people. SCS supports the fisheries and water protection work of the local communities, and advocates effective policy change for clean water, restored fisheries, and vibrant communities. SCS aims to support Tribes and the general public in engaging with public comments related to water pollution, fisheries, and beneficial use issues. SCS’s core values and programming relate to supporting tribal rights, education, youth leadership, water advocacy, and outreach through media attention.

In 2020, SCS in collaboration with Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District’s (KTJUSD) Indian Education Program, Humboldt County, the Blue Lake Rancheria Pathmakers Program, and Cal Poly Humboldt’s Native American Studies Department, launched a curriculum titled Advocacy and Water Protection in Native California. The living curriculum, which is based on a 12-week speaker’s series of the same name, meets California state standards in science, social studies, health, history, language arts, and while also being responsive to California’s urgent water, climate, and educational crises. Perhaps most importantly, this curriculum offers insight and resources to provide culturally informed education and representation in schools and includes educator trainings. Culturally informed curriculum is important as audits show a learning gap, and unequal punishments between Native and non-Native students. These issues have been tied to racist curricula and historical trauma stemming from settler invasion, assimilation, genocide, and erasure of Native peoples and cultures.

This curriculum teaches students to care and advocate for California’s environment, and aims to make learning about California’s watersheds and peoples a fun and personal experience. It gives youth opportunities to get involved in water and land management practices, learn about local cultures, and educate them about California public policy related to their environment and education. This completes an often missing aspect in California education; knowledge from local Native peoples. It uplifts the voices and perspectives of Indigenous scholars, leaders, activists, community leaders, professors, scientists, and youth from across Native California. The curriculum was designed to be adaptable to specific classrooms, subjects, grade levels, and regions so it can serve as a model for future curriculum projects centered on Indigenous knowledge, local environments, traditional practices, and histories from across the West Coast.

Danielle Rey Frank

“The fact is that our culture and daily lives are connected to the water and land and the subjects that we learn about in school,” explained Danielle Rey Frank, Hoopa Valley Tribal member, SCS Youth Coordinator, and former member of the Hoopa Valley High School Water Protectors Club, who reviewed the curriculum. “By connecting local issues and the environment to our education, and encouraging us to apply what we are learning to directly benefit our communities and California policy, we are not only helping to solve critical issues, we are getting students excited about learning. Something about the curriculum that excites me is it educates us on how to sustain what we have left of the sacred world our ancestors left, while teaching what can be done to help revive it.”

Soon after the release of the Advocacy and Water Protection Curriculum, SCS began an online series on Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Science, & Management, and on Cultural Keystone Species. This series teaches about critical ecosystems and challenges they face, including; Fires and Forests, Oceans, Estuaries, and Rivers, and how Native peoples depend on, and manage, these ecosystems. The series also includes a session on California’s 30×30 plan, climate change and how returning land to Tribes for traditional stewardship is critical to climate adaptation. We then added additional sessions on keystone species that are food sources for, or culturally important to Native peoples, and how they use and care for these species. Like the Advocacy & Water Protection in Native California curriculum, this series teaches accurate histories of Native California, and discusses culture and peoples in the present tense, as they are still here. A junior-high school curriculum based on this series is scheduled to be released around Indigenous People’s Day 2022.

The Advocacy and Water Protection in Native California can be viewed and downloaded for free here, and the Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Science, & Management series can be found here.

River education is a core value for SCS. SCS is committed to providing support to youth-led environmental and social initiatives. This ensures that everyone who cares about the river and salmon has the ability to access (i.e., monetary support, transportation, etc.) and build their capacity to engage in policy decisions that impact our rivers. For salmon-dependent communities saving the salmon is more than an environmental issue – it is a human rights issue. Local Indigenous communities have been fighting for their rights to protect the land and water and to exercise their inherent responsibility to fish, hunt, and gather since the arrival of settlers. This intergenerational fight continues for many local Tribes and allies to uphold their responsibility to protect the river and bring the salmon home. The public can learn more about the rivers that SCS focuses its water advocacy work on in Northern California by clicking the following link: Learn About Our Rivers.

Some of the programming that SCS offers is based on information learned during Tribally-led movements to protect their local ecosystems.  For instance, SCS and our board and staff’s families have played an integral role in the movement to complete the Klamath dam removal – the largest dam removal in the world. In addition to this political feat, the dam removal process will reconnect salmon to 90% of spawning and rearing habitat in the upper-Klamath River Basin. Currently, the Klamath dam blocks approximately 420 miles of habitat that salmon no longer have access to. The dams create unlivable water temperatures and low dissolved oxygen levels, leading to toxic algae blooms and to aquatic diseases in river species. The campaign to take down the Klamath dams represents a historic alliance between four river Tribes, commercial and recreational fishermen, and scientists. These communities have spent the last 18 years of fighting through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) process and have used direct action, community organizing, scientific study, lawsuits, and settlement meetings to get the owners of the dams to agree to transfer the dams to a dam removal agent that is tasked to remove four of the six Klamath River dams. SCS is now working with Tribes to obtain dam removal and fish passage in the Eel and Sacramento River watersheds, to fight water pollution, and to combat climate change. The public can learn more about the Klamath, Bay-Delta, Sacramento, and Trinity Rivers by clicking on the following link: Threats to Northern California Rivers.