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Decentring watersheds and decolonising watershed governance: Towards an ecocultural politics of scale in the Klamath Basin

Daniel Sarna-Wojcicki
University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA; dsarna@berkeley.edu

Jennifer Sowerwine
University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA; jsowerwi@berkeley.edu

Lisa Hillman
Píkyav Field Institute, Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources, Orleans, CA, USA; lisahillman@karuk.us

Leaf Hillman
Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources, Orleans, CA, USA; leafhillman@karuk.us

Bill Tripp
Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources, Orleans, CA; USA; btripp@karuk.us

ABSTRACT: The watershed has long captured political and scientific imaginations and served as a primary socio-spatial unit of water governance and ecosystem restoration. However, uncritically deploying watersheds for collaborative environmental governance in indigenous territories may inappropriately frame sociocultural, political-economic, and ecological processes, and overlook questions related to power and scale. We analyse how members of the Karuk Tribe’s Department of Natural Resources have leveraged and critiqued collaborative watershed governance initiatives to push for 'ecocultural revitalisation' – the linked processes of ecosystem repair and cultural revitalisation – in Karuk Aboriginal Territory in the Klamath River Basin. We argue for decentring watersheds in relation to other socio-spatial formations that are generated through indigenous-led processes and grounded in indigenous knowledge and values. We explore two scalar frameworks – firesheds and foodsheds – that are emerging as alternatives to the watershed for collaborative natural resources management, and consider their implications for Karuk ecocultural revitalisation. We attempt to bring watersheds, firesheds, and foodsheds together through an ecocultural approach to scale in which water is one among many cultural and natural resources that are interconnected and managed across multiple socio-spatial formations and temporal ranges. We emphasise 'decolonising scale' to foreground indigenous knowledge and to support indigenous sovereignty and self-determination.

KEYWORDS: Watershed governance, Integrated Water Resources Management, politics of scale, tribal sovereignty, Klamath River Basin, California