(Calvi Hecocta 12/7/1941 – 8/17/2016)
My dad always told me, “The hardest thing about growing old is your friends dying.” Dad was correct (as he was on a lot of things). This has been a hard year for me and more importantly, the American Indian Movement (AIM), in this regard.
I met my good friend and mentor, Calvin “Dude” Hecocta in 1986. We were introduced by some of our American Indian Movement (AIM) allies. Calvin was the NW Chairman of AIM. We were working to stop Ancient Forest timber sales on Devils Ridge adjacent to the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness Area in the Oregon Cascades.
Our Ancient Forest Movement started in 1979, when grassroots activist Dinah Ross, with help from our pal David Rath, filed the first ever Old Growth Appeal of a proposed clear-cutting of 500-year-old trees on Devils Ridge, near the hot springs along the Breitenbush River. Those trees still stand! Calvin was an eloquent advocate for the rights of all species. He quickly joined the cause and brought an Earth-based spiritual ethic to the movement, in addition to strong support for an ethic of Non-violent Civil Disobedience.
Calvin became a board member of the Native Forest Council which held a no compromise Zero Cut on Public Lands position. He roamed the NW supporting similar efforts of others. Soon Calvin was a fixture at government hearings, always being the voice of the species that are not represented in government calculations. One time he brought Katie McGinty, Al Gore’s ghost writer and Bill Clinton’s environmental adviser and current US Senate candidate in Pennsylvania to tears. McGinty had been sent by Clinton to enforce compliance with his Northwest Forest Plan, which resumed Ancient Forest logging in the NW. The group of local grassroots forest activists wasn’t buying it. Calvin spoke for the species at risk, leaving no doubt that the plan would lead to the extinction of the Northern spotted owl, the very specie the plan was supposed to protect.
After massive protests, 60-some arrest for non-violent CD and the loss of 63 acres of magnificent forest and an Injunction barring further logging was won, things settled down at Devils Ridge and the effort moved eight miles north to Opal Creek, where the Forest Service had plans to build 11 miles of roads to access the cutting of 1700-acres of forest in the pristine lower elevation Ancient Forest.
Calvin built a Sweat Lodge at Opal Creek. He became a founding Board Member of the Friends of Opal Creek. He brought his friend the great Lakota holy man, Wilmer Stampede Mesteth to Opal Creek and together they held numerous Protection Ceremonies there. After 20-plus years of effort, massive public education work by hundreds of defenders and dozens of trips by Calvin, George Atiyeh and others to testify at Hearings, etc., Opal Creek attained Wilderness and Recreation Area designations and is now one of Oregon’s most beloved natural areas and critical habitat for many species.
His ally Tim McDevitt likes to tell the story of back when Calvin was a robust guy full of endless energy. Tim was Fire Tender at a Sweat Ceremony that Calvin was leading. Calvin was in the Lodge talking about what matters and Tim was struggling to bring three large hot rocks from the fire on a pitchfork thru the door. Calvin never stopped speaking; reached out with his left hand and grabbed the pitchfork; dropped the rocks into the center; handed the fork back to Tim and went on as if nothing had occurred.
A History of Gaian Defense
(The photo is on the day in 2014 when Salmon were returned to Oregon’s Breitenbush River for the first time since the dams went in downstream in 1952. Calvin, advocate for all species, speaks to a large crowd there for the occasion, while standing next to the Native-carved – by Native American Church Roadman Mike Berry, Jim Robideau and Paul Red Crow in 1985 – Endangered Species Totem – a prayer for the return of the salmon and the bear holding it.)
Calvin was raised by his parents and elders in the Numa tribe near Beatty, Oregon. The Numa are a band of the Owens Valley Northern Paiute Nation and are part of the federation of Klamath Tribes. Numa is a self-appointed moniker that means “the people.” The Numa also call themselves Nün‘wa Paya Hup Ca’a‘ Otuu’mu -“coyote’s children living in the water ditch.”
Calvin learned the spiritual blessings and traditional ceremonial practices of his people from his Grandfathers, Uncles, and others who were true to their traditions. The Grandmother Culture of the tribe held him to strict behavioral and cultural standards. Environmental ethics were paramount.
A few years ago, Calvin had a crowd at the Many Nations Longhouse at the University of Oregon in tears as he told the tale of when he misbehaved one time and was called before the Grandmothers Council; was rebuked for his behavior and told what he had to do to make good – yes, he was supposed to dedicate the rest of his life to being the voice for species. He did!
Hecocta’s involvement with Native and environmental activism started when the sacred sites he visited with his Grandfathers fell under the control of the US Forest Service. The Forest Service began a robust logging program upon critical habitat and sites sacred to the Tribes. Hecocta devoted his life to protecting those lands, including the restoration of the anadromous fish runs the Tribes depended upon.
(Calvin and his ally Wilmer, a fierce defender of Native Fishing Rights, at the Oregon Capitol last year protesting Nestle’s plans to exploit a sacred spring along the Columbia River. The Nestle scheme has been stopped – so far.)
In 1954, when Hecocta was young, the Klamath were chosen for “Termination,” a practice sold to the public as a benign “assimilation” effort. Termination was in fact an odious practice that led to the revocation and sale of 1.9 million acres of the Klamath Reservation, all that was left from the 22 million acres of their historic ancestral lands, mostly to private timber interests. The remainder became the Winema National Forest. Soon after, many other tribes faced Termination. By 1973, the Klamath tribal lands were no more.
Hecocta worked with legendary Native activist, my pal John Trudell (whom we also lost last December); Mark Comfort, the great Civil Rights activist and Black Panther Party leader; and many others on the founding legal documents for the American Indian Movement (AIM).
In November 1972, during AIM’s occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs DC headquarters, AIM and their Hog Farm Commune allies found secret documents detailing Termination plans for all tribes. Hecocta, AIM, and their allies began a concerted campaign to not only expose and prevent further Terminations, but to begin the process of Restoration of tribal rights and lands. This effort was one of AIM’s major successes, and saw Restoration occur for many tribes, including the Klamath.
The Klamath Tribes officially regained federal recognition under the Klamath Restoration Act (25 U.S.C. § 566, et seq.) on August 26, 1986. However, the Restoration Act did not restore The Klamath Tribe’s former reservation lands, and tribal efforts to regain their tribal land base continue.
Calvin taught Native American religion, philosophy, and environmental ethics at Willamette University and Portland Community College. Recently, Calvin was working with activists to stop a Forest Service plan to burn a fire break adjacent to two historic sacred sites in the Mount Washington Wilderness Area. He also lead an effort to get a sacred hot spring returned to Native stewardship – a wonderful project that is still in the works. He founded the annual Touch the Earth Environmental Camp for Native and other youth. He was a singer and story-teller and he tirelessly conducted many cultural and environmental workshops dealing with ancient beliefs and contemporary Native Rights and species habitat issues.
Earlier this year Calvin was honored as the recipient of the prestigious David Brower Award for his lifetime of Native and Environmental Activism at the University of Oregon’s annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) – the oldest such event on the planet. His lungs were failing and he had a hard time even walking and speaking. But he rallied and as he ascended the stage to accept the award – one that appropriately had a chuck of the once-salmon-blocking now-blown-up Elwha Dam attached– he received a standing ovation from the 700 hundred there.
He spoke, as he often did, as the voice of the species that are not given voice in our machinations with Nature. He told a story of his first meeting the great “Archdruid” Brower and not getting off to such a great start, as Calvin brought up Brower’s failure to mention other species in one of Brower’s talks on why we needed to save large tracts of land; that he seemed too focused on landscape and vista and not the impacts on habitats. They obviously came to agreement and worked together on saving forests for all species.
I have met few people in my life that I consider contemporary saints (Wavy Gravy, a great AIM ally from the BIA HQ Occupation days, comes to mind). Calvin is also certainly one: he cared more about others – of all species – more than anyone I’ve known. I, like many, will sorely miss our gentle warrior friend. The world is a better place because of him.
Activist allies of Calvin/AIM are reeling. Many want to know what we can do. We can immediately support the effort going on right now in North Dakota. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, AIM and other allies are blockading the effort to build a major Tar Sands pipeline across theirs and other tribal lands, not to mention vast other habitats. What we can all do is carry on as Calvin did: care about and defend others of all species/care about and support those who also care.