Fed up with silence and inaction, members of the Yurok Tribe are planning a protest march to denounce the Tribe’s recent rehiring of Javier Kinney and to “call for accountability and a change in policies that create unsafe working conditions.” Members of the Yurok Tribe are planning to march from three separate locations with them converging at the Klamath Tribal Offices at around 2:30 p.m., a press release on Facebook states.
One of the groups will begin their march at 5 a.m. tomorrow morning and walk 20 miles from Weitchpec to Sregon where they will then load into boats and float the remaining distance to the Tribal offices.
In Nov. 2019, Kinney resigned from the executive director position of the Tribe. In the following days, an investigation by the Outpost found allegations of physical, verbal and emotional abuse by Kinney’s soon-to-be ex-wife, allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation by a former employee and what appeared to be a habitual disregard from tribal management of formal complaints filed by Yurok employees.
Outrage over the rehiring of Kinney has been brewing online, causing one tribal member to document her weeks-long refrain from eating on Facebook.
Annelia Hillman has been fasting in prayer since sundown on May 22. In a video on Facebook Hillman said she finds the actions of the Yurok Tribal Council to be unacceptable when it comes to the rehiring of Kinney. She said their actions are representative of generations of trauma done to indigenous people.
“I believe they are ignorant to the magnitude of the effect of their actions, how it has swept across our communities ripping open wounds, triggering PTSD and causing yet another layer of emotional trauma,” Hillman said. “And this is to a people that have suffered generations of trauma. I just find this unacceptable.”
Hillman went on to ponder what the best way would be to stand in opposition to rehiring of Kinney, mentioning if there should be an on-the-job walkout or if tribal members should take other actions. Hillman said she will fast for as long as it takes “Yurok leaders and council to correct these actions and to make good with our women and to make good with the people who are hurt or scared or in pain.”
In her most recent video, posted on June 1, Hillman directed her attention to Yurok Chairman Joe James. She talked about her prior support for James and how he has helped move the Yurok Tribe forward in a progressive way when it comes to dam removal, historical land acquisition and the Yurok economy.
“But none of these things mean anything, none of it does any good if we are not taking care of the people,” Hillman said, adding that the Chairman’s failure to resolve the issue surrounding Kinney has caused a lot of damage amongst Yurok tribal members. “It is sending a message to the people that you condone abuse.”
Hillman’s own 22-year-old daughter, Mahlija Florendo, decided to join her in the prayer fast. Florendo told the Outpost she believes her mother’s reasoning is important and it is a way for her to pray for those who are suffering from trauma.
“It is ceremonial to pray for those affected by this issue and I feel that [my mother] needs other women to join her, to stand in solidarity with as well,” Florendo said. “We want to use this act of ceremony to show our commitment to support the women who are affected.”
Florendo, who is officially a member of the Siletz Tribe in Coastal Oregon, said the fasting in prayer is a traditional Yurok practice and usually lasts about 10 days. During this time, members avoid solid foods and drink acorn-infused water.
“This is very cultural for us and it is not a hunger strike,” Florendo said. “It is a chance for us to pray for people and to hold a ceremony for those who need healing.”
She hopes the prayer fast will get the attention of the Yurok Tribal Council and it appears to have done so. In a Facebook post Yurok Tribal Councilmember Sherri Provolt said the Yurok Tribal Council has tried to discuss some of the same concerns Hillman brought up, but the Chairman has failed to listen.
“His lack of action has forced the Councilmembers to submit a unified agenda item by which we are requesting termination of the Carbon Project Manager and to confirm conditions (if any) for rehire,” Provolt wrote. “This agenda item was submitted today for Council Action Meeting scheduled for Thursday, June 11th. Until this item is before Tribal Council and a decision is made, I too, will be fasting in prayer for resolution.”
Jolena McLaughlin is a Yurok tribal member and is planning on attending one of tomorrow’s marches. She heard about Kinney’s resignation last year and his subsequent rehiring and became frustrated with the decision.
“Most of us don’t want the Javier Kinney issue to get brushed under the rug, which the Tribe has a reputation of doing sometimes,” McLaughlin told the Outpost, adding that she hopes the protest will heighten pressure on the Tribal Council. “I feel like there is power in numbers and if enough of us pull together and show up, it will have an impact.”