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The Power of an Image



I happened to see the cover of the April 14 issue of the Journal on a newsrack on my way to breakfast with my oldest son. We were so excited to see four of this area's young women standing proudly in traditional regalia during the Klamath dam removal ceremony. It isn't often you can see that type of image anywhere. The accompanying article did a great job describing the political side of that day and the history of the dam removal efforts.

But I wanted to know what those young women were thinking and hoping as they represented Native cultures from this region during that event. I am fortunate to descend from families that participate in traditional ceremonies locally. We have defined roles between women and men that help guide us before, during and after ceremony. As a male, it is not up to me to tell the women's side of who we are as Native people. But I was able to speak to two of the young women and their mothers so they could share their experiences during that event.

This is what Faith Kibby told me:

"I felt really honored to be asked to be there, and it made me feel really good to be there. I felt proud and happy to help represent our people. We stood there for almost an hour and it was hot. I wore a dress made by Lyn Risling that belongs to her daughter Geneva, and I wore a family dance cap. I'm happy to wear regalia made by other people.

"We met both governors [of California and Oregon] and some other people before the event. They were very respectful when they asked about our culture and our regalia. It was a really cool experience to witness the signing, it felt great. There aren't a lot of girls my age that get to meet the governor. I hope they get rid of all the dams; I want all the rivers to be healthy.

"I thought about my grandpa Archie while I stood there. I was raised in my culture and I feel it's so important, this is why I participate in our ceremonies. I'm thankful I get to know where I come from."

I then spoke with Faith's mother, Brandy Kibby, about the experience:

"Faith was 4 years old when she started to dance in our ceremonies. It takes practice and strong discipline for the girls when they wear the dresses. The Yurok Tribe called us the night before the event. I was thinking that history was being made, and this was something Faith could tell her kids and grandkids about. I hope they follow through and take the dams out.

I was really proud of her as she spoke to the governor. I think she realized after just how big an event it was. Now she's excited and she wants to be a future leader. She's on that path and this event will help her to be a positive role model."

I spoke with Chu-cheesh O'Rourke about her involvement on that day:

"It was an honor to be there and I'm grateful to help represent our culture. The river is important to our people spiritually and politically. I'm studying politics now so it was pretty cool to be with the governor. They were polite when they asked about the dresses and which family member made them. While I stood there, I was thinking that I hope the salmon can come back."

I then spoke with Chu-cheesh's mother Liz Lara-O'Rourke about her thoughts on her daughter's involvement in the event:

"I'm so very proud of her. She wore a dress made by her aunt Roberta Lara. When I was her age, my father and his generation were on the river to fight for our rights so I'm happy this event happened during his lifetime. Our people have endured with dignity and worked a long time to bring those dams down, so to have her be part of this was very special."

When I saw that image of those four young Native ladies I saw love, discipline and knowledge being represented. And that's exactly what it will take to turn the written agreements signed at that event into a reality. Thank you to all the people who helped get those young ladies to be a part of that day. Thank you to Erica Young, Aleaha Aguilar, Chu-cheesh O'Rourke, and Faith Kibby for your strong and courageous participation during the ceremony. Your community is proud of each of you.

Chag Lowry is of Yurok, Maidu and Achumawi Native ancestry. He's currently working on a graphic novel featuring the stories of Yurok soldiers in World War I.

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