Piece Comment

Review of Dying for Water: Indians, Politics and Dead Fish in the Klamath River Basin

I wasn't prepared to like this piece. Since it was co-produced by Hoopa Tribal Radio, I assumed it would be one-sided and preachy in its telling of the story of an environmental disaster: The killing of 68,000 Chinook Salmon in the Klamath River Basin. While this documentary does indeed present only a single point-of-view, it's not at all preachy. But enough about my preconceptions. The focus should really be on this documentary. So, here goes: The production values are very high. There's a great mix of music, voices and natural sound. It's thoughtful and effective. The narrator is down-to-earth, easy to listen to and very non-NPR (and that's a great thing!). And most important, the content does a great job of telling the listener why the Chinook Salmon are so important to the tribal people in the area. Elders, anthropologists and tribal leaders explain the importance of the historical and cultural importance of salmon, but an average guy, about 19 minutes into this doc, says it best: "The salmon. That's our life ... We live in an area with 90 percent unemployment. Fish is what we eat in the winter time." And then there's this at about 23 minutes: "Fish can't live without water." OK. That's obvious enough. But wait. The government disagrees. At a public meeting, a federal official from the Bureau of Reclamation told a crowd, "We have no scientific proof that fish really do need water." Huh? It's an amazing, funny moment. It draws you in. And you want to learn more about the topic. Many programmers may be reluctant to air this piece in places far from Northern California, but this story --- the fight over water and the importance of natural resources to tribal people --- is universal.