Yesterday, the Yurok Tribe was selected as one of the first indigenous organizations in the United States to receive the United Nations Development Programme’s prestigious Equator Prize.
“We are honored to receive recognition for our traditional ecological knowledge and western science-based approach to managing the temperate rainforests in our region,” said Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “Our tribe is rebuilding biodiversity in our forests and restoring resilience within our community. This time-tested strategy for rehabilitating critical habitats can be duplicated all over the world to reduce the impact of climate change.”
The Equator Prize, created by the Equator Initiative, aims to acknowledge groups that are implementing nature-base solutions to address climate change, environmental degradation and poverty. This year’s 22 winners were selected from a pool of 847 nominations across 127 countries by a technical team comprised of internationally renowned experts. The 22 organizations will be honored at a gala on September 24, 2019 in New York. Each will also receive $10,000 and will have an opportunity to send two representatives to the 74th United Nations General Assembly.
Since 2012, the Tribe has reacquired more than 60,000 acres of forest taken from Yurok people in the late 19th century. Much of the woodlands were clear-cut by an industrial timber company and further scarred by hundreds of miles of hastily built logging roads. The combination of insults to the natural landscape had catastrophic impacts on culturally invaluable fish and wildlife populations. Today, the Tribe is employing Yurok citizens to re-create the diverse ecological conditions that existed on these lands for millennia. These forests are now managed for the production of traditional foods, medicines and basket materials as well as carbon sequestration. The centerpiece of this holistic project is the development of the Yurok Old-growth Forest and Salmon Sanctuary in the Blue Creek watershed, which is one of the most important tributaries on the Klamath River for salmon and sacred ceremonial practices.
“We are blending the knowledge of ancestors with contemporary science to fix our forests and improve ecosystem health within our homeland,” said Chairman James. “We are very grateful for the recognition of this essential endeavor. We have made tremendous sacrifices to reclaim our right to determine our own destiny and be a strong steward of our land.”
The Yurok Tribe is the largest Tribe in California with more than 6,000 members. The Tribe’s ancestral territory comprises 7.5 percent of the California coastline and is home to the Klamath River, the lifeline of the Yurok people. The Tribe’s major economic and natural resource initiatives include: condor reintroduction, fisheries protection, restoration and management, dam removal, natural resources protection, sustainable economic development enterprises and land acquisition.