Nez Perce Tribe leads Rise Up Northwest in Unity in Tulalip to save salmon

A citizen's view


November 15, 2023

Can you imagine the Pacific Northwest without salmon? Their life cycle feeds many beings in the whole ecosystem. Salmon have been the center of spirit and community here for centuries And yet – they are at the brink of extinction in the Snake River. Research by the Nez Perce Tribe shows that: “About 40% of spring and summer Chinook populations from the Snake River are at the threshold for quasi-extinction, meaning they will likely go extinct.” And, at last count, only 110 individual coho salmon and 46 individual sockeye salmon returned to spawn, less than 1% of historic levels. Nez Perce scientists are saving the genetic material of wild salmon as they predict the wild salmon will soon go extinct before efforts can help (Support Builds for Snake River Dam Breaching as Salmon Face Extinction; Sierra Club). Depleted salmon impact the Orcas, who are starving from lack of enough food.

Led by the Nez Perce Tribe, there is concrete momentum around removing four dams on the lower Snake River. This was the focus of the Rise Up Northwest in Unity Convening held at The Tulalip Casino Resort Nov. 1-2. This followed the All Our Relations Tour, an 8-day journey in October from Olympia, Portland, Pasco, Spokane, Nez Perce and ending in Seattle. The journey was led by the intertribal nonprofit Se’Si’Le’ and coalition partners, including the Native Organizers Alliance, Nimíipuu Protecting the Environment, and KHIMSTONIK. The two-day conference was practical, informative and generous in the sharing of Tribal knowledge woven with scientific knowledge. It was also, in the ways of the Tribes, deeply spiritual.

Sacred drumming and singing opened the convening, bringing the participants into ceremony. As the drumming and singing reverberated through the room, the room became quiet and a feeling of connection-to the earth and to each other-came over the crowd. A sense of being one with all other beings came over me. A picture came to me-of drumming and singing in the forests, by the waters, before the new people came. The powerful reverberations through the forests, heard by all the beings – beaver, cougar, salmon, eagle and more – let all beings know they were all in it together – a peace in knowing that-even predator and prey – were not alone. I could imagine from this practical yet sacred space, decisions about how to steward the land would be very different from a Western settler perspective. Through this first day we heard from each tribe – their successes and current challenges. All spoke to the importance of their coming together in unity to save the salmon.

I learned that progress on the removal of the four dams on the Lower Snake River is happening for two main reasons. The Nez Perce Tribe is litigating their treaty rights from an 1855 treaty in which land was ceded and fishing rights in usual and customary territories were protected. A long history of ignoring treaty rights – a treaty made by the U.S. government – is a black spot on the honor of the U.S. and therefore, each of us as citizens. Tribes are winning these legal battles. The question is why they must wage long costly battles as the salmon go extinct? Led by the Nez Perce Tribe, effective partnership – with deep listening, relationship building and coming together for common purpose – is the other reason progress is being made. We heard from a farmer who will be impacted when the dams are removed; a river guide; energy sector representatives and alternatives for moving wheat that currently goes by barge.

Solutions exist today – the dams need to come down today – yet the process in motion will likely take years.

Cory Sevin has a nursing background, is retired from a long career in innovation and healthcare redesign and loves to hike, make art and spend time with her family.


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