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April 20, 2011

River of Renewal—NMAI Celebrates Earth Day with a Special Screening and Discussion

By Dennis Zotigh

River_of_renewal_pics_021_1 Indigenous cultures around the world have a deep relationship with their environments and the earth. Changes to the natural world affect us all, but they particularly impact Indigenous peoples—Native communities' rights to use the natural resources of their homelands for economic sustenance, to observe traditional spiritual rites, and to practice traditional healing, to give just a few examples.

Worldwide attention to concerns about the earth’s environment culminate during Earth Day, this year on Friday, April 22. Please join us at the National Museum of the American Indian to recognize Earth Day with a special screening of the film River of Renewal, followed by a conversation with filmmakers Jack Kohler (Yurok/Karuk/Hupa) and Stephen Most. Chris Palmer, distinguished film producer and director of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University, will moderate the discussion.

Directed by Carlos Bolado, River of Renewal won Best Documentary Feature at the 2008 American Indian Film Festival. It documents eight years of conflict, negotiation, and political action concerning the future of the Klamath River. In this film Indigenous people share personal stories of their long struggle to defend their treaty salmon-fishing rights and restore the ecosystem of the river.

For thousands of years the Karuk, Hupa, and Yurok Indians have lived in the Klamath River Basin in northern California and southeastern Oregon. In this environment they depend on fishing for their survival. More recently, the Klamath River Basin is also home to ranchers, farmers, and commercial fisherman. Since the mid-1800s, these rivals have fought over the Klamath and its tributaries, 300 miles of vital spawning habitat for wild Pacific salmon and steelhead trout. Built between 1908 and 1962, four hydroelectric dams obstruct the salmon migration between the Pacific Ocean and upriver breeding grounds.

River of Renewal focuses on Kohler’s return to his ancestral homeland, where ecological crisis has divided farmers, ranchers, and commercial fishermen, as well as tribes whose ways of life depend on wild fish. After tens of thousands of spawning salmon die in the Klamath River in 2002, both sides reevaluate their positions and change occurs. Recognizing that their livelihoods all depend on the health of the river, the feuding tribes and their adversaries find common ground. Through negotiation, these groups agree to share water, improve the river habitat, and demand the removal of the dams that cut off salmon habitat.

“The dams were built in a time when jobs were needed and sources of energy were scarce,” Kohler says. “Now we realize the mistakes that were made. It is time to fix those mistakes. How can we make the world an ecologically sound and environmentally safe place to live? In one century, we have wreaked havoc on our mother earth, and now it is time to Pikiawish—renew the world.” In 2008, the federal government joined Oregon, California, and PacifiCorp, a major power-generating company, to endorse a plan to remove four aging hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River by 2020.

This program is presented in partnership with the Center for Environmental Filmmaking.

For more information on the screening at the museum and the discussion with the filmmakers, please the listing in the NMAI calendar of events.

River of Renewal
USA, 2009, 55 min.
Jack Kohler, narrator/producer
Stephen Most, producer/writer
Steve Michelson, executive producer
Carlos Bolado, director

Downloadable Viewer Discussion Guide to River of Renewal, courtesy of NAPT–Native American Public Telecommunications

Top: Ron Reed, Jack Kohler, and children at Ishipishi on the Klamath River. Video still courtesy of Pikiawish Partners



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This is of real interest to me. Healthy rivers are vital to these communities so thanks for pointing me in the direction of this documentary. You have a useful site here.


I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!!

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