policies have a tremendous impact on how food is produced, processed and
distributed in Native communities. Often, these policies are determined
at the federal and state levels. Today, more and more tribes are
exercising their sovereign rights and establishing tribal food policies
to meet the specific needs of their communities.
Tribal food policies empower tribes to protect their food, land and
natural resources from federal and state systems that attempt to claim
jurisdiction over these assets. These policies are powerful tools that
enable tribes to control, manage and regulate their food systems.
2015, the Yurok Tribe in California, the largest tribe in the state,
established the Yurok Tribe Genetically Engineered Ordinance (GEO) as
part of its tribal food policy. This first-of-its-kind tribal ordinance
prohibits the growth of genetically modified crops and the release of
genetically engineered salmon within the tribe’s territory.
The Yurok Tribe serves as an important model to other tribes interested
in developing their own food policies, ordinances and practices. This is
the tribe’s story:
The Yurok remain one of the few tribes that have maintained its presence
in its ancestral homelands in California. This presence is a great feat
as California Indian history epitomizes the cruelties of American
settlement in Indian territories. The Yurok Reservation is located
approximately five hours north of San Francisco along iconic Highway
101. This scenic drive parallels the Klamath River and consists of
old-growth redwood trees (some 1,000 to 2,000 or more years old),
breathtaking coastal views, and fresh inland waters that are home to
both the Yurok people and one of the most iconic fish in the world: the
Yurok people and the Pacific Salmon model an existence that resembles
the fury of the Klamath River itself. Every year, the salmon return to
the river, their natural breeding grounds, despite the increasing
environmental odds that threaten their demise. Along this river, a new
battle was brewing. Over the last few decades, the Yurok have tirelessly
fought for the survival of the salmon, advocating for dam removal on the
mighty Klamath River to feed other rivers. The tribe’s – and others’ –
efforts were successful in advocating dam removal. The dams on the
Klamath are slated for removal by 2020. (See http://www.times-stan-dard.com/article/NJ/20160406/NEWS/160409926).
On December 10, 2015, the Yurok Tribe passed tribal legislation banning
genetically engineered (GE) salmon and plants, essentially making it the
first tribal food and agricultural code in the country. Stephanie Dolan,
one of the primary authors of the Yurok Tribe GEO, says: “The main goals
in creating this code are to prohibit GE salmon from crossing into Yurok
county, prohibit GE crops from being planted, grown or harvested in
Yurok Country, create an advisory committee to look at reducing
pesticide use on the reservation (which impacts all of the plants,
animals and health of the Yurok people) and to encourage other tribal
communities to exercise their jurisdiction.” Cheyenne Sanders from the
Yurok Tribe Office of Tribal Attorney also assisted in drafting the GEO.
This code has been inspired, in part, by other food policy movements
across the country at both the local and state levels. However, it is
important to note that tribal communities maintain a unique
government-to-government relationship with the United States that
recognizes the need and responsibility of tribal nations to govern their
own territories, communities and people that lends force to this type of
legislation. It is important for tribes to be proactive in defining
their jurisdiction over precious resources such as food and land so that
they continue to pass these resources down to future generations.
Abinanti, the Chief Judge of the Yurok Tribal Court – and the first
Native American woman admitted to the State Bar of California in 1974 –
is responsible for enforcing this code in Yurok Territory. Abinanti
firmly maintains: “It is only natural that the Yurok Tribal Court can
enforce the Yurok ordinance. The Yurok Tribal Court is meant to serve
the people, and salmon has always been a part of that.” Abinanti’s
courtroom is based on the tenants of traditional Yurok justice and seeks
to enforce Yurok community standards. Abinanti and the Yurok have made
it clear they will protect the Yurok lifestyle and the traditional
salmon that are central to it.
The Yurok are trailblazers for asserting these sovereign powers. They
have made history in several important Indian law cases such as U.S. v.
Kagama; Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Association; Jessie Short vs.
U.S.; and the unforgettable fish wars when tribal fisherman occupied the
mouth of the Klamath River to assert their right to fish for salmon. In
many respects, the passage of the GE salmon ban in Yurok territory is an
extension of occupation that occurred in Yurok Territory more than 40
the Yurok Tribe continues to assist other California tribes – including
the Karuk Tribe, Tolowa-Dee-ni’ Nation, Hoopa Valley Tribe and Bear
River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria – in their efforts to pass similar
tribal food policies and ordinances in their communities. These five
tribes are a part of the Northern California Tribal Court Coalition (NCTCC),
a group of tribal courts that encourage other tribes to take steps to
enact similar laws to protect their lands and peoples.
To see more information about NCTCC’s other Rights of Mother Earth
initiatives, including the recent Tribal Food Sovereignty Gathering,
visit the website at
The Yurok Tribe is advocating for dam removal so that salmon can reach
more than 250 miles of historic spawning habitat, among other reasons.
Additionally, removing the dams will alleviate major water-quality
issues, including unnaturally high water temperatures, massive toxic
algal blooms and high populations of deadly fish parasites.
(Note: A designed/printable version of this story can be downloaded for
free from the First Nations Knowledge Center at this link:
By A-dae Romero-Briones, First Nations Associate Director of Research &
Policy, Native Agriculture
Edited by Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Consultant
This entry was posted in NL01 and tagged A-dae Romero-Briones, Abby
Abinanti, Adae, Bear River Band, California, Cheyenne Sanders, dam
removal, First Nations Development Institute, food policies, genetic
ordinance, genetically engineered, GEO, Hoopa Valley, Karuk, Klamath
River, natural resources, NCTCC, Northern California Tribal Court
Coalition, Pacific, salmon, San Francisco, Sarah Hernandez, Stephanie
Dolan, Tolowa-Dee-ni, Yurok Tribal Court, Yurok Tribe by rblauvelt.
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0 thoughts on “Genetic Ordinance Protects Yurok Tribe’s Natural
Lee Standing Bear Moore on
May 20, 2016 at 11:08 am said:
“It is important for tribes to be proactive in defining their
jurisdiction over precious resources such as food and land so that they
continue to pass these resources down to future generations. – See more
We will not see the beauty and fruition of that good advise until such
time as the BLM, BIA, and a dozen other federal bureaucracies lay in a
Until that time, it is THEY who define jurisdiction over any particular
issue — food, land and life. In a vast unrestrained network THEY, the
bureaucrats create untold harm on tribal people and other citizens.
This is a wonderful story of people taking control over their own lives
— determining the quality of life for their chidren’s children,
children. Truly Inspring!
- See more at: