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I said something crazy is
going on -- then the miscar-
riages happened. Of twenty-
four women who were preg-
nant in this little town, every-
one lost their babies!" From
1976-1978, not one Karuk preg-
nancy was carried to term in
the Orleans area. Mavis com-
mented that the Karuk women
rarely miscarried.
"Finally, I said it was the
spray, since the only new thing
around here was the spray.
The Indian community didn't
want to get into it. I got into it
anyway because there was too
much happening and it was
bothering people's health."
Mavis put her involvement
into perspective by offering
what she told the officials at
that time, "You have to believe
it's so. I'm a reliable source
because it would be better if
I kept my mouth shut with my
daughter and my daughter-in-
law both working in the Forest
Service and my husband and
sons working in the woods."
After years of community
campaigning in Orleans and
elsewhere, another group won
a court case against the spray-
ing. Eventually the spraying
ended around Orleans, but
not before there was a very
destructive effect on the peo-
ple and the land.
According to Mavis, it took
ten years for local birds and
lizards to repopulate one par-
ticularly decimated area near
the G-O Road. Although the
chemical being used was only
one molecule different from
Agent Orange, the Forest Ser-
vice saw no problem spraying
the valley community for years.
It is worthy to note that once
the spraying stopped, even-
tually so did the epidemic of
miscarriages and bladder in-
fections that had plagued the
community.
While the local tribes people
didn't receive any compensa-
tion, it showed solid vision and
leadership for Mavis to speak
up when most Karuk commu-
nity members didn't want to
raise the issue. This is another
way Mavis has used her medi-
cine ways to change the face of
a dire situation, applying her-
self with tenacity in this realm,
to sustain the Karuk way of life
on their ancient lands.
Few can claim the heritage
they have in the Klamath Riv-
er country. Archeological evi-
dence suggests Karuk have
lived in this area for at least
8,500 years. This ancient cul-
ture has survived many chang-
es in their long tenure upon
this land. As Mavis shared, it
is an abundant area, so usu-
ally, as peaceable people, they
would just move over a bit to
make room when newcomers
arrived.
Avatar has struck a resonant
chord in so many, not only as a
visionary animated action fea-
ture film, but how it touched
upon a pain that has been
largely unacknowledged for
destroying the way of life for
many of the first peoples and
their honoring connection to
the Earth.
Not only does art some-
times imitate life, sometimes it
serves to express what the col-
lective has not yet been able to
adequately address and there-
fore fulfills a great role. Unlike
so many stories that have been
recorded, in Avatar, we get to
watch the course of cultural
and environmental destruc-
tion averted, as the people and
creatures of the Earth claimed
the strength of their real pow-
er to affirm life.
Like other indigenous peo-
ples, the Karuk have had their
fair share of upheaval in the
last one hundred and sixty
years. While life hasn't been
easy, even with all the chal-
lenges, they still say it is good.
The work of medicine woman
Mavis McCovey hasn't been
all that easy either, yet she has
one of the best job descrip-
tions -- working to help the
people in Klamath River coun-
try to be happy.
She has learned how to do
her work well and has made
an enormous contribution to
this tribal community that is
her home. Despite enormous
setbacks to her culture, Mavis
is a living legacy of continuity,
of gathering power and shar-
ing good medicine with her
people.
"Medicine Trails: A Life in Many
Worlds," published by heyday books,
is available at local bookstores. For
more information about Mavis' work,
contact: www.heydaybooks.com.
Donna Strong's first book is "Com-
ing home to Calm." Visit her at www.
donnastrong.com and spiritsynergy.
wordpress.com
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