Taking Our Cues From the Original Environmentalists: HSU Water Protectors Speaker Series

By Caroline Griffith


From the Dakota Access Pipeline fight at Standing Rock, to the Jordan Cove LNG Pipeline, to the decades long battle to keep water in the Klamath River for threatened salmon species, indigenous activists have long been leading the fight against resource extraction and the commodification of our land, water and air. Locally, the HSU Native American Studies Department and Save California Salmon have joined together to provide a free speaker series and certificate program titled Advocacy and Water Protection in Native California. The series seeks to educate individuals and organizations about water issues on our local rivers, the laws pertaining to water and environmental protection, and how tribes have been fighting to protect waterways. 


Starting June 5 and running every Friday until August 28, the course is open to everyone. Certificate seekers are required to attend three CORE courses, five elective webinars and present at a symposium that will be the culmination of the course. Webinars will be available on YouTube for those who are unable to attend. The Advocacy and Water Protection in Native California Symposium will be held September 25th.

The first module of the series ran through the month of June and is entitled The State of California Salmon. It lays out the history and present of the fight to save the salmon of Northern California’s rivers. Many of the courses in this module focus on the effects of dams on salmon populations and those that rely on them, and the effects of water diversion projects for agriculture in the Central Valley. The courses highlight the interconnectedness of the watersheds, the history of dams and diversions on the waterways, and the legal challenges to them as a way to show the full landscape of threats to the salmon. 

July is dedicated to Culture, Advocacy and Environmental Justice, and will explore grassroots movements, indigenous environmental justice, art, food sovereignty, culture and community resilience as they relate to water justice. Courses led by Indigenous artists and activists focus on the importance of revitalizing cultural traditions in relationship to water, culture, and identity; the centrality of Indigenous relationships to food systems and the importance of food sovereignty for tribal nations; and how the ecological dynamics of settler colonialism are essential for theorizing the relationships between health and environmental justice.

August is focused on Direct Action and Allyship with Indigenous Movements and will examine Indigenous resistance through the strategies and tactics of water protectors. Courses will cover topics related to organizing and carrying out grassroots campaigns inspired by the knowledge shared in previous courses. By taking in the big picture of the history of colonization and ecological damage, then learning how Indigenous activists have been and continue to advocate for the environment, attendees will learn how to craft grassroots campaigns following the lead of people who have been fighting to protect our waters since the arrival of settlers. 

Courses are being led by Indigenous activists and artists from around California including Allie Hostler of the Hoopa Valley Tribe; Brittani Orona of the Hoopa Valley Tribe; Caleen Sisk, the Spiritual Leader and Tribal Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe; Dr. Cutcha Risling Baldy, chair of the HSU Native American Studies Department and member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe; Hillary Renick of the Sherwood Valley Band of the Pomo Indians; Ka’ila Farrell-Smith, a Klamath Modoc visual artist and activist; and Morning Star Gail, an activist and organizer from the Ajumawi Band of the Pit River Tribe.

All of this will culminate in a virtual symposium on September 25th featuring panelists, presentations and workshops about the work that is being done throughout Native California. 

The speaker schedule can be found here.