Back to Hoopa

Published on
November 15, 2011

I'll never forget my first trip to Hoopa, California. How could I? A one-day whirlwind trip nearly two years ago -- 8 1/2 hours up from San Francisco, all for a 3 hour meeting, then another 8 1/2 hours straight back to where I'd come from. But those three hours were well worth the 17-hour car ride. Worth it, because I wouldn't be embarking on this reporting project otherwise. The meeting was with the good people at the Two Rivers Tribune, one of only two regularly-publishing Native American newspapers in California (that I'm aware of). I was there in Hoopa representing NAM, and although the official purpose was a messaging campaign around the 2010 Census, the underlying reason was simply to make a personal connection, to build a relationship, with this relatively small yet utterly important media outlet tucked in the redwood valley where the two rivers -- the Klamath and the Trinity - flow.

I was struck by two simple things on that trip to Hoopa -- the beauty of the place and the hospitality of the people I met there. One of those people was Allie Hostler, a Hoopa local, former reporter and occasional contributor to the Tribune (who, luckily for all involved, has since come back full time as a staff reporter) who I now have the pleasure of collaborating with on this reporting project. It was on that trip that I first got to hear - from a local perspective - of the water crisis in Hoopa, the dam projects, the disappearing rivers and the vanishing of the salmon which are so much a part of the Hoopa identity and way of life... It was on that trip that I made a private promise to come back to the Hoopa Valley, not as a media rep talking about the census, but as a storyteller. I just didn't think I'd be talking about the water crisis and crystal meth in the same sentence...

How does environmental degredation correlate with the recent spike in substance abuse (and particularly meth) on the Hoopa reservation? And what is (or isn't) being done about it? Those are questions we'll set out to explore, through the lens of community members, law enforcement officials, community health workers, organizers, youth and recovering drug abusers in the Hoopa Valley, an isolated Indian reservation in the far reaches of northern California -- where a slumping economy (unemployment is at 70 percent) and the massive destruction of natural resources (like the rivers and old growth forest) are contributing factors to the cyclical social and emotional problems that lead to drug abuse.

All I can say for sure about this story right now is that I know nothing. But I can't wait to get back to Hoopa, to start the journey of discovery.