Swimming Upstream: Saving Salmon, Protecting the Environment, Strengthening Tribes & Empowering Youth

salmon Tribal summit held at Suquamish Indian Reservation last Thursday

Tribal summit held at Suquamish Indian Reservation last Thursday

SUQUAMISH INDIAN RESERVATION-The salmon is not just a symbol in the abstract for the Native people of the Northwest. Salmon are their food, their economic lifeline, and a spiritual component that connects tribal people to their natural environment. Many tribes celebrate first salmon ceremonies, welcoming the noble fish home. For the past hundred and fifty-plus years, however, the salmon have been in decline due to destruction of watersheds, encroaching human development; pollution, deforestation, and now, the most troubling, climate change. For non-Native people, it is often hard to understand the reverence and gratitude Native people have for the ocean-going silver salmon and the little red fish of the lakes of the Northwest, the Kokanee salmon.

In two recent sessions held on Bainbridge Island and in Sammamish, close to the urban center of Seattle, Washington, Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, pledged the Obama Administration’s support for the strengthening and preservation of tribal communities and the development of a partnership of state, federal, and private agencies for the preservation of salmon and other wildlife in sensitive areas.

On Thursday, April 24, 2014, Secretary Jewell met with tribal leaders from the Sixth Congressional District in a summit held at the Suquamish reservation on Bainbridge Island near Seattle to address the following concerns:

  • Tribal sovereignty and self-determination
  • Economic Development
  • Climate change and natural resource management.

Representative Derek Kilmer (WA-6) organized the summit, which was hosted by the Suquamish Tribe. The panelists who discussed the designated topics at the conference included Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians; Liz Muller, Vice Chair of Jamestown S’Klallam; Gary Miller, Skokomish Chair; Frances Charles, Chair, Lower Elwha Klallam; Larry Roberts, Deputy Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior; TJ Greene, Makah Chair; Maria Lopez, Hoh Chair; Leonard Forsman, Suquamish Chair; Bob Whitener of the Whitener Group; Fawn Sharp, Quinault Chair; Jeremy Sullivan, Port Gamble S’Klallam Chair; Chris Woodruff, Quileute Chair; Billy Frank, Chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, and Gary Morishima, Quinault Natural Resources Advisor.

Tribal leaders focused on the need for the tribes to retain their sovereignty to preserve natural resources and the salmon runs. Billy Frank, a veteran of the “fishing wars” of the 1960’s, spoke eloquently on the value of the salmon to the Northwest tribes, the impact of acidification of Puget Sound on the salmon, and concerns regarding development and pollution on the survival of the salmon.

One of the primary issues for the tribes represented at the summit was the physical isolation of many of the Native communities on Washington’s coast. In late March, a huge landslide wiped out the community of Oso, Washington, killing at least 41 people with two more victims missing. Should a similar natural disaster hit Native coastal communities, they would suffer severe distress.

Another concern put forth by the tribal leaders at the summit was the need for administration officials to come out to the reservations to better understand the geographic, economic, environmental, and historical aspects of each tribe. This sentiment was echoed by one of the panel members who emphasized the need for tribal members to sit not across the table from these officials but to “sit next to them” to work out methods of addressing the very real and pressing needs of tribal communities.

Responding to the panelists’ invitations to visit their communities, Secretary Jewell expressed her thanks but stated that given that there are 566 federally recognized tribes, time constraints would limit her ability to make such visits. However, she said that her Department would welcome any of the tribal leaders or members who would like to come to Washington, DC to meet.

 

Secretary Jewell, originally from the Seattle area, spoke to these issues, stating that the Obama administration was “committed to the trust and treaty responsibilities and to upholding a strong government-to-government relationship with tribal nations.” Jewell reported that President Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget request for Indian Affairs was developed in consultation with the Tribes and was consistent with their priorities. The budget requested was for $2.6 billion, which is an increase of $33.6 million over fiscal year 2014.

A breakdown provided by the Department of the Interior includes the following:

  • $200 million for wild land fire programs;
  • $186.5 million in Bureau of Reclamation Native American programs, including:
  • $112 million for enacted Indian Water Rights Settlements;
  • $35 million in the Office of Natural Resources Revenue for managing royalty assets from Indian trust properties;
  • An increase of $21.6 million for the Bureau of Land Management energy programs directly support Tribes in the permission and inspection of tribal oil and gas leases;
  • $10.7 million for Fish and Wildlife Service hatchery maintenance and Tribal Wildlife Grants; and
  • $7.6 million for USGS Tribal Science partnerships.

 

As mentioned above, another significant concern discussed by Secretary Jewell and the panelists was the impact of climate change on tribal communities, which is already being felt. Specific changes and their impact, as noted by Secretary Jewell, included the breaching of the Lower Village seawall on the Quinault Indian Reservation, and the Quileute Nation, which has been forced to move to higher ground to avoided tsunami areas. The isolation of the tribal villages, which could be made significantly worse by the impact of climate change, causes the communities in question to be at even greater risk.

Secretary Jewell, in support of her statement that the Obama Administration was committed to strong tribal sovereignty and membership, said “The Bureau of Indian Affairs is helping draft climate action plans to include climate considerations into all federal Indian programs.” She did not provide specifics as how this would occur or what specific steps, plans, and programs would be put in place. However, it was noted that the Bureau of Indian Affairs had funded 19 climate change tribal grants in fiscal year 2013, including several for tribes that were participating in the current summit. Funding for such climate change planning was increased to $8 million for 2014.

One of the final concerns reported to the panelists and audience members present was the taking of land into trust. According to Secretary Jewell, since 2009, there have been 1,592 “fee-into-trust” applications processed with 242,703 acres brought into trust. The Suquamish Tribe recently acquired land including acres of culturally important tidelands on Dyes Inlet. The Skokomish Tribe celebrated the title transfer of 1,000 acres of land on Sept. 9 from Tacoma Power to the tribe. The land transfer, as well a payment of $11 million to the tribe, was part of the settlement between the tribe and Tacoma for the Cushman Hydroelectric Project. While such transfers and land acquisitions are positive, Secretary Jewell indicated it was her goal to take at least a half million acres of fee lands into trust, encouraging the Tribes to continue to submit applications, declaring the Administration’s commitment to processing such applications.

In a brief press conference after the summit, Secretary Jewell reiterated the Department of the Interior’s commitment to helping the Tribes address the pressing concerns of climate change, acidifation and pollution of the Puget Sound, and in keeping the tribes strong through sovereignty and self-determination. She was asked about the situation of the Duwamish Tribe who were granted recognition under the Clinton administration, only to be terminated again in 2001, under Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior. Secretary Jewell declined to comment due to ongoing litigation.

The following morning, on April 25, 2014, Secretary Jewell met with children from community schools, King County officials, State of Washington officials and employees, Snoqualmie Tribal officials, and private citizens to discuss the development of community coalitions to develop urban wildlife refuges. During the course of the conference, Secretary Jewell knelt with schoolchildren from Campbell Hill Elementary School and released Kokanee salmon fry into a salmon-bearing creek on the property of Wally Preyera that led into Lake Sammamish.

While the children and Secretary Jewell were releasing the fry, members of the Snoqualmie Tribe drummed and sang traditional songs. The property where the event took place, along with the salmon-bearing stream, and Lake Sammamish, were originally in the stewardship of the Snoqualmie Tribe. The Snoqualmie Tribe was a signer on the Point Elliot Treaty but lost their recognition in 1953 during the final years of the Eisenhower Administration. The Tribe received their recognition back in 1999. Despite their historical presence in the area, numbering 4000 members at one time, now reduced to 650, the tribe had not been able to acquire trust land until they purchased land on which their casino sits in North Bend, Washington.

Snoqualmie tribal council members, Jake Repin and Lois Sweet Dorman, along with tribal chair Carolyn Lubenau, expressed their support of the efforts of the coalition to return the Kokanee runs.  The Kokanee salmon is a crucial part of tribal history and tradition as it was, according to Lubenau; Creator’s gift that “allowed the people to live in the lean times between the times of plenty.”

The Kokanee salmon, which are fresh water salmon, have been decreasing in number for generations. The event where Secretary Jewell was present was the fifth annual event where the salmon, known as little red fish to the Snoqualmie Tribe, were celebrated and released.

After helping the schoolchildren release their salmon fry into Ebright Creek on the Wally Pereyra Sammamish property, several speakers addressed the assembly. Dow Constantine, King County Executive, emphasized the importance of the coalition working together to protect salmon-bearing streams in the urban area surrounding Seattle. Following Mr. Constantine, Secretary Jewell spoke and emphasized the following points:

  • The importance of establishing Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships, including the one that connects Seattle Communities and youth to the Lake Sammamish Watershed;
  • The present generation of youth appears to be more disconnected from nature and the great outdoors than past generations. The youth initiative put forth by Secretary Jewell states that the Department of the Interior will pledge the following:
    • Play: Develop or enhance outdoor recreation partnerships in a total of fifty cities over four years to help develop opportunities for outdoor play for more than 10 million youth;
    • Learn: Provide educational opportunities for at least 10 million of the nation’s K-12 youth. Such opportunities will include providing new online education resources to reach more students;
    • Serve: Engage 1 million volunteers annually on public lands, effectively tripling the current volunteer numbers. A renewed emphasis will be placed on volunteer coordination and management;
    • Work: Develop the next generation of lifelong conservation stewards and to ensure skilled and diverse workforce pipeline. The Department of the Interior will provide 100,000 work and training opportunities to young people and veterans within public, private, and federal agencies. The Department of the Interior hopes to raise an additional $20 million from private and corporate donors to support youth work and training opportunities.
  • President Obama’s current budget proposes $50.6 million for Interior youth programs, which is a 37% increase from 2014. This budget includes the following:
    • An increase of $2.5 million for the US Fish and Wildlife Services Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative;
    • $8 million to expand opportunities for youth education and employment across the National Park Service; and
    • An additional $1 million in the Bureau of Indian Affairs for youth programs.

The overall message left by Secretary Sally Jewell for the tribal people, the youth, and the communities of the Puget Sound and Washington State coast was that the Obama Administration is committed to developing connections and to strengthening tribal and non-Native communities as well as addressing the current problems and predicted problems from climate change. 

Dr. Robin LaDue is a retired clinical psychologist formerly in private practice in Washington. She is the award winning author of the “Journey Through the Healing Circle” books and video. Her first historical novel, “Totems of September,” was recently published and is available at Septembertotems.com 

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