• Home
  • LFLS 004: Talking Water With Paiute Elder Harry Williams and “Paya: The Movie” with Jenna Cavelle and Chris Morrow

LFLS 004: Talking Water With Paiute Elder Harry Williams and “Paya: The Movie” with Jenna Cavelle and Chris Morrow

Show Notes for LFLS 004:

This show is about the issue of Water Access, specifically focusing on the water issues in the Owens Valley of California.

For those who don’t know, the history of the Owens Valley is one of conflict and confrontation, some would also argue collusion of government entities with the City of Los Angeles and their Department of Water and Power (LADWP) coming out as valley’s largest private landowner in Inyo County, California.

Despite being over 200 miles away from the metropolis of L.A., the issue of who owns and controls the land and water affects nearly every element of daily life in the Owens Valley today.

Our guests are here to discuss their activism and efforts to protect the land from further environmental degradation.

Interview 1: Harry Williams

In our first interview with Harry Williams, Paiute Elder from the Bishop Paiute Tribe in the Owens Valley. He discusses his connection to his home, his love for the water and life it brings and his activism over his life to protect the land of his ancestors.

We recorded this interview from the top of the Chalk Bluffs while overlooking the Owens River at the north end of the Owens Valley,

just north of Bishop, California.

Harry shares some accounts of the first white explorers to Payahuunadu/Owens Valley:

Captain Davidson’s journal upon seeing the Indians and the ditches they had constructed and were using.

“Marvels of engineering”

He named today’s “Round Valley” after his middle name “Wind Valley”…”said it was the most beautiful place he had ever seen.”

Growing up in the Bishop area:

“This was our playground.”

“Water access was fundamental.”

“Playing in ditches, we used water to keep cool.”

“Would go take bath at Keough’s Hot Ditch every Sunday before school. “

Inyo: “Land of the Great Spirit”

“We have to take care of this world, this valley, for the generations to come.”

Ancient Ditches found up at Coyote Flats. Round Valley ditch system. Another near Millpond.

Our Ancestors, “they understood about water and life. Spread the water you got life. Plants gave food for the animals, birds; just created life.”

Harry shares some details about his Environmental Activism and Advocacy for the rights of Mother Earth.

From Tribal leadership to Owens Valley Committee to CA Statewide rep, he has advocated for the voiceless since the 1990’s.


“I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist, I’m a human being.”

“We’ve been in a drought for 100 years. As soon as they put that aqueduct in here, they just drained the hell outta this place!”

“Took us twenty years to get the Long Term Water Agreement.”

“I been consistently opposing Inyo County and L.A. cuz they don’t implement the Long Term Water Agreement. It’s a legal document.”

“Mitigation Projects still in the planning stages since 1991. None of them been implemented, but L.A. still gets what they want.”

“I’m here looking at that area that used to be called ‘The Forest’. Now it’s the ‘Standing Dead Trees'”

“We’re outta balance. Mother Earth provides certain things for certain areas.

When we take them from one to the other, its out of balance”
“My biggest goal in life is to get the entire world to live in their balance.”

“They’re not living in their means.”

“If you live in a desert, act live you live in a desert.”

“If you live by the beach, realize you got rain.”

“L.A. right now, gets enough rain water every year; sometimes in a single storm, to satisfy all their needs. But they don’t care. All their water is made to just run off to the ocean. They don’t care. L.A’s attitude is, “they got the Owens Valley, they got all this free water.”

“This water has paid for itself…”

“This valley has paid the ultimate… hardships of death. All I see is lifeless and death.”

“They gotta realize, civilization’s gotta be civil.”

“It’s gotta be civil to each of us.”

“We have each individual rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”

“When you take my water from me, you kill the birds that make me happy. You kill the plants and animal that gave me comfort…and knowing that this world’s a great place. It gives us everything. But if you take too much, too much greed. Greed just ruins everything.”

“One of my biggest goals is just to smarten humanity up”

“The Owens Valley is just a microcosm of the rest of the world.

Where the big giant cities grow so big like monsters and they just want more and more and they just destroy other smaller areas.
And that’s what I wanna tell the governor and the lawmakers.”

“You can only grow so big.”

“If you don’t have water, you don’t have life.”

“This drought is teaching us something that needs to be taught to the rest of the politicians…its not all about money.”

“Some of them will argue. But the rich can always move.

They can afford to go to different places in the world and destroy it.
And then when its destroyed, move to a different place. “

“But me, I got no place to go. This is my home. This is where I’ll stay and where I’ll be buried.”

Call to Action:


“Don’t be shy”

“We are not in a winning or losing race.”

“Tell the people who are paid to protect our rights. Do their job. Tell em to do what they were elected to do.”

SONG: “Paya For The People”
Performed and Written by Obsidian Domes


Hey when I speak
It’s poohaa for the people
Paya overflow, the music floodin your speakers
Beat by Sabzi, Blue Scholars citation
Now let me get back to exactly what we’re facing.
In our home known as the Owens River Valley
The biggest enemy is L.A. D.W.P.
That be the acronym for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
Capital “P” for “Power”
Steal our land and water
Take it and sell it back to us
At premium rates
Man, our elders would be mad at us
You better do something when water war is at your door
The fight is the same as its been since they came here
Draining our land
and polluting the air
It’s time we stand up and say “It stops right there!”
No more politicians in the pockets of conglomerates
No more rats infestin’ with the snakes who be folloiwn
Mulholland Drive be a monument to murderers
Initimidation is the tactic they deferred to us.
Corruption obvious
Pitting family members oposite
One paid to doze another’s home, man that’s poliitcs
And that’s far from all of it.
Lawsuits just to stall the shit
Pick up a book, Go to school, Get a scholarship
I’m sick of it
All of this ignorant indifference
I speak for the paya when I say
Put an end to it

Kwaz: Hook

Now spark a fire for the cold in the dark

Peace and war both pumping soul in my heart

and no the can’t keep what they stole from the art

They love to see beef cuz it throws us apart.


More Fire for the People

And More Paya For the People

More Land for the People

And More Culture for the People…


All my people…
F#@k the gospels, the preachers
Talk real subjects, robbed underneath ya
Right below your feet
Smile when they greet ya
Steal it from your table
and sell it back to feed ya
Keeping you submissive
Dependent on their charity
Tricked you!
Thinkin they provide something necessary
Leach resources
These are enemies
Theft. Funded.
Paid for.
Dark man in charge
Now you think its gonna change
Drank the Kool-Aid
Media, washed up all your brains
Wasteful people department is the theme
Everything we got
Is everything they need
Turn profit without paying tribute to the king
Watch how fast your ass ends up in a sling
Bankrupt economies to cities
No simile
Water is to power
As power is to greed

Kwaz: Hook

Now spark a fire for the cold in the dark
Peace and war both pumping soul in my heart
and no the can’t keep what they stole from the art
They love to see beef cuz it throws us apart.
More Paya For the People
More Land for the People
More Language for the People
And More Culture for the People
More Songs for the people
And more Dancing for the People
More Love for the People
And more Life for the People

Kwaz: Verse

People is a pronoun we assume to be humanity
Where I come from people is proper use for everything
Tree people, Plant People, Ant People, Us
Grand mountains looking down, they are old ones to trust
What the planet really needs, is the paya just to run free
Like animals and humans need the trees just to breathe
We’re all connected by the systems we’re a part of
No matter our God, we all need Mother Earth’s Love
We gotta do our part to reduce the abuse
Come to my home to view what over use can do
Re evaluate our needs be wary of the greed
Focus on our health and expose the wealthy
The iPhone can be the eye witness to the throne
Or do we patrol ourselves for monthly access to the globe
Is big bother winning
Or are the people in control?
The tide will only turn when we apply what we know.
Spark a fire for the cold in the dark
Peace and war both pumping soul in my heart
and no the can’t keep what they stole from the art
They love to see beef cuz it throws us apart.
More Paya For the People
More Land for the People
More Language for the People
And More Culture for the People
More Songs for the people
And more Dancing for the People
More Life for the People
And more Love for the People

INTERVIEW 2: Jenna Cavelle and Chris Morrow

For our second interview we have Jenna Cavelle, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and student at USC Film School and Chris Morrow, Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Engineering at the University of Southern California

“Paya: The Water Story of the Paiute” is a documentary on the history of the “Numa”, or “The People” otherwise known as the Paiute Indians of the Owens Valley and their historical use of water, known as “paya” in the Paiute language.

The film premiered at the Red Nation Film Festival in November 2015 and brought home gold for Best Documentary Short. Currently, the documentary is being shown on the film festival circuit and Team Paya is booking colleges/universities and festivals interested in screening the film.

Some highlights of our discussion:

How and why did Jenna come to work with the Paiute community and how did the film come about?

How much water was flowing through the “Indian ditches” before they were taken over first by ranchers and then LADWP?

Chris’ studies showed that 400% more water was flowing thru the ditches than local tribes have been acknowledged for having rights to.

First User Rights:

Have been used in Arizona for Tribal Water Rights cases, but have yet to have a case in California go in the favor of tribes. Also known as Prior Appropriative Rights, these types of water rights have been used in CA since the dawn of the Gold Rush Era.

Google: “First User Rights” / “Prior Appropriate Rights”

So much information on this…please research and learn!
History of Oppression in the Owens Valley:

1863 – Forced March of the Owens Valley Paiute to Ft. Teton…

Overview: Natives of the Owens Valley were starved out of hiding in the mountains and forced to surrender at Fort Independence and then marched over 200 miles south to Ft. Tejon, near present day Frazier Park, in between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. Land and water sources taken over by the settlers/ranchers with the help of the U.S. military.

50 years later…

early 1900’s-1913

Colonization happened again..second wave of major change with the take over of Owens Valley water by the City of Los Angeles.

During that time, L.A. and S.F. were contending for who will be the major cities of the California.

The movement of water in California is directly tied to the development of major cities.

As residents of L.A…what do you think of this dependence on distant water sources?
Solution shared for a thirsty city:

Wastewater treatment recycling; Every gallon of water that is recycled in LA is one less gallon taken from somewhere else.

To see the trailer for Paya, visit payathemovie.com (*no www.)

To Donate to the cause, please visit payathemovie.com/donate


Leave a comment