Join us for the 5th Multi-National Conference on ethics, and the past and future of the Columbia River

One River, Ethics Matter: Western Montana

More about the Missoula ethics conference


University of Montana, Missoula

Your RSVP is required

7:30      Registration (UM University Center – North Ballroom)

8:00     Welcome, Prayer, Overview

  • University welcome, Seth Bodnar, President, University of Montana (invited)
  • Indigenous welcome, Tribal Chairman Ronald Trahan, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
  • Prayer/Invocation
  • Overview of the Conference Series, Thomas W. Soeldner and John Osborn MD

8:45                        Rivers of Our Moment

Water is life. The Columbia River watershed, an area the size of France, is one of the most remarkable river systems on earth. What are foundational ethical relationships between humans and water — in Judeo-Christian tradition, and an indigenous worldview (including salmon)?

  • Moderator: Dan Spencer PhD, UM Environmental Studies
  • Bishop Jessica Crist, Montana Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • Tony Incashola, Salish Pend O’reille Culture Committee, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes

10:00     Break

10:15                        Rivers Through Our Memory

The Columbia River was once among the richest salmon rivers on earth, including 100-pound “June hogs” swimming 1,240 miles to Columbia Lake at the headwaters.   In the span of two centuries profound changes have come to the Columbia River Basin starting with epidemics and then first encounters with the British (David Thompson) and the Americans (Lewis and Clark). The dam-building era transformed the river into a series of slack-water pools and dams plugged into an electric grid, providing flood management for lucrative floodplain development in Portland while permanently flooding homelands of the Upper Columbia. Consequences have been wrenching, including for the rivers in western Montana.

  • Moderator: Pat Smith
  • TBA, On the Importance of Salmon to Indigenous People
  • Eileen Delehanty Pearkes, The Columbia River Treaty and Catastrophic Change
  • Ktunaxa voice
  • Ron Abraham, Tribal Councilman, Tribal Elder, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho

12:15      Lunch

1:15                        Rivers of our Vision

Decisions about the Columbia River need to remember the past, including the wrenching impacts of the dam-building era, and anticipate a future of unfolding climate change.

What are likely impacts of climate change on the Upper Columbia? Why are the cold, abundant waters of the Upper Columbia especially important to the entire Columbia River and salmon survival? What is “Montana Operations” and VarQ, and why are these a possible model for dam operations throughout the Basin? What is the Columbia River Treaty, and opportunities to modernize that Treaty? What are the opportunities to restore salmon to the mainstem Columbia River blocked by 2 dams in the U.S. Chief Joseph dam and Grand Coulee dam?

  • Moderator: Barb Cosens JD, University of Idaho Law School
  • Pauline Terbasket, Executive Director, Okanagon Nation Alliance, A Sacred Responsibility: Toward a Vision of Transboundary River Basin Governance
  • Brian Lipscomb, EnergyKeepers, Montana Operations
  • DR. Michel, Executive Director, Upper Columbia United Tribes, Restoring Salmon to the Upper Columbia

2:45     Break

3:00                        Rivers as our Responsibility

The dam-building era is notable for repeated ethical failures to consult with people of the Columbia Basin who are impacted by government decisions, including First Nations and tribes, as well local communities. Great injustices were done and are perpetuated under the existing river governance of the Columbia River Treaty. What coordinated actions do we take to heal a region (both sides of the border) that has been sacrificed in history and largely for economic gain elsewhere? Given past damage and unfolding climate change, how do we advance the Pastoral Letter’s call to recognize our stewardship responsibilities “to effect a spiritual, social, and ecological transformation of the watershed”? How do we better recognize and build upon the strengths from the indigenous connections to the river from time immemorial to effect our ethical duties to transcend political boundaries to include the whole river? Promoting justice and stewardship: how do we better support and empower impacted people willing to speak for the river and the common good who themselves are isolated from centers of political power and decision-making?

  • Moderator: Sarah Bates, National Wildlife Federation
  • Tribal Chairman Gary Aitken, Jr., Ethics in Action: Protecting and Restoring Kootenai River Sturgeon and Burbot
  • Bishop William Skylstad, Lessons from the Columbia River Pastoral Letter & Laudato Si
  • David James Duncan, Advocacy in a Time of Climate Change

4:30     Synthesis and Future Prospects

5:00     Adjourn

5:30     Reception at Native American Center