Memorial to Calvin Hecocta: A Gentle Spiritual Giant in Defense of Life on Earth

Calvin Hecocta 

Breitenbush Salmon drop 001

Calvin Hecocta 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.

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 dedicated his life to protecting those lands, including the restoration of the anadromous fish runs the Tribes depended upon.

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 John Trudell; 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). Hecocta served as Northwest Chairman for AIM and was instrumental in AIM’s activism efforts.

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.

Over the years, Hecocta’s presence was felt at most of the Northwest forest protection campaigns, which began in earnest when grassroots activist Dinah Ross filed the firstAppeal of Old Growth logging plans in 1979. Hecocta joined the board of the Native Forest Council and traveled the land as a voice for the species not represented at government hearings. He allied with the Oregon Natural Resources Council (ONRC) and was a founding board member of the Friends of Opal Creek. He and his ally, the great Oglala spiritual leader Wilmer Stampede Mesteth, conducted many protection ceremonies at Opal Creek. Opal Creek is now a protected and treasured Oregon Wilderness Area.

Hecocta taught Native American religion, philosophy, and environmental ethics at Willamette University and Portland Community College. Today, Hecocta is 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 leads an effort to get a sacred hot spring returned to Native stewardship. He still runs the annual Touch the Earth Environmental Camp for Native and other youth. Of course, he continues his singing and story-telling and conducts many cultural and environmental workshops dealing with ancient beliefs and contemporary Native Rights and species habitat issues.

Calvin was a gentle spiritual giant who inspired us to respect and defend all plant and animal peoples we share our communities with. He will be sorely missed.