Ríos to Rivers: Paddle Tribal Rivers

Paddle Tribal Waters: When the largest dam removal in history on the Klamath River along the Oregon California border begins, a group of Indigenous youth learn to whitewater kayak in hopes of becoming the first people to paddle the restored river from source-to-sea. As the young paddlers reconnect sections of the Klamath River that have not flowed freely for more than a century, they use kayaking to galvanize a movement while reconciling a stolen history and building a future of hope and healing.

Salmon populations in the Klamath have almost died out because they have been unable to return to their spawning headwaters. In 2024, when the dams are removed, the first generation of recently spawned salmon will make the inaugural trip to the sea alongside the young kayakers.

For centuries, dams have displaced indigenous communities, submerged ancestral territory, and eliminated traditional food sources. Damming free-flowing rivers is detrimental to bio and cultural diversity, and contributes to climate change through the release of under-reported methane. Paddle Tribal Waters is a positive way to celebrate the removal of the Klamath dams and support the sovereignty of the Klamath Basin tribal nations by ensuring that more of their youth have a voice in the dam removal process.

“Built into our cultural identities are these traditional ecological knowledge systems that require us to have a really in-depth relationship with the land and water and manage these so-called natural resources that have stewarded us.” — Paul Robert Wolf Wilson, Chief Storyteller, Rios to Rivers

Founded in 2012, Ríos to Rivers exchanges have connected 214 underserved and Indigenous students from 20 endangered river basins in seven countries. These historically underrepresented communities have been left out of traditional top-down decisions for river development that ultimately damage the health of their rivers and communities. Paddle Tribal Waters is a program of Rios to Rivers.