Learning Through Listening:  Native American Issues
In Rural Oregon Communities

Oregon State University
ES 599/SOC 599

March 25-March 30, 2007

          Chiloquin City Hall                                  Crater Lake National Park                             Klamath Falls Mural                                     
                Chiloquin City Hall                                          Crater Lake National Park                                   Klamath Falls Mural 

The Course

On March 25, two vans full of students and instructors left the Oregon State University Campus to Eugene and then on to the small rural town of Chiloquin in Klamath County to participate in the Learning Through Listening Course.   The course asked students to engage  community members, ask questions and actively listen to about their perspectives, priorities, concerns and visions for the future for a sustainable future.  There have been some tensions in the community, particularly between tribal and agricultural interests and  it was suggested to us that this relationship is being repaired.  While there may not have been complete agreement on where and what was sustainable, they were unified in trying to build a place that was home to them.

Students were able to learn from leaders in financial institutions, agricultural land owners, Klamath Tribal members, businessman, law enforcement officers, Latina community members, the news media, social service agency represenatives and educators.  This cross section of individuals told of a community which like any community, has its conflicts and challenges, yet are working to move the area forward for a sustainable and diverse future.  Learning Through Listening ClassWe learned of alternative energy development, removal of the Chiloquin Dam for endangered species, innovative hospital expansion at Merle West Medical Center, collaborative social service delivery (between agencies and the Klamath Tribes)  and the devastating impact the Termination had on the Klamath Tribes.

Through our conversation with community stakeholders, I had an opportunity  to meet a broad range of people I would not have otherwise. The preparation and the practice of this course was   a good reminder that it is important to not bring a set of assumptions to each stakeholder meeting,     pre-filtering their responses to questions.  This course  broadened my understanding of the Klamath Community, a community which is  diverse ethnically, economically and in their perspectives.

Active listening was an important skill to not only utilize with community stakeholders but also with fellow classmates.
debriefing, the collective input and perspective of the entire class served to build an understanding of the information we had received from the stakeholders.  While there were long hours and much information to process, the team was able to build a better understanding of the community as well as a presentation for the community.
                              Lost River Sucker                                                            Shortnose Sucker                                               

                                   Lost River Sucker                                                                                    Shortnose Sucker                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              


Water was a constant theme during our community interviews.   In the Klamath Basin, most agree, water demand and rights to
 that water exceed
supply. The struggle to meet that demand amid different uses has led to conflict.  One of the major uses of water in the basin is for agriculture.  The US Bureau of Reclamation initiated construction of an irrigation system with the construction of the Klamath Project in 1909.  This project now  provides water to more than 240,000 acres in the Klamath Project, where farmers grow potatos, alfalfa, mint and other crops. 

The  Lost River and Shortnose suckerfish (cw’aam and qapdo in the Klamath language) have provided spiritual and dietary sustenance for the Klamath Tribes for thousands of years.  Both fish, whose habitat is the Lake and the rivers feeding the lake,  were listed as  endangered in 1988.  This listing  led the US Fish and Wildlife in a plan to protect the fish,  require more water in the Upper Klamath Lake.  This plan and a drought in 2001, led the federal government to shut off water to many Klamath Irrigation Project farmers. Farmers and supporters staged what was one of the largest demonstrations of civic action in Klamath Falls history, the Bucket Brigade, in which thousands of people passed water from the Lake Ewauna to a dry A canal on the  project.

P3280008-1.jpgBucket Brigade May 7th, 2001 As if in a downward spiral of water crisis, in 2002 there was a die-off of between 30-60,000 spawning salmon on the Klamath River which led in 2003  to the closure of the pacific coast fisheries over all of Oregon and Northern California.
                                                                                  Klamath Fish Die Off/Kill 2002
While these conditions have certainly brought forth significant environmental, economic consequences and water conflict,  there have efforts with participants throughout the  basin to emerge from the conflict with more sustainable water practices, collaboration and cooperation.

Another issue which still looms over all else regarding water is adjudication.   This is the administrative process in which  water rights established prior to the adoption of the Oregon Water Code in 1909,  are quantified and recorded.   More than 90% of these claims have been adjudicated in the Klamath Basin.

One example of collaboration is the planned removal of the Chiloquin Dam. The Dam, originally constructed for Klamath Tribes in 1918 by the
Bureau of Indian Affairs, crosses  the Sprague River near Chiloquin.  The Sprague River, along with the Williamson and Wood Rivers, serve as the headwaters of the Klamath River.  These rivers flow into Upper Klamath Lake, supplying water to the Klamath Irrigation Project.  After leaving the project, the water eventually joins the Klamath River, passing through four hydroelectric dams which are up for relicensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  The Chiloquin Dam, an irrigation diversion dam, now owned by the Modoc Point Irrigation District (MPID), blocks 95% of endangered suckerfish habitat.  Through a nine month process in which stakeholders (federal, state and local agencies, Klamath Tribes,  MPID irrigators and community members) studied the best alternative for fish passage and provision of irrigation water to MPID members, removal of the dam was selected.  MPID irrigators will have pumps installed and a fund established to pay for the cost of electricity for those pumps, to continue their water deliveries.   Removal is slated for 2008.

Sprague River Watershed 
                                                   Chiloquin Dam                                                Building Iron Gate Dam Klamath River

The Four Hydroelectric Dams on the Klamath River, which are owned and operated by Pacific Corps are barriers to  Coho Salmon, which were listed as threatened by the US National Marine Fisheries Service in 1992.  The current relicensing process has brought together a broad coalition of stakeholders (irrigated agriculture, tribes, fisherman and environmentalists), who are engaged in confidential negotiations is support of dam removal.  These stakeholders contend that dam removal is the best alternative for fish passage, while Pacific Corps is still considering construction of fish ladders for fish passage.  The federal government has required that Pacific Corps provide for fish passage.


Collaborative and cooperative measures have been initiated by organizations which have sprung up in the wake of 2001 (while others had been working prior prior to 2001), to promote and implement water conservation agricultural practices, as well as habitat restoration.  While water conflict has been a theme, water cooperation in the Klamath Basin has been in motion as well.  To learn more about these efforts, please visit these websites:

Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust

Klamath Basin Ecosystem Foundation

Hatfield Upper Klamath Basin Working Group

Other sites of interest:

Water User Groups

Klamath Water Users Association

Family Farm Alliance


Oregon Water Resources Department


Bureau of Reclamation

Oregon Water Enhancement Board

Deschutes Conservancy

Crater Lake National Park