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Religious leaders call on USA and Canada to modernize the Columbia River Treaty based on Ethical Principles

“One River, Ethics matter”:  One week before release of Pope Francis’ Environmental Encyclical, momentum builds for stewardship, justice through Treaty changes

Today 16 religious leaders sent a second request to President Obama and Prime Minister Harper to begin negotiations to modernize the Columbia River Treaty based on ethical principles of stewardship and justice.   The religious leaders’ letter comes one week in advance of the release of Pope Francis’s Encyclical on climate change and the deteriorating global environment, providing a North American example of a river severely damaged by past decisions and unfolding climate change.  In 2014 the first request letter was sent by different religious leaders and also indigenous leaders representing 15 Columbia Basin tribes in the United States and 17 First Nations in Canada.

“The Columbia River is the historic lifeblood of the tribes who have lived in its watershed from time immemorial.  And rivers are the lifeblood of the planet.  As a matter of justice, and as a matter of survival, I join with others across the watershed in urging the modernization of the Columbia River Treaty,” said The Rev. Jessica Crist, Bishop of the Montana Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Kettle Falls. Kettle Falls was an incredibly rich salmon fishing spot and gathering place for the Tribes since time immemorial, and is flooded by Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir behind Grand Coulee dam. (Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture photo)

Kettle Falls. Kettle Falls was an incredibly rich salmon fishing spot and gathering place for the Tribes since time immemorial, and is flooded by Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir behind Grand Coulee dam. (Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture photo)

Religious and indigenous leaders are asking both nations to establish an international model of resolving transboundary water conflicts by applying the Declaration on Ethics and Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty.  The Declaration sets forth eight principles for modernizing the Columbia River Treaty that include respecting indigenous rights, protecting and restoring healthy ecosystems with abundant fish and wildlife populations, and providing fish passage to all historical locations.

In May, the U.S. State Department informed Congressional leaders that negotiating the Treaty was a national priority, and that the U.S. would seek to add Ecosystem Function as one of the primary purposes of the Treaty.  The State Department decision is based on Regional Recommendations issued in December 2013 by the Bonneville Power Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers.  All four Northwest states, 15 Columbia Basin tribes, fishermen and environmentalists support that recommendation.  Religious leaders have joined in support of Tribes and First Nations.  A foundation for this growing support by the faith community is the Columbia River Pastoral Letter released in 2001 by the twelve Roman Catholic bishops of the international watershed, and based on region-wide listening sessions.

“The Columbia Basin tribes welcome and appreciate the religious leaders’ support for the two countries to modernize the Columbia River Treaty on a foundation of social and environmental justice to achieve shared goals,” said Leotis McCormack a Chaplain and member of the Nez Perce Tribe Executive Committee.  “The Regional Recommendation is a historic document that provides a vision for a modernized Treaty that reflects today’s values of ecosystem-based function and restored fish passage.”

With glaciers melting in the headwaters and water temperatures rising in the lower Columbia River, climate change is already threatening the river and fisheries that depend on the river.  Adding ecosystem function as a third treaty purpose co-equal with hydropower and flood risk management would encourage both Canada and the United States to co-manage the Columbia River as a single river, restore salmon to areas now blocked by dams, and reconnect the river with floodplains.

“Based on the Recommendation, we have decided to include flood risk mitigation, ecosystem-based function, and hydropower generation interests in the draft U.S. negotiating position. We hope to approach Canada soon to being discussions on modernization of the Treaty.” -- U.S. State Department

“Based on the Recommendation, we have decided to include flood risk mitigation, ecosystem-based function, and hydropower generation interests in the draft U.S. negotiating position. We hope to approach Canada soon to being discussions on modernization of the Treaty.” — U.S. State Department

Additional quotes from religious, indigenous leaders:

D.R. Michel, Upper Columbia United Tribes’ Executive Director.  “We are salmon people.  Salmon meant nearly everything to our people, provided by the Creator.  The U.S. government with Canada’s approval built Grand Coulee dam.  When the gates closed and the waters rose, 10,000 people gathered at Kettle Falls for the Ceremony of Tears.  They built more dams and flooded more valleys. They took the river and the salmon from us.  Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty holds the promise of righting this historic wrong by bringing home the salmon and managing the river as a river rather than as a machine.  While this is vital to the Tribes and First Nations – it is important to all people in the Columbia Basin in both countries. In this time of climate change, we must protect and restore the river.”

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  “Noted the The ELCA social statement, ‘Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice,’ describes humanity’s part in creation this way: ‘According to Genesis 2:15, our role within creation is to serve and keep God’s garden, the earth.’ This earth, all of creation and that beautiful part of it known as the Columbia River are a gift entrusted to us by God. And this gift is entrusted not just to particular countries or a particular generation, but to all countries and to all of humanity. When we seek to make faithful decisions about the tending of the Columbia River or any natural resource, we must remember that it is not, nor can it ever be, just about us or just about now.”

The Rev. Paul Benz, co-director of Faith Action Network.  “As a statewide interfaith advocacy organization partnering for the Common Good of all God’s creatures, the Faith Action Network stands with Columbia River Basin tribes and First Nations in their struggle for the health of the river, their people and the ecosystem.  Their life, history, and spirit are tied to the river.  We look forward to treaty negotiations between the US and Canada that result in the protection and wise use of this good gift of God for all the people of the basin.”  (FAN is formerly Washington Council of Churches and the Lutheran Public Policy Office.)


State Department to include Ecosystem Function in Columbia River Treaty

United States moves closer to negotiating with Canada to modernize international River Treaty

Hanford Reach on the Columbia river

Hanford Reach on the Columbia River

Today Northwest conservation groups and the fishing community praised the U.S. State Department for including ecosystem function in the nation’s negotiation position as it prepares to negotiate the Columbia River Treaty with Canada.   The State Department’s decision came in a May 20 letter received on May 28 by members of the Northwest Congressional delegation, and is based on Regional Recommendations issued in December 2013 by the Bonneville Power Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The State Department letter to the Northwest Congressional delegation states, “Based on the Recommendation, we have decided to include flood risk mitigation, ecosystem-based function, and hydropower generation interests in the draft U.S. negotiating position.  We hope to approach Canada soon to being discussions on modernization of the Treaty.”

In the face of mounting regional concern about the need for the United States to move forward and negotiate with Canada, the State Department letter emphasizes that modernizing the river treaty is a priority for the nation:  “The Administration recognizes the significant economic and cultural role the Columbia River plays in the lives of your constituents in the Pacific Northwest, including numerous communities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.  We assure you that the future of the Treaty is a priority, and internal deliberations are gaining momentum.”   The State Dept and the Council of Environmental Quality briefed the regional’s Senate staff on February 27 and May 5, and the House staff on May 27.

With glaciers melting in the headwaters and water temperatures rising in the lower Columbia River, climate change is already threatening the river and fisheries that depend on the river.  Adding ecosystem function as a third treaty purpose co-equal with hydropower and flood risk management would encourage both Canada and the United States to co-manage the Columbia River as a single river, restore salmon to areas now blocked by dams, and reconnect the river with floodplains.

“There is solid, broad-based support among Northwest states, Tribes, businesses and citizens to promptly begin formal talks with Canada to modernize the half-century-old Columbia River Treaty for tomorrow’s Northwest,” said Pat Ford, representing  Save Our wild Salmon.  “Conservationists and fishermen applaud the State Department for taking this needed step.”

“WaterWatch of Oregon commends the Obama Administration for taking the initial steps needed to get the region to the goals of abundant salmon runs, healthy river ecosystems and economic vitality for the many communities that depend on the Columbia River,” said John DeVoe, WaterWatch of Oregon’s Executive Director.

The basis for the State Department’s decision is “Regional Recommendation for the Future of the Columbia River Treaty after 2024,” issued in December 2013.That recommendation includes restoring the ecosystem as a primary purpose of an updated treaty, co-equal to hydropower and flood control — a feature that will make the Treaty a model of international water management.  “The Regional Recommendation gives the Obama Administration a unique opportunity to improve the health of an iconic international river.  The northwest Congressional Delegation, and in particular, Senators Murray and Wyden, are to be commended for recognizing the need to seize the moment,” said Greg Haller, Conservation Director for the Pacific Rivers Council.

“Based on the Recommendation, we have decided to include flood risk mitigation, ecosystem-based function, and hydropower generation interests in the draft U.S. negotiating position. We hope to approach Canada soon to being discussions on modernization of the Treaty.” -- U.S. State Department

“Based on the Recommendation, we have decided to include flood risk mitigation, ecosystem-based function, and hydropower generation interests in the draft U.S. negotiating position. We hope to approach Canada soon to being discussions on modernization of the Treaty.” — U.S. State Department

All four Northwest states, 15 Columbia Basin tribes, fishermen and environmentalists support that recommendation.  Religious leaders have joined in support of Tribes and First Nations, based on the Columbia River Pastoral Letter.

“Canada and the United States together have stewardship and justice responsibilities to manage the river as a single ecologic system,” said John Osborn, a Spokane physician and a coordinator of the Ethics & Treaty Project. “In a time of climate change the international effort to modernize the Columbia River Treaty can by summarized with just four words:  ‘One River, ethics matter.’”

The Columbia River Treaty went into effect in 1964.  In 2024 flood-risk responsibility, now shared by Canada and the U.S., shifts to the United States.  Canada would only provide assistance when the U.S. requests help.  Such a change will have major impacts in the U.S. on reservoir levels, hydropower production, water supply, irrigation, and salmon.  As written, the recommendation includes a public process to explore innovative ways to manage river flows and flood risk.

Center for Environmental Law & Policy  |  WaterWatch of Oregon

Pacific Rivers Council  |  Save Our wild Salmon  |  Sierra Club  |  Columbia Institute for Water Policy

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Celebrate Water was a Huge Success!

Photo by Jon Anscher Photography

Photo by Jon Anscher Photography

Thanks to our sponsors and all who attended, Celebrate Water was a huge success! Thanks to our CLE presenters, Jean Melious and Patrick Williams, for educating us on current Supreme Court cases concerning Water Rights, Land Use, and Instream Flows. We also heard presentations from Rachael Paschal Osborn about the Columbia River Treaty, and from Adam Wicks-Arshack about his organization, Voyages of Rediscovery, and their work facilitating educational expeditions on the Columbia River. They have published a video, Treaty Talks, about their expedition up the Columbia River from the sea to the source in Canada.

D.R. Michel and Matt Wynne , representing UCUT

D.R. Michel and Matt Wynne , representing UCUT

We had the pleasure of honoring the Upper Columbia United Tribes with the Ralph W. Johnson Water Hero Award in recognition of their efforts towards restoring salmon and the Columbia River. By honoring UCUT, this award also recognizes and honors all 15 Tribes and 17 First Nations of the Columbia Basin for their leadership towards these goals in the United States and Canada respectively.

 

 

 

IMG_2330Thank you to our many sponsors for their support, including: Bob Anderson & Marilyn Heiman, Columbia Institute for Water Policy, UW School of Law – Native American Law Center, Carnegie Group of Thurston County, South Sound Group Sierra Club, Voyages of Rediscovery, Family of Ralph Johnson, Adidas Outdoor, Northwest Swan Conservation Cooperative, Ted Knight, Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Shannon Work, Howard Funke, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, Fran & Bunny Wood, and the League of Women Voters of Washington

Here are more photos from the event – all photos are by Jon Anscher Photography.

Adam Wicks-Arshack from Voyages of Rediscovery, talking about their video, Treaty Talks

Adam Wicks-Arshack from Voyages of Rediscovery, talking about their video, Treaty Talks

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CELP Board member, Anne Johnson (right)

CELP Honorary Board member, Fran Wood (center) and Estella Leopold (right)

CELP Honorary Board members, Fran Wood (center) and Estella Leopold (right)

IMG_9869

CLE participants asking questions of presenter

Jean Melious presenting for CLE

Jean Melious presenting for CLE

CELP Board Chair John Osborn

CELP Board Chair John Osborn


Upper Columbia United Tribes to be honored for at Celebrate Water for their work to restore salmon to Upper Columbia River

UCUT logo15 Tribes and 17 First Nations press to modernize Columbia River Treaty;  await decision from the U.S. State Department

On May 21 Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP) will honor Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT) with the Ralph W. Johnson Water Hero Award.  Recognizing UCUT comes at an especially pivotal time in the history of our region:  the U.S. State Department is poised to decide whether to negotiate with Canada over the future of the Columbia River.  The honoring event will be held at Ivar’s Salmon House in Seattle as part of Celebrate Water! an annual event focusing on the future of water in Washington State, hosted by CELP.

The Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT) is being honored with the Ralph W. Johnson Water Hero Award for their work in restoring the Upper Columbia River region, including their central role in restoring salmon above Grand Coulee Dam.  By honoring UCUT, this award also recognizes and honors all 15 tribes and 17 First Nations of the Columbia Basin for their leadership in restoring salmon and the Columbia River.  (view map of the Columbia Basin’s 15 tribes, 17 First Nations, and fish barriers)

In December 2013 federal agencies recommended to the State Department that the United States include restoring the ecosystem as a primary purpose of an updated Columbia River Treaty, along with hydropower and flood control, a feature that will make the Treaty a model of international water management. All four Northwest states, 15 Columbia Basin tribes, fishermen and environmentalists support that recommendation.

In the Upper Columbia, dams have devastated fisheries and profoundly damaged tribes and indeed the entire region.  The Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT) provides a common voice for the Upper Columbia River region through the collaboration of five major area tribes:  the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. UCUT was formed to ensure a healthy future for the traditional territorial lands of Tribal ancestors and takes a proactive and collaborative approach to promoting Indian culture, fish, water, wildlife and habitat.

Celebrate Water! will be held at Ivar’s Salmon House in Seattle, WA on May 21, 2015 from 4:00-7:30pm. A one-credit Continuing Legal Education (CLE) workshop Water Rights, Land Use, Instream Flows:  Current Supreme Court Cases will be held from 4:00-5:00pm. The Celebrate Water reception will take place from 5:30-7:30pm and will include the honoring of UCUT. Tickets are $50 (reception), $30 (CLE) and $70 (CLE and reception).  More information is available at Celebrate Water!

About the Award

Ralph W. Johnson Award is given in honor of CELP’s founder, Professor Ralph W. Johnson.  Professor Johnson co-founded CELP (along with Rachael Paschal Osborn), founded Indian Law, advocated for indigenous people and justice in the salmon wars, and whose jurisprudence was foundational to the Boldt decision.   Past recipients of the award include the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and Billy Frank Jr., on behalf of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

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Contacts –


Washington Water Watch – March 2015 Edition

Columbia River, Hanford Reach - no credit

Hanford Reach of Columbia River

Don’t miss our March edition of Washington Water Watch!

Click here to see the PDF version of our newsletter.

This month you’ll find articles about CELP’s recent victory in our Spokane River PCB challenge, the positive outcome of our Columbia River challenge, updates on other water issues and the Legislative session, an introduction to our new Development and Outreach Coordinator, and more.

If you aren’t already signed up to receive our monthly newsletter, sign up at the bottom of the page.


Honoring Upper Columbia United Tribes with the Ralph Johnson Water Hero Award

On May 21 we invite you to Celebrate Water 2015 by joining CELP members to honor the Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT) at Ivar’s Salmon House in Seattle.  Click here for event information.

The five Tribes of UCUT are the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho.

Even while Canada and the United States continue to posture on modernizing the Columbia River Treaty, UCUT is moving forward with the first phase to return salmon home to ancestral spawning waters of the Upper Columbia.  This is an historically important first step.  The Tribes (and First Nations in Canada) need public support to bring the salmon home.

Chiefs, Grand Coulee DamIn 1942, 450 years after Columbus stepped foot in the Americas and less than 140 years after David Thompson and Lewis & Clark stepped foot into the Columbia River Basin, the gates at Grand Coulee dam in the U.S. closed with the tacit approval of the Canadian government.  No passage was provided for the millions of salmon returning each year to the Upper Columbia, as key species for the environment.  Tribes and First Nations were never consulted.

What were the consequences of those Columbia River dams — besides cheap power for communities like Seattle, flood control for Portland, and other benefits mostly for non-Indian people?  For indigenous people, the salmon, and the river ecosystem, the consequences were devastating.  With the closing of those gates at Grand Coulee dam, the waters began to rise.  A whole way of life in those river valleys that had existed from “time immemorial” was drowned, permanently flooded.

Traumas move through generations.  Suicide rates remain high on Indian reservations, especially among Indian youth.  In recent months, both the Spokane Tribe of Indians and the Colvilles have declared suicide emergencies.  Recognizing that mental health and ecosystem health are linked, and the importance of salmon to their cultures, all five Tribes are moving forward with returning salmon to the Upper Columbia.  Their efforts in rebuilding the salmon runs of the Upper Columbia benefits all people – indigenous or nonindgenous – in the Columbia Basin, Puget Sound, and the West Coast.

As a region, we have never confronted what happened here to these people as a result of the dam-building era.  As Bishop Skylstad so eloquently spoke at the Gonzaga University conference last May on Ethics & the Treaty:  Righting Historic Wrongs,

“Have we, as a dominant culture — and sometimes a domineering culture — said to our native peoples,  ‘Will you forgive us?’  Have we done that?   I don’t think we have.”

(For more, view the short film One River. Ethics Matter, or learn about the Ethics & Treaty Project).

On May 21 at Ivar’s Salmon House in Seattle, we will be honoring UCUT (and through them, the indigenous people of the Upper Columbia) for their leadership in restoring salmon and the river.  CELP is also working with UCUT to promote a new film, Treaty Talks that helps tell the story.

Links –

– Spokesman Review, Upper Columbia Tribes seek to restore river’s salmon runs


Religious & Indigenous Leaders to Obama & Harper: Modernize the Columbia River Treaty

Yesterday fourteen indigenous and religious leaders in the Columbia River Basin, including representatives of all Native American Tribes and First Nations,  sent a letter to President Obama and Prime Minister Harper.  The letter endorses the Declaration on Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty and asks the two national executives to move forward on the treaty update process.  Read more about the letter, the Declaration, and CELP’s Ethics & Treaty Project here.

Today’s Yakima Herald story reports on these events, including quotes from CELP’s board president John Osborn and Spokane Tribe Councilmember Matt Wynne.

Photo:  Fishing at Kettle Falls (UW Special Collections)


Washington Water Watch (August 2014 Edition)

Did you miss our August Edition of Washington Water Watch in your inbox?

Click here to view the PDF version of our newsletter.

Don’t miss out on our update on the protection of Similkameen Falls and an excellent recap of the Columbia River Treaty Multifaith Prayer Vigils!


Columbia River Treaty Prayer Vigil Recap

By Adam Wicks-Arshack, canoe-builder, educator, and CELP Member

On August 1st 2014, a series of prayer vigils began in Astoria, Oregon.  For 16 consecutive days along the Columbia River, multi-faith prayer vigils were held to provide a forum for Columbia River citizens to gather to pray, sing, share stories and break bread.  These vigils not only helped raise awareness about the Columbia River Treaty, fish passage, and the health of the river, but most importantly it brought diverse groups of people together from all walks of faith.

Adam Wicks-Arshack begins the prayer vigil at Fort Colville, Kettle Falls, WA. Photo by John Roskelley.

Adam Wicks-Arshack begins the prayer vigil at Fort Colville, Kettle Falls, WA. Photo by John Roskelley.

Some of the highlights:

Astoria, OR – Over 50 people gathered at the waterfront park in solidarity against coal export terminals, LNG exports and the continued exploitation of the Columbia River.  While this community has been fighting for some time against these exploitations, the community organized by the Columbia Riverkeeper found great joy in the opportunity to gather around something positive.  To pray for the health of the Columbia River, to pray for the return of the salmon to the upper river and to share stories about their own personal connection to the Columbia River.

Longview, WA – On Sunday afternoon, over 150 people, along with drummers and singers, greeted the Cowlitz Tribe’s canoe family as they paddled into the Prayer Vigil at Willow Grove.  Five different Christian faiths from the community were represented and the chief of the Cowlitz Tribe shared some very powerful words of hope and wisdom.  Many speakers spoke and prayed about the importance of returning the salmon above Grand Coulee dam and back into Canada, as this is something that would positively impact the river as a whole.  Two beautiful songs were sung by all of the attendees, “Come Down to the River to Pray” and “The River Song.” Click here for The Daily News Online coverage.

Hood River, OR – A very diverse group of Columbia River citizens gathered to dance, sing and pray at the waterfront park in Hood River, OR.  The vigil began with a dance which came from Crow Indian tradition and was followed by all of the attendees sharing their personal connection to water and the Columbia River.  The vigil then moved down to the river where people were instructed to touch the water and throw it into the air following a very moving prayer and harmonica rendition of “Shanandoah.” Click here for Hood River News Coverage.

Wanapum Village Longhouse (Hanford/Priest Rapids Dam) – The Wanapum Tribe hosted a very powerful vigil at their longhouse.  Delicious first foods were shared along with songs, prayers and stories.

Two Rivers, WA (Confluence of Spokane and Columbia River) – Hosted by members of the Spokane Tribe and faith leaders from Spokane, 50 Columbia River citizens gathered to share stories and pray for the Columbia River.  This was the first vigil to be located up-river of Grand Coulee and the mood was more somber but each spoke of hope for the future.  An Okanagan woman who drove over 8 hours to attend the vigil sang “Amazing Grace” in her traditional language followed by the whole group singing it in English.  Many elders spoke, as did knowledge-keepers from visiting tribes.  Speakers spoke about the importance of the Columbia River Treaty and the value of salmon, a healthy river, and leaving a lasting legacy for the youth.

Kettle Falls, WA – About 30 people from Inchelium, Kettle Falls, Northport and the surrounding area gathered at St. Pauls Mission.  Everyone then walked out to the sharpening stone, which overlooks the now flooded historic salmon fishing site of Kettle Falls.  The vigil began with a beautiful Columbia River Song and a moment of silence to remember the falls, the salmon and all those who fished the powerful waters of Kettle Falls.  The vigil continued with people sharing poems, prayers songs, and reflections on a river that once was.

Trail, BC – About 20 people gathered at Gyro park.  The vigil opened with a greeting in the Okanagan language from the Chief of the Lower Similkameen Band.  All attendees shared their connection to the Columbia River and a young child sang a beautiful River Song with her grandfather.

Nakusp, BC – Over 50 people came together on the shore of Upper Arrow Lake in Nakusp to pray for the health of the Columbia River.  Very powerful prayers, songs and stories were shared by people of Sinixt heritage.  Prayers from the Christian faith were also shared along with songs and stories from locals of the Nakusp area. Before a wonderful meal, all attendees were asked to wash their hands in the river, to connect with the waters.

Revelstoke, BC – Fifteen people from the Revelstoke area gathered to pray for and reflect on the Columbia River.  The vigil opened with a thank you and acknowledgement to local First Nations followed by songs and prayers directed towards the river.  The attendees of the vigil then went down to the river and attached a prayer or a thought to a rock and tossed it into the river.

Adam Wicks-Arshack is a master canoe-builder.  In 2013 he and other voyageurs worked with Tribal youth to build canoes, then paddled canoes upriver from Pacific Ocean to the Columbia River headwaters.  Their canoe journey brought regional focus on modernizing the Treaty and  returning salmon home to ancestral spawning waters in the Upper Columbia River.  Adam is working with CELP on our Ethics & Columbia River Treaty project.  To view films of his voyage click here.

Other Media Coverage of the Prayer Vigils:

KPLU– “Tribes Urge U.S., Canada To Update Columbia River Treaty

Oregon Live, The Associated Press– “Native American tribes hold vigils for Columbia River salmon


Update on CELP’s work to Modernize the Columbia River Treaty

by John Osborn, MD

CELP Board President

Protecting Columbia River flows is an important and longstanding part of CELP’s mission.  From our 2000 publication of “Columbia River Vision” and petition for instream flow rulemaking, to our 2014 appeal of the Kennewick Hospital/Easterday water right (challenging issuance of a large new water right without instream flow conditions), the Columbia River has been a key part of CELP’s work for many years.

Two years ago, CELP added a new item to our Columbia River portfolio when we began work in support of Columbia Basin Tribes and First Nations on modernizing the Columbia River Treaty. The Treaty is an agreement between the U.S. and Canada to manage the river to maximize hydropower production and flood control. The terms of the Treaty change in 2024 and this year the two nations are evaluating whether to negotiate to modernize the Treaty. A foremost concern is how to incorporate a new purpose into the Treaty:  improvements in ecosystem function. For more information about the basics, see CELP’s Columbia River Treaty page.

In April 2013, CELP and Save Our Wild Salmon encouraged the Columbia River Tribes and conservation groups to gather in Portland to coordinate strategy in the United States. Out of that meeting, conservation groups formed the Columbia River Treaty Conservation Caucus. Caucus members began work with Canadian groups and citizens to begin building an international alliance for treaty reform. This year, CELP co-sponsored a conference in Spokane on ethics and the treaty. In late May, on behalf of CELP, I met with the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. to encourage treaty reforms. Below is a summary of the Declaration that issued from Gonzaga conference, followed by an update on Treaty status.

Kettle Falls

Kettle Falls was an important salmon fishing site on the Columbia River, and a place of great sustenance for indigenous people: Lakes People, Okanagans, Flatheads, Spokanes, Kalispells, Coeur d’Alenes, Sanpoils, Wenatchees, Entiats, interior Salish-speaking people, and others. In 1940 Grand Coulee dam permanently flooded Kettle Falls. CELP is joining with Tribes, First Nations, and others to return salmon to the Upper Columbia River.
Photo Credit: Spokane Camera Club

Declaration calls for modernizing Columbia River Treaty to right historic wrongs, advance stewardship.

On May 13 people gathered at Gonzaga University in Spokane from around the Columbia Basin to attend a CELP-sponsored conference, Ethics & the Treaty:  Righting Historic Wrongs.  Participants heard first-hand accounts of terrible losses suffered by indigenous people as a result of dam-building on the Columbia River, and approved a Declaration calling on Canada and the United States for specific actions to right historic wrongs and achieve stewardship in managing the Columbia River.

Ethics & the Treaty presenters included Roman Catholic Bishop William Skylstad, Evangelical Lutheran Bishop Martin Wells, Okanagan Nation Alliance executive director Pauline Terbasket, Upper Columbia United Tribes executive director D.R. Michel, and many indigenous voices.  (Click here to watch a short film from the Gonzaga Conference.)

The Declaration notes that rights and management authorities of the Columbia Basin tribes in the U.S. and the First Nations in Canada were ignored in the Treaty ratified in 1964.   Dams, including those built as a part of Treaty implementation, inflicted epic damage to the Columbia River and indigenous people who depended on native fish and wildlife.  The trust obligations of the U.S. and Canada to ensure healthy, sustainable populations of salmon, sturgeon, lamprey, bull trout and other native fish and wildlife, their habitats, and other cultural resources within the Columbia River Basin, were not provided for in the Treaty.  Indeed, Tribes and First Nations were not even consulted during its negotiation in the 1960s.

In responding to the ethical breaches of the 1964 Treaty, the Declaration on Ethics and modernizing the Columbia River Treaty recognizes the Columbia River Pastoral Letter, authored by the bishops of the international watershed, as a template for decision-makers in both nations as they consider the moral dimensions of Treaty re-negotiations.

The Declaration sets forth eight principles for modernizing the Columbia River Treaty.

  • Respect the rights, dignity and traditions of the Columbia Basin tribes and First Nations by including them in the implementation and management of the Treaty.
  • Include healthy ecosystem function as an equal purpose of the Treaty.
  • Achieve balance among river uses for hydroelectric power production, coordinated flood risk management, and healthy waters and flows that provide for abundant and sustainable native fish and wildlife populations.
  • Develop flow and water management operations to help people, native species, and entire ecosystems withstand climate change.
  • Provide for ecosystem management of the region while protecting other river uses, including tribal commercial, and tribal ceremonial and subsistence activities.
  • Engage local communities in a meaningful manner that is transparent and inclusive during renegotiation and future management of the Treaty.
  • Address economic and environmental justice for the poor along with other aspects of economic development.
  • Restore anadromous and resident fish passage to all historical locations throughout the Columbia River basin, including Chief Joseph, Grand Coulee, Hugh Keenleyside, Brilliant, and Waneta dams.

The conference was hosted by Gonzaga University’s Political Science Department, Native American Studies, and Environmental Studies, held in Spokane on May 13.

 

Status of Treaty Negotiations

The U.S. State Department is expected to announce the United States’ negotiating position on the Columbia River Treaty later in 2014.  Federal agencies have recommended that the United States and Canada “develop a modernized framework for the Treaty that ensures a more resilient and healthy ecosystem-based function throughout the Columbia River Basin while maintaining an acceptable level of flood risk and assuring reliable and economic hydropower benefits.”  All four Northwest states, 15 Columbia Basin tribes, fishermen and environmentalists support that recommendation.

In March, British Columbia released its draft recommendation that the Treaty be renewed and that changes occur within the existing framework.  The B.C. Province holds that ecosystem values are currently and should continue to be an important consideration, as well as adaptation to climate change, in Treaty planning and implementation.  The federal government in Ottawa has not yet announced Canada’s position.

Over the coming year, CELP will continue its partnership with faith, Tribal and community leaders to promote basin-wide respectful dialogue seeking ethics-based reforms to the Columbia River Treaty.  Modernization of the Columbia River Treaty is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make real reforms that translate to real ecosystem improvements – including for instream flows – for the Columbia River.

 

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