“My great uncle and my grandma and my great grandparents and, I’m sure, their great grandparents: they were all fishermen. That’s just what they did – they fished and it was out of necessity to support their families. And it’s because that’s what we’ve always done and we’ve never known another life,” says Amy Cordalis, the general counsel of the Yurok, and a member of California’s largest indigenous tribe.
It’s hard to overstate how important this livelihood has been to the Yurok people who have lived for millennia in rural Northern California. And yet this livelihood has been diminishing for decades after the Klamath River – which flows through the tribe’s territory – was dammed for hydroelectricity. But now, after years of painstaking negotiations, the fortunes of the Yurok could be set to change, with the largest dam removal project in US history given the green light.
Although she grew up in Ashland, Oregon, Cordalis would often visit Requa, a tiny village near the mouth of the Klamath River in northern California, to see family, attend tribal ceremonies – and to fish. Her father – “the ultimate Yurok fisherman” – had four daughters and a son, and he taught all of them to fish.