Learning Through Listening: Native American Issues in Rural Oregon Communities

  Brandon Stewart


   Chiloquin Dam                                                                                                                                   Sucker Fish (C'uaam)


 The purpose of the course is learning through listening just as the name suggests. Over our five day visit to Chiloquin and Klamath Falls Oregon, we met several stakeholders and spent several hours each day listening to their concerns regarding water rights and other rural concerns. 

The basic premise for the controversy in Klamath Falls is over the scarcity of water. After a few years of drought in the region, the water level in the rivers dropped to a point that a certain type of fish known to the Native Americans as C’uaam, or commonly known as sucker fish, was put on the endangered species list.  As a result, in 2001 the Federal government shut off the water to the Klamath Basin, which left farmers without enough water to irrigate their crops.

Our purpose for researching this issue was not to come up with a solution to this problem, but rather try to gain new perspective. It would be presumptuous to think that twenty college students could spend less than a week observing the problems surrounding the Klamath Basin and declare a solution to this complex issue.

 For me, the most interesting part of the trip was the importance of the cultural and religious practices of the Klamath tribes. For thousands of years, long before white settlers migrated into the basin, the indigenous people depended on the C’uaam as a main staple in their diet. In addition, the fish were integral in the development of the native culture.

 Fishing was performed primarily by the men, although in some instances women also took part in it. There were a variety of ways that the tribes caught fish, some would use nets or canoes, but during the spring run the fish in the river would be so numerous that the men could fish of the banks with harpoons and spear them with ease.

 At the beginning of spring, the tribal leaders would take the first two C’uaam that they caught to be used in a ceremony that paid tribute to the creator. The first fish would be cremated as an offering to the creator, and the second would be released back in the water to pay respect to the fish.

There are many people in the Klamath and Chiloquin community that has been affected by the on going water rights issue. However, it is important that the preservation of the tribes and their way of life be upheld. It is my hope that through sustainable farming practices and the willingness for the various stakeholders to listen to each other that a reasonable compromise can be met.

Related links: 

City of Klamath Falls

 The Klamath Tribes

 U.S. Fish & Wildlife

 Bureau of Indian Affairs