TINA McDUFFIE: Climate change is threatening the land that so many have relied on for centuries.
LOUISA McCOVEY: We have this innate reciprocal relationship with the river, and fish, and the land.
And we need it healthy for us to be healthy.
McDUFFIE: Indigenous people fight to protect their earth, air, fire, and water.
RON GOODE: The land is just gorgeous.
McDUFFIE: A production of the WNET group's Peril and Promise Initiative: In Their Element.
♪ ♪ ♪ The earth, the air, the fire, the water ♪ ♪ Return, return, return, return ♪ (vocalizing) DONALD DARDAR: Our community's been changing for years because of land loss.
This is our home.
KENDRA PINTO: When I walk outside, I can't just think about fresh air.
I'm thinking about the V.O.C.s.
I'm thinking about the methane that I'm breathing in, because I know what's out there.
(indistinct radio chatter) MAN: Go, go, go, go, go.
RON GOODE: People are afraid of fire because of what it's done, but we should be thinking about renewal.
♪ ♪ LOUISA McCOVEY: Without a healthy river and a healthy environment here, Yurok people would cease to exist.
Our relationship is so close to the land and close to the river.
♪ The earth, the air, the fire, the water ♪ ♪ Return, return, return, return ♪ (group vocalizing) (fire crackling) ♪ ♪ THERESA DARDAR: To me, there's no other place like it.
It's just a small American Indian fishing community.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ (boat engine whirring) The land changed a lot.
My name is Theresa Dardar.
I'm a member of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe.
We used to go to my grandfather's house.
Whenever we were riding in his boat, well, I used to be able to pull at the grass alongside the bayou, which now is much wider, real wide.
KRISTINA PETERSON: This is the fastest disappearing delta in the whole world.
The amount of land that's been lost is about the size of the state of Delaware.
It's heartbreaking because you can see it on a day-to-day basis.
♪ ♪ REPORTER: Tonight, Hurricane Ida slamming into Louisiana as a powerful Cat4 storm.
Ida tore through cities and towns, flooding streets and ripping apart buildings and homes.
The storm has displaced members of the Pointe-au-Chien Tribe in lower Terrebonne, with many homes left unlivable.
♪ ♪ THERESA: When we first got home, I just sat on my porch and... you know, I had breakdowns every now and then because of the devastation, to see our community the way it was.
We have 80 homes and 68 of them were damaged.
68 that were not livable.
♪ ♪ KRISTINA: The impacts of Ida have been tremendous-- a hundred square miles of land loss, and what that means is that the next storms that come in are even closer to all the other inland communities.
It puts everyone in a more precarious situation.
♪ ♪ THERESA: Losing that much land can hurt our fishing industries because we need the marshes, you know, for the shrimp to spawn and all.
(engine starting) ♪ ♪ DONALD: If you're a fisherman, this is where you want to be.
My name is Donald Dardar, and I'm from Pointe-Aux-Chenes and been living here all my life.
I started working with my dad when I was ten, 12, 13 years old and used to go shrimping with him, and I started shrimping on my own when I was 15 years old.
On this side, you didn't see no water at all.
It was all grass, both sides of the bayou, it was all grass.
You know, you could have walked all of this.
It's heartbreaking to see that much land, anyway.
I know if nothing's done, the south side of the levee's going to keep washing out, you know, just we are going to lose it.
Not in my lifetime, but younger generation's not going to see that, you know.
It'll be different, because we're not going to have no place for the shrimp and the crab to spawn.
♪ ♪ KRISTINA: The land loss is caused by multiple...
There's multiple issues behind it, and it dates back to when the forests were taken for the cypress.
The trees no longer held the marsh together.
Canals were put in, then later those same canals were used for oil exploration and for navigational purposes.
There's pipelines crisscrossing the marshes.
You have saltwater intrusion coming in, you have more storms as a result of the heating temperature of the Gulf.
And all of these things that help keep the marsh and the land secured are now diminishing, and then as they diminish, so does the land.
THERESA: Everybody that's here, even though they lost their homes, they still want to come home.
THERESA: I think they're feeling attachment to the land because this is where our ancestors were.
Our cemeteries and our mounds are all down the bayou.
We're all connected to that.
This is home, and where would you have us go that there's no natural disasters?
DONALD: What we going to do?
Just keep moving further north?
Why not try and protect whatever's left?
THERESA: We're getting close to be the elders of the community.
Once we're gone, you know, I want the tribe to still be going on.
I don't want all our work to be in vain.
We need it to continue.
♪ ♪ KENDRA: Air has no boundaries.
Air does hold a significant place in my heart because I need it every day, and so does my neighbor.
♪ ♪ (machinery chugging) ♪ ♪ My name is Kendra Pinto and I am from the Diné Nation.
So, we're going to head out into the field today in the Lybrook and Counselor area to see if we can see any sort of emissions that are happening.
♪ ♪ ANDREW KLOOSTER: Do you see anything, Kendra?
KENDRA: No, just combusteds back there.
ANDREW: There's nothing going on from the well head?
KENDRA: Not at the moment.
Do you want to take a look?
I'll take a look.
Oh, wait, I see.
They're venting that tank.
KENDRA: I didn't see it, but I could smell it.
ANDREW: Yeah, that's really significant.
So, you can see it's coming from that big taller tank there in the back and we cannot see that with our naked eyes because that's methane and V.O.C.s coming out of that tank.
KENDRA: Methane and volatile organic compounds is definitely something I'm worried about.
When I walk outside, I can't just think about fresh air.
I'm thinking about the V.O.C.s, I'm thinking about the methane that I'm breathing in because I know it's out there.
As someone who goes out into the field, I see it all the time.
For too long in states like New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation, and then, you know, at the federal level, there hasn't been really adequate oversight of things like methane emissions from oil and gas development and that has led to problems.
Unfortunately, there have been environmental justice issues with the undue burden that Navajo communities and tribal communities at large have been forced to bear from insufficiently regulated oil and gas development.
KENDRA: So, we are at a well site that's about 1,800 feet north of Lybrook Elementary school.
ANDREW: You know, we're looking at it on the camera and this plume of pollutants that they have coming out of this tank is traveling in the direction of the school right now.
This is considered kind of a routine sort of maintenance operation.
In order to make the site safe for the workers to access the site, they have to just dump all of this excess kind of gas in the system into the atmosphere.
So, again, that's not being burned off, that's not being treated in any way or stored, it's just being released into the atmosphere and, you know, the people who live around here just have to deal with the impacts of that.
JON: Half of the tribal population of San Juan County lives within a half mile of an oil or gas well.
That's a radius that would indicate some impacts from those wells that aren't being currently regulated as well as they should be.
KENDRA: If a site is, you know, 200 feet away from federal lands and you have a home site sitting there, they're going to breathe that air in, and a lot of the times, they're not gonna smell it, so they're not gonna know.
Who's there to quantify how much is actually coming out and how much it's actually affecting the locals?
JON: Methane could be referred to as the other greenhouse gas.
Scientists estimate that it's 80 times more potent in the 20-year timeframe than carbon dioxide at driving climate change, and that obviously makes it a big problem.
Fixing those leaks also helps you capture other forms of pollution that can come out of oil and gas wells, things like volatile organic compounds that lead to ozone pollution and that can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory problems.
They also help capture toxic pollutants like benzene that are carcinogens and lead to cancer.
KENDRA: If my neighbors are breathing it in, that's worrisome.
So, it's a major concern because I don't want folks to be getting more sick than they are.
Capturing this and documenting, I think, is the safest way to bring attention and awareness to an issue that kind of gets swept under the rug, especially for areas that are rural, like ours.
JON: Groups that are collecting data with infrared cameras are already starting to share that information with regulators, and regulators are starting to use the data that's shared with them to increase their enforcement.
So, these efforts are a really important part of making sure that these pollution problems are addressed.
KENDRA: Documenting these type of emissions is important because no one else is really doing it.
I mean, we find faulty equipment all the time with the FLIR camera.
I hope that all the oil and gas sites that they have out here, you know, next door to me are regulated.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ RON: People are afraid of fire because of what it's done, but that really shouldn't be what we're thinking about.
We should be thinking about renewal.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ I have a little story in which I talk about how Mother Earth is To-bopht and water is Piya, and how Mother Earth and, and water married.
And they had a mischievous child named Kos.
Kos is fire, and as Kos grew he liked to play, and he would go out and play and wherever he went, he left a trail of fire.
Piya would go behind Kos sprinkling water on him, and then Mother Earth would come along and plant flowers and cultural plants.
That little story is still working its magic today.
The unfortunate part is that we, as people, we forget to see that.
We're here in Mariposa along Mariposa Creek.
We've been burning all of this for the last four or five years.
The fire that we put here is called cultural burning.
Cultural burning is to enhance and support and rejuvenate the cultural resources for the traditional cultural practices.
It's a philosophical concept of how to prepare the land, how to ensure that the land has this regrowth, and what you've done when you're finished is to help make the whole landscape wildfire-defensible.
So, if you think about the practice of controlled fire, which is exactly how the Indigenous people of the U.S. West utilized flames before, the way it works is that you fight fire with fire.
And how does that work?
You sort of clear away various kinds of structures-- tree, brush, grass-- on an annual enough basis that you manage the capacity of fire to do the work that you wish it to do.
A part of the dilemma, though, of course, is when the Spanish invaded California in the 18th century, they hated fire.
And so, they immediately started to squash the use of fire by Indigenous people.
So, we're now looking at a more than a 200 year, almost 250, 250 years of fire suppression, which has had this cyclical effect upon Western fire wildfires in the United States since that point.
RON: Wildfires have always been a concern.
They were even a concern when the Indian lived on the land.
That's one of the main reasons that we had to burn in our village.
They weren't what we call mega-fires back then.
Now, we have mega-fires, and it's, it's an escalation from the time that the Euro-American arrived here.
♪ ♪ CHAR: Europeans, once they arrived in the New World, didn't just want to convert forcibly, violently, Indigenous people to their religions, let alone try to get rid of them.
But one of the things they tried to combat is to suppress fires as much as they could because they understood that fire was a key to Indigenous civilizations.
And so, if you wanted to overtake those folks if you were Spanish, Mexican, or American, then that was one of the things you took away from them.
In addition to violent attacks upon Indigenous communities, one of the things those first white settlers were doing was trying to disrupt Indigenous fire practices, either by killing people or moving them off the land so that they could use their practices to ensure the resources that they wanted.
I mean, it's a very violent disruption to be sure, on so many levels.
RON: What the government did to the native people was they put suppression onto fires from 1850.
Not only was it suppression but oppression for our culture because if we can't harvest, if we don't have the materials that we need for our baskets and our, our other cultural items and our foods and our medicines, then our culture is not really much of a culture.
♪ ♪ REPORTER: California is encouraging the use of fire to fight fire.
New law is giving more control and less liability risk to private landowners when managing prescribed burns on their property.
♪ ♪ I give Ron Goode huge credit for articulating the degree to which this is essential, both internal to his community, of course, but also more practically for the rest of us.
That's part of the reason why I have hope that we can get at this at a scale that actually might make sense.
RON: When we burn and we clear the land, you see how beautiful the flowers are.
The land is just, you know, all the coats and colors.
So, to be able to get out here on the land and put a little fire down, it means a lot and makes a lot of difference.
(waves crashing) ♪ ♪ BARRY McCOVEY: There can't be Yurok people without the Klamath River.
It's woven into the fabric of our being, I guess you could say.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ BARRY: Growing up as a kid, I lived on the river, and fished a lot.
It wasn't really difficult, there was a lot of fish.
Now, I have children of my own, and so for the past few years I've been taking them out and we've been trying really hard and we haven't caught a whole lot.
My name is Barry McCovey Jr.
I am the Fisheries Department director for the Yurok Tribe.
Well, not a whole lot of excitement here today.
The Klamath River was the main food source for the Yurok Tribe in historic times, kind of pre-contact.
So, basically any time of year there would be a fresh run of fish coming into the river, whether it's lamprey, or smelt, or salmon, there's always some fresh source of protein coming into the river.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ We've seen up to 90%, sometimes over 90% of the historic fish runs are gone now.
The river is nothing compared to what it once was, as far as its ability to produce fish for people to eat.
Starting with the first influx of settlers during the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s, the river has been impacted.
And then, that was quickly followed by the logging industry, and then there was overfishing in the oceans, and then hydropower came along and dams and diversions.
Now, you know, we're facing climate change, and these last few years, especially, we're starting to really see it.
So, there's just all of these stressors and impacts on the river for the past 150 years.
And when you look at geologic time and how long all these species have been here over millions of years, and then all of a sudden in 150 years for everything to change like that... (snaps fingers) species are having a hard time adapting and keeping up with that change.
And so, we don't have the opportunities that we wish we had or that we had in the past, or that we hope to have in the future, to where we can have access to a lot of our traditional first foods that are extremely healthy and extremely important to who we are as people.
Not just to our health, but to our identity.
There's not a lot of opportunities for really good healthy food here in these small communities along the river on the reservation.
The river does offer that.
It's not living up to its full potential right now because of all the degradation that's happened.
LOUISA: We have this innate, reciprocal relationship with the river, and fish, and the land, and so we need it to be healthy for us to be healthy.
My name is Louisa McCovey.
I'm the Yurok Tribe Environmental Department director.
We're at a point in our history as Yurok people where we catch as much fish as possible throughout the year to sustain ourselves, but it's not enough.
So, the U.S.D.A.
declared the Yurok Indian Reservation a food desert.
There are parts of our reservation that are so remote that they don't have electricity, and in some of those places folks have to drive two hours to a local place where they can get food.
And, even in those instances, it's access to a mini mart.
It's not a supermarket.
It's not a place where folks can have readily available access to fresh, healthy food, and so that's a problem.
That's something that we're hoping to address with our food sovereignty program.
We're here on the Yurok Reservation on this 48-acre parcel of land, where we're building our food sovereignty program.
♪ ♪ There's just like incredibly diverse habitat here, all in one little area, and there's real potential to sort of restore our relationship with the land here.
It's my hope that the, you know... it just welcomes us back with kind of open arms.
Okay, the journey into the forest.
(chuckles) Oh, yeah.
Look at that.
So, this is like rearing habitat for Coho.
We want to pull out all of this invasive blackberry, restore the creek, you know, enhance the habitat for Coho.
So, this parcel is really kind of ideal for our situation.
The location, for one, it really is going to allow us to foster that intergenerational knowledge sharing because it's right next to the school that serves mostly Yurok tribal members, and we can build that right in.
Our kids, along with us, are built and born with this fire inside to help the Earth, to fix the Earth, to do something good for their people.
BARRY: I'm optimistic that when my children are my age, that things will be different and things will be better, and they will have the opportunity to teach their children the ways of the Yurok people and not be hampered by low fish runs.
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