The Yurok Tribe has passed a tribal ordinance banning genetically engineered organisms such as GMO corn or altered salmon from its territory.
“The Tribal GEO Ordinance prohibits the propagation, raising, growing, spawning, incubating, or releasing genetically engineered organisms (such as growing GMO crops or releasing genetically engineered salmon) within the Tribe’s territory and declares the Yurok Reservation to be a GMO-free zone,” the tribe said in a statement on December 14 after passing the Yurok Tribe Genetically Engineered Organism (“GEO”) Ordinance. The 5,000-member tribe is the largest in California, its 56,585-acre reservation covering a 44-mile stretch of the Klamath River in the northwestern part of the state.
“The Yurok People have the responsibility to care for our natural world, including the plants and animals we use for our foods and medicines,” Yurok Tribe Chairman James Dunlap said in the statement. “This Ordinance is a necessary step to protect our food sovereignty and to ensure the spiritual, cultural and physical health of the Yurok People. GMO food production systems, which are inherently dependent on the overuse of herbicides, pesticides and antibiotics, are not our best interest.”
The move came in direct response to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ruling in November that genetically altered salmon is safe to eat and can thus legally be manufactured for consumption.
“GMO farms, whether they are cultivating fish or for fresh produce, have a huge, negative impact on watersheds the world over,” the tribe said. “The Yurok Tribe’s homeland is on the Klamath River, where massive algal blooms, exacerbated by agricultural runoff and antiquated hydroelectric dams, turn the river toxic each summer.”
The Yurok had approved a resolution opposing genetically engineered salmon back in April 2013, but this is among the first ordinances passed.
“While other tribes, such as the Dine’ (Navajo) Nation, have declared GMO-free zones by resolution, this ordinance appears to be the first of its kind in the nation,” the Yurok said.
The move is part of a regional collaboration with other tribes under the auspices of the Northern California Tribal Court Coalition (NCTCC) that also includes an upcoming Indigenous Food Sovereignty Summit in Klamath in spring 2016.
Unlike a resolution, an ordinance carries within it mechanisms for enforcement, the Yurok noted.
“It is the inherent sovereign right of the Yurok People to grow plants from natural traditional seeds and to sustainably harvest plants, salmon and other fish, animals, and other life-giving foods and medicines, in order to sustain our families and communities as we have successfully done since time immemorial,” said Yurok Chief Judge Abby Abinanti in the tribe’s statement. “Our Court will enforce any violations of these inherent, and now codified, rights.”