Tribal prayer ceremony held to end suffering of Eel River

SAUSALITO, CA July19, 2010 – The Eel River Prayer Ceremony and Summit, a historic 2-day event was held on the banks of the Eel River near Willits, California on July 17-18. “We will not sit idly by”, was the central message of the event, hosted by the Round Valley Tribes of Covelo and Friends of the Eel River (FOER), which drew concerned Eel River supporters from San Francisco to the Oregon border, including biologists, hydrologists, fishermen and leading environmental groups. It was the first time in 100 years, since traditional spiritual ceremonies were banned among tribal governments, where members of the Round Valley Tribes of Covelo; and their spiritual leaders and tribal dancers, guided a sacred prayer ceremony for the relief of the long-suffering Eel River.

The Round Valley Tribes with century-long fishing rights on the Eel River have experienced devastating economic and health-related hardships from the loss of the salmon fisheries. Saturday was devoted to the Sacred Tribal Leader’s blessing of the river; which included all those attending, as well as tribal dancing, and a shared traditional tribal meal of salmon– not salmon from the Eel River, but salmon offered by an Alaskan tribe in recognition of the plight of the Eel’s nearly collapsed salmon fisheries.

On Sunday, the participants, unwilling to rely solely on the agencies of the federal and state government to force PG&E to modify the flows on the Eel River, met to present observations and research on a wide range of legal and scientific issues that effect the Eel River and the health of its nearly 4000 sq mile watershed; with the heart of the matter being the need to immediately increase the flows of water during peak late summer and fall spawning months.

“In the face of a very grave situation for the fish, all of the people attending the Eel River Prayer Ceremony were deeply inspired and empowered not to sit idly by. The sacred tribal dances and prayers were so profound that it infused all of those attending with strength and perseverance,” said Nadananda, Executive Director and founder of Friends of the Eel River. “The amplified energy among the group was infectious.”

According to Ernie Merrifield, past Round Valley Tribal Council member, “Water and salmon hold sacred value among the tribes of the Round Valley, and both have been bankrupted.” He continued, “Like a person, if you block the free flow of blood in your veins you will die, just as PG&E’s dams are killing the Eel River.” Because of past resource extract practices the best spawning and rearing habitat left are above the PG&E Potter Valley dams, with no fish access.

Only time will tell if the Eel River sacred prayer ceremony will bring back the salmon, but what it did accomplish was to bring powerful forces together to end their need for a desperate plea for help. “Extinction is not an option”, offered Nadananda.

About Friends of the Eel River
Friends of the Eel River (FOER), was founded in 1994 and has been acknowledged and praised for its devotion to the monitoring, defense and advocacy of the Eel River watershed. Through the education and support of residents, businesses and visitors in this third largest watershed in California, FOER has become a formidable challenger of large corporations and public agencies in the interest of preserving California’s North Coast public trust resources. FOER is supported by over 2500 members, a solid volunteer base, a large contingent of scientists and fisheries experts, sport fishing alliances, river enthusiasts, and concerned citizens who are working together to meet the challenges to the Eel River’s watershed integrity. For more information visit

About the Round Valley Tribes of Covelo
The Round Valley Reservation consists of the Covelo Indian Community. This community is a culmination of small tribes; the Yuki, who were the original inhabitants of Round Valley, and the Nomlacki, Wylaki, Lassik, Sinkyone, Cahto, Kabeyo, Shadakai, Yokayo, Shokawa, Kashaya, Habenapo. Wappo, Concow, Maidu, Colusa, and the Achamawi, who arrived during the forced march of Nome Cult 1863.

The Round Valley Reservation is located between the two tributaries of the Eel River; the Middle Fork and the North Fork. Fishing and water rights were granted to The Round Valley Tribes in 1873, under treaty with federal government. The Eel River and its salmon and Steelhead are sacred in the tribal community; it feeds life to all “civilization” on the river. Without adequate water in the main stem of the Eel River, there is not enough water for spawning salmon and steelhead to reach the Middle Fork Eel.

The “Indian” people, now referred to as First Americans, were in the way of the Gold Rushers in 1849, and their populations nearly collapsed. Now the salmon are in the way of the power company PG&E, corporate winemakers, and marijuana growers, and their populations have nearly collapsed.

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Narration by Paul McHugh