The McCloud River gurgles and gushes down the Cascade Range, gathering streams from the towering Mount Shasta, a mountain of mythic and sacred symbolism to many. The river pours down three waterfalls over basaltic lava flows, where Chinook salmon once heroically jumped up the falls to spawn and propagate. This August, members of the Winnemem Wintu tribe gathered for their annual "salmon challenge," an effort to trace the path of their revered fish as it once swam its way up the McCloud River. The venerated salmon are long gone: The Shasta Dam's construction in 1944 framed a permanent deleterious barrier, and the salmon were unable to reach their spawning grounds upstream to regenerate as they had for millennia.
"We are a salmon state. We believe that whatever happens to the salmon, happens to us," said Chief Caleen Sisk, tribal and spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu, a tribe of 125. "Shasta Dam destroyed the homes of the salmon. The dam also drowned our homes and sacred sites, and we were left homeless like the salmon."