Check out the latest edition of our monthly newsletter, Washington Water Watch. In this month’s issue you’ll find an article on the current water bills in the Washington State legislature, an update on CELP’s recent motion for summary judgment in the Leavenworth National fish hatchery case, an article on the Lyre-Hoko watershed, and a notice about our upcoming Spokane event, Winter Waters.
This month’s issue of Water Watch features an interview with Professor William H. Rodgers, a remembrance of Sixnit leader Virgil Seymour, an update on the OWL v. KGH hearing, info on our Summer Membership Special, an interview with CELP’s new board member Steve Robinson, and more.
Remembering Virgil Seymour – Sinixt Leader
– by John Osborn MD
“We may have got pushed out of Canada. We may have got pushed out of Kelly Hill. We may have got pushed out of lower Inchelium. But we’re still by the River. We still stay by the River. Inchelium is right next to the River.
“Learning. Connecting. Understanding. Education. Outreach — are going to be the keys to connecting us back to the places and our people’s bones.
“People ask, ‘What do you want?’ I would like to be able to take care of our sacred places, our ancestors’ bones, and to have consultation for the resources that come out of there.”
Virgil Seymour, words from “One River, Ethics Matter” Gonzaga University, May 2014)
On the summer solstice in Inchelium, 500 people from both sides of the international border gathered to say goodbye to Virgil Seymour. Before leukemia took Virgil, in his short time as Arrow Lakes Facilitator, he did what he set out to do: “Learning. Connecting. Understanding. Education. Outreach.”
Virgil was a Sinixt member of the Colville Confederated Tribes. While serving three, two-year terms as a tribal councilman for the district of Inchelium he was chairman of the Natural Resources Committee. As an elected official Virgil focused on all issues related to the Columbia River, including the Columbia River Treaty, legacy pollution cleanup of the Columbia River and the litigation against mining giant, Teck Cominco. Virgil was a passionate advocate for Sinixt issues and their fate in Canada.
As the Arrow Lakes Facilitator, Virgil worked with tribes, First Nations, and nonindigenous people who all shared an interest in the future of the Columbia River. He was a “true diplomat” for the Sinixt People and, more broadly, for the Columbia River and salmon.
In March 215, Virgil and I traveled together for two days to Kelowna B.C. to meet with Anglican Archbishop John Privett and Roman Catholic Bishop John Corriveau about a “One River, Ethics Matter” conference in British Columbia. During those two days, Virgil shared the stories of his boyhood on the Reservation, teenage border crossings, Kelly Hill, and history of the Sinixt Nation.
Even from Virgil’s bed at Holy Family Hospital in Spokane, struggling with induction chemotherapy and fevers, he was still focused on his work as Arrow Lakes Facilitator. At one point Virgil handed his phone to connect me with people in Revelstoke.
From his hospital bed, Virgil talked repeatedly about the dugout canoes being launched that would converge at Kettle Falls, calling attention to the need to restore salmon. Virgil had so hoped to be a paddler in the Sinixt canoe, and just beamed when he talked about the canoes. While Virgil was able to return home to Inchelium “right next to the River,” he did not live to see the historic tribal gathering just upstream at Kettle Falls. Four days after his death, the Sinixt canoe — with Virgil’s hand carved into it – converged with canoes from the five tribes of the Upper Columbia to celebrate hope of salmon’s return. On that day, tribal leaders noted that Virgil, too, was there.
There are two messages that Virgil Seymour wanted us all to hear:
- First Nations, tribes, and nonindigenous people need to put aside their differences and work together to restore the Columbia River and return salmon to waters now blocked by dams; and
- the bones of the Sinixt ancestors exposed by the rise and fall of reservoir levels need to be protected, and the looting of Sinixt artifacts and sacred sites must stop.
Virgil was only 58 year old. He lives on through his family and those whose lives he touched — in both Canada and the United States, and especially from Inchelium, through Kettle Falls and Arrow Lakes, to Revelstoke: “Connecting.”
Virgil’s work carries on through the international effort to modernize the Columbia River Treaty based on the ethical principles of stewardship and justice.
Virgil Seymour: The passing of a true diplomat. Laura Stovel, The Revelstoke Current
Previously the Public Affairs Manager and Policy Analyst for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for 26 years, Steve Robinson has had a career working closely with tribes on public relations and natural resources, and joined the CELP Board in June 2016. He has also worked in corporate public affairs, served as Chief of Public Information and Public Affairs Director for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Advertising Manager for a major real estate company in Portland, Oregon and worked several years as a daily newspaper reporter.
What’s your first memory of being aware of water conservation, or conservation in general?
I have always known how precious and rare fresh water is. I first became aware of the need to conserve it when I was a boy, fishing on the Calapooia River, which runs through my birth town of Albany, Oregon. Even then, the water in the river would run low in the summer, though it still contained enough to accommodate the activities of a young boy who couldn’t afford a fishing pole. But who needed one? There were plenty of long sticks nearby and all one had to do was tie some fishing line to its end, put a hook and some weight on the other end of the line and dangle it in the water. I became committed to working on conservation during the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, as a journalism student at the University of Oregon in Eugene. That was a time of civil unrest, and there was no shortage of boycotts and protests on the UO campus. The message of the masses was to end the war in Vietnam, but also to take better care of the environment. It was a time that gave birth to Earth Day and it was the first time I became active with the Native American Tribes—as a member of the UO Indian Student Union and as a reporter for the University’s daily newspaper. When I commenced my journalism career as a reporter for a daily newspaper in Eastern Oregon, my career of writing about natural resources and the environment continued, and my efforts to support the Tribes continued also as I served as public relations manager for the Indian Festival of Arts. Ultimately, I left the life of a newspaper reporter to get into public relations. I moved to Olympia to take a job as an information officer for the State Department of Natural Resources. I was eventually promoted to Public Affairs Director of that agency. I served on a large number of boards and commissions in my seven years with DNR, including a term as president of the Washington State Information Council. While at DNR I became integrally familiar with the U.S. v. Washington (Boldt) Decision, and produced an article for the New York Times on it. When the Commissioner of Public Lands I served under left office I did a five year stint in corporate public relations. I was also introduced to self-employment, starting a public relations company through which I employed a dozen people. However, after five years as a “corporatier” a job came to my attention that I couldn’t resist: Public Affairs Director for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. Being a husband and father of two children by then, I wasn’t convinced that I really should move back to Olympia. But I decided to give it a shot. I met NWIFC Chairman Billy Frank, Jr. my first day on the job, and I was hooked. I worked for the Commission, serving the Treaty Indian Tribes in Western Washington for the next 26 years. I built a public relations program there, and over the years had golden opportunities to work with the Tribes here as well as indigenous governments and peoples across the country and beyond. My most memorable experience working for the Commission was, without a doubt, the opportunity to work with Billy. I was his “PR guy” and he became my life’s mentor. We worked and travelled together very extensively. I was the very fortunate fellow who got to be with him for thousands of hours, addressing environmental issues from the tribal perspective and standing up for treaty-protected rights near and far. My time with my spiritual brother Billy was the most entrancing and captivating time of my life. I learned so much from him that there are no words to describe it. After his passing on May 5, 2014, I have been dedicated to doing whatever I can to support the continuation and commemoration of his legacy. Among his many posthumous honors, the Nisqually Estuary has been named after him and he was a recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the greatest honor that can be bestowed on a citizen of this country. I now associate closer than ever with his son, Willie, who serves on the Nisqually Tribal Council, which is also a great experience for me. I left the Commission in September of 2010 to start my own public relations business, SR Productions of Olympia. My company is dedicated to serving tribes and to doing all I can to protect and restore the natural heritage of this country.
How did you first become aware of/involved with CELP?
As Public Affairs Manager and as a Policy Analyst for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission I have had the honor of working with CELP on a number of critical environmental issues and programs. I have always considered CELP to be a truly great organization, and I have always wholeheartedly supported its purpose and objectives. After I started my business, I also had the opportunity to serve as CELP’s lobbyist in Olympia, and to work with Rachael Pasqual in that capacity. We did extensive work together to support good water quality and quantity legislation and to modify or defeat bad bills. I look forward to serving on the CELP board.
What do you wish other people knew about CELP or water conservation generally?
I want everyone to know that CELP is a Class A organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of our very precious water resources. I want people to know that fresh water is a threatened resource, one that is far rarer than most realize, and that it is absolutely fundamental to all life. I not only want people to know that each and every one of us depends on clean, fresh water for their very survival, but also that they can help protect it through conservation, prevention of pollution, support for more effective infrastructure and good education.
What’s your personal philosophy on what should be done about water conservation?
I consider myself a naturalist. I also consider myself a pragmatist. That is not a contradiction. People need homes. They need food. They need wood and they need energy. But they also need a healthy ecosystem. If we continue to destroy the natural environment, nothing else will matter. To me that is not a so-called liberal or left wing philosophy; it is a very practical viewpoint. It is good stewardship—something I believe is everybody’s responsibility. Whenever there is a question about how to manage land, water or air I tend to believe the answer is provided to us by Mother Nature. She did just fine for thousands of years before Euro-Americans and other “newcomers” occupied (over-occupied) this country. Millions of indigenous people got along just fine also. It took just a few hundred years to change all that, and today we face water shortage and water pollution problems. We face extinction of many species, and we are facing climate change, ocean acidification and a host of other challenges. These are the result of poorly informed choices and the voracious appetite of greedy individuals and corporations. Too many people thought, and many still do, that natural resources are endless or that the scars they leave on the Earth are someone else’s problem, or that their property rights give them license to do as they please. They argue that such freedom is fundamental to a democratic society. I say that when the activities of these people and companies transgress against the rights of others to have a livable environment, property rights and the so-called right to block the natural flow of rivers, or pour poison into them, etc. is trumped.
What to do about water conservation? Conserve it! By all means available. That includes fair regulation, as well as the opportunity to conserve voluntarily. It means judicious use and the control of waste. It means storage in some incidences, rationing when necessary and education, education, education. I am a strong believer in the power of education. We need to constantly improve environmental education, in schools and in public. People need to learn why they should care and how it affects them. No matter what there will be detractors. But I believe most people, once educated, want to do the right thing. My experience as of late is that most people want to change their approach to water management, in a way that preserves the resource for fish and wildlife. We should support that changing attitude, in a very public way.
Recent studies indicate that voluntarism in environmental protection and natural resource management has not been effective, which might lead some to abandon the approach. Not me. I believe every avenue must be taken to achieve water conservation. In many ways voluntarism is integral to success. Working with Billy Frank, Jr., I learned long ago that “getting people to the table” to seek agreement on such issues can be very effective. I also learned that such collaborative approaches are most effective when the stakeholders realize it is far more to their benefit to cooperate than not. The symbolism we often used to make progress was to hold one hand out, ready to shake others’ hands in a very cooperative manner while hovering a club over their heads in the other hand. In other words, keep the option open for them to “do the right thing” but be ready, willing and able to force the issue when necessary.
When examining my philosophy about water conservation, it is important to understand that I am tribal, both in spirit and heritage, and that I subscribe to all the elements of the Tribal Water Principles (attached). Essentially, this document was developed collaboratively among all the Treaty Indian Tribes in Western Washington in the 1990’s to express their common positions on water management and water rights. I was honored to be included in the discussions that led to this document, which points out that the treaty tribes do inherently and legally retain the right to have sufficient water in streams and rivers to sustain the fisheries resource. In effect, the protection of instream flows is protected by treaties and are thus “the law of the land,” as described in the U.S. Constitution. As stated in principle 5: “Adequate quantity and quality of water is necessary to protect the culture of the tribes, including but not limited to spiritual needs, fishing, hunting, and gathering rights and practices.” The principles also address the fact that treaties protect a reserved tribal right to surface and groundwater sufficient to fulfill the purposes of the reservations as permanent, economically viable homelands, and that this right exists with a priority date no more recent than the date the reservation was established.
Why do you support CELP?
I have always found CELP to be highly supportive of tribal treaty rights, as well as courageous in its efforts to effect change in water management. These qualities equate to high environmental values and good stewardship.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming involved with CELP?
In my writings and in the work I’ve done with Billy Frank, Jr., and with the Tribes in the Northwest and beyond, I have often encouraged people to take action in ways that help improve water management and other critically important environmental efforts. In describing ways to get involved I have suggested joining organizations such as CELP. It is a very good way to provide a collective voice in such efforts. There is strength in numbers, especially when the strength is channeled in the progressive ways CELP has sponsored and endorsed. CELP, of course, stands for the Center for Environmental Law and Policy. I think it could also stand for Centering the Energies of Lots of People. CELP has been a leader in the effort to promote water conservation for a long time, and it is an organization which has excelled in helping many people focus their energies in that effort.
What do you do when you aren’t volunteering for CELP?
As owner of SR Productions of Olympia I serve the communication interests of my tribal clients however they direct me to do so. Those efforts take the form of writing and distributing news releases, working with the news media, producing videos and publications ranging from brochures to curricula. I write columns, coordinate events, provide communications-related training and provide intergovernmental coordination and lobbying in the State Legislature and Congress as well as other governments and entities. In my “spare time” I hang out with my family, watch sports, go to the gym, spend time in the outdoors, do some travelling and write everything from poetry to novels.
Summer is coming! This month’s issue of Water Watch features information on our upcoming Celebrate Water event, an article on our letter to Governor Inslee about restoring higher flow requirements on the Spokane River, a “Love Letter to a River” by CELP member Pat Sumption, and an introduction to CELP’s newest board member, Jill F. Johnson.
Happy Earth Day from CELP! This month’s issue features an article on our What’s Upstream Campaign, updates on the Spokane River PCB cleanup and the Fox v. Skagit County decision, and info on GiveBIG and our upcoming Celebrate Water event. Plus, in honor of Earth Day, learn how you can prevent pollution of Washington’s rivers and streams in your own backyard!
This edition features water issues in the legislature, an update on Dungeness River litigation, and news about the WSU Water plan and Columbia River Treaty letter. Meet our new Development and Outreach Coordinator and learn about our upcoming events in Spokane and Idaho, our call for photos and stories and more.
All of us at the Center for Environmental Law & Policy would like to thank the Kalispel Tribe for their generous donation towards our work on the Columbia River Ethics and Treaty Project. The mission of the Ethics & Treaty Project is to modernize the Columbia River Treaty to promote the common good through stewardship and justice, while encouraging respectful dialogue and an international water ethic for the Columbia River. The Ethics & Treaty Project is a joint project of CELP and Sierra Club, working with the 15 Tribes with natural resource authorities in the Columbia River Basin and also First Nations in the Basin.
In this issue, you’ll find articles about Ecology’s Rural Water Supply Workgroup, the success of CELP’s December 3rd CLE event, and our most recent job opening. You will also be introduced to our new Board Chair and Vice Chair, Daryl Williams and John Roskelley, enjoy the poetry of Tina Wynecoop, and more.