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Declaration seeks inclusion of tribes in updated Columbia River Treaty

Wrongs done to indigenous people during the dam-building era should be addressed during negotiations for a new Columbia River Treaty, according to a declaration signed last week in Spokane.

More than 50 people have signed onto the declaration, which followed an ethics conference at Gonzaga University discussing how the cultures of native people along the river in the United States and Canada were hurt by the loss of salmon and ancestral lands. The Rev. Martin Wells, a Lutheran bishop who spoke at the conference, is among those who signed it, along with Matt Wynne, a member of the Spokane Tribe’s governing council, and John Sirois, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation’s council.

Tribes and First Nations weren’t consulted before the adoption of the 1964 treaty, which coordinates operations for power generation and flood control between the U.S. and Canada along the 1,240-mile long river. The treaty has no expiration date, but it’s up for possible renegotiation beginning this fall.

Salmon and steelhead once accounted for about 50 percent of the food eaten by Columbia River tribes and First Nations in Canada, said Al Scholz, an Eastern Washington University professor. Those runs were lost with Grand Coulee Dam’s construction in the 1930s. The treaty resulted in additional dams in Canada, which submerged ancestral sites and burial grounds.

The declaration calls for including tribes and First Nations in the implementation of the treaty; balancing flows for healthy fish populations along with power and flood control; and managing flows to help people and ecosystems withstand a warming climate.

Tribes, religious leaders and environmental groups are seeking additional support for the declaration, said John Osborn, chairman of the Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group.

The U.S. State Department is developing the nation’s negotiating position on the treaty, so it’s a pivotal time to weigh in, Osborn said.

 

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